By Rose Barrett
For any child to lose a parent at a young age is devastating; but for three young girls to lose both parents just three years apart is a tragedy.
Sisters Ciara, Roisín and Ava Higgins from Ringsend say remembering their parents’ great love for one another and the tight family unit they built is the focus that is keeping them going.
Amidst the practicalities of paying for the funeral, and coming to terms with the death of their mum, Kerry, last month, Roisín is preparing to go to college, while Ava has already commenced secondary school at Ringsend College.
It falls on the eldest sister Ciara to manage the household and keep the family unit together. Just three years ago, they buried their dynamic dad Dermot, aka Tom, after he lived with cancer for three years.
A taxi driver, Dermot was an imposing figure at six foot five inches but, according to daughter Ciara, he was “a big teddy bear”.
She told Dublin Gazette: “He was only 47 years old when he died. It could take 40 minutes to walk a short stretch of the street because he knew everyone and everyone knew him!
“He could talk the back legs off a donkey. Sadly, he died a month short of my twenty-first birthday; Roisin was only 15 and Ava was just nine years old.”
While Dermot was attending chemo appointments, Kerry experienced what she thought was a chest infection.
“Initially, they thought she was in heart failure,” Ciara explained. “Mum took it calmly but was then sent to the UK to check for amyloidosis, a genetic disorder which had taken her mother at 51 and her grandfather also.”
Sadly, Kerry was diagnosed with the same condition. Those with amyloidosis in Ireland are largely treated in the UK and together, Kerry and Ciara travelled to Birmingham where Kerry underwent a heart transplant in April 2018.
“This gave her two more years with us,” said Ciara. “After the transplant, she was like a changed woman, her good health returned for a short while, the tiredness had lifted – all just nine months after dad had passed.”
Sadly, Kerry Higgins died on August 17.
Ciara revealed: “Mam and Dad created a tight family unit, I’ve never seen love like I saw between them, they were so happy in each other’s company – they could watch paint dry together and feel happy.
“Roisín, Ava and I want to keep our family together and in the spirit of Mam and Dad, which was real, visible love.”
Ciara attended DIT for two years and graduated in retail management and marketing.
“Roisín has been accepted to do pre-nursing at Dun Laoighaire College of Further Education, and Ava has just started secondary school last week,” she proudly revealed.
Caitlin Connolly, who set up a GoFundMe page for the family, has been Ciara’s best friend since primary school and lives just around the corner from the Higgins girls.
“I’m so proud of the girls and their amazing strength over the past six years,” said Caitlin.
“The girls still manage to smile and make others around them smile. With the funeral bill and education costs mounting, I know the girls would really appreciate any help at all, no matter how big or small.”
Since setting up the page, the €5,000 target has already been exceeded so Caitlin heartily extends thanks to all who have contributed, or may yet donate.
Ciara acknowledged the support of her cousin Lauren, and friends like Caitlin during difficult times.
“Sadly, my sisters and I have a 50-50 chance of having the same condition as Mum,” she said.
“There are people in Ireland living with amyloidosis but cannot access the drugs to slow the disease.
“Patisiran has been found to be effective in drugs trials in the UK, but has not been approved by the HSE here. You can get it as a patient in Northern Ireland and the UK but not here.
“It takes so long to get trial drugs approved and funded here, it was tragic watching Mum go downhill.”
To support the Higgins family, visit the GoFundMe page here.