‘My brother Dara (35) died from a brain tu­mour, months later my sis­ter Fiona (44) died from can­cer and I’d a brother Rory who died in a road ac­ci­dent. So I have no broth­ers or sis­ters left. I think about them ev­ery day. I loved them to bits’

In a deeply mov­ing in­ter­view for­mer UTV news pre­sen­ter Aideen Kennedy opens her heart to Leona O’Neill about the se­ries of tragedies that have dev­as­tated her fam­ily — and tells how her two chil­dren helped her carry on

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - INTERVIEW -

She was a fa­mil­iar face on our television screens, beam­ing into our liv­ing rooms ev­ery evening in her role as a UTV news pre­sen­ter. But be­hind Belfast woman Aideen Kennedy’s slick, cam­era-ready on­screen ap­pear­ance lay crush­ing grief and heartache that would lead her to put on nearly three stone in weight and close her­self off to the world.

Two years ago the 39-year-old mother-oftwo lost her beloved younger brother Dara to a brain tu­mour. Still reel­ing from the unimag­in­able loss, her older sis­ter Fiona was di­ag­nosed with can­cer and died just weeks later. Six months after bury­ing her brother, Aideen had to lay her sis­ter to rest.

Her only other sib­ling, Rory, was killed as an in­fant in a road ac­ci­dent. With her two “best friends” taken from her so sud­denly, her en­tire sib­ling sup­port unit dis­ap­peared.

The tragedies plunged Aideen — now a free­lance re­porter and mum to Ja­cob (9) and Eva (5) — into a spi­ral of de­pres­sion and overeat­ing that led to her putting on weight and her self-es­teem plum­met­ing.

“Dara was 35 years old,” she says. “Two and a half years ago he went to Forest­side Shop­ping Cen­tre to get his eyes checked. He had fallen down the stairs and thought it might have been some­thing wrong with his eyes. He al­ways had good eye­sight. He had had a brain tu­mour be­fore, in his twen­ties.

“He got treat­ment and got the all-clear so he wasn’t think­ing about that. He just thought he needed glasses.

“They checked him, saw that there was some­thing be­hind his eye and told him he needed to go to A&E im­me­di­ately. There they did a biopsy. That was in June — the con­sul­tant said that he would be dead by Christ­mas. But eight weeks later he died. The can­cer was all over his head, all over his brain, in his spine, every­where.

“Six months after Dara died my sis­ter Fiona wasn’t feel­ing well. She went to her doc­tor, then to the Royal Victoria Hos­pi­tal. They oper­ated on her and found can­cer all over her tummy. Six weeks later she died. She was just 44 years old.

“It was such a shock. The night be­fore she died I was talk­ing away to her and we were plan­ning to go away for a week­end. We were best friends and we loved the cin­ema and mak­ing plans for days out to­gether. The next day I got a phone call to say that I needed to come to the hos­pi­tal straight away, that she was go­ing to die. It was aw­ful. I didn’t be­lieve it. Even now I don’t be­lieve it.”

Dara, Fiona and I would have done ev­ery­thing to­gether, we were so close

I had good friends and fam­ily but I stopped want­ing to do any­thing

The tragedies were not the first to im­pact on her fam­ily. Aideen says the loss of her baby brother, Rory, many years be­fore was still be­ing sorely felt.

“I had an­other brother Rory who died in a road ac­ci­dent when he was one-year-old,” she says. “It was an un­for­tu­nate ac­ci­dent — he ran out on to the road and got knocked down.

“So, I have no broth­ers or sis­ters left. I have none. It has been aw­ful for my mum and dad. They are amaz­ing. I don’t know how my mum coped. She has started to come back to life a bit now. My dad is an an­gel. They are both very good and we talk about them all the time.

“I think about them ev­ery sin­gle day. I loved them to bits.”

Aideen says she misses her brother and sis­ter ev­ery day and still finds her­self pick­ing up the phone to call Fiona.

“Fiona worked in the BBC for 20 years so she was just around the cor­ner from me,” she ex­plains.

“We used to text and phone all the time. We’d meet for walks, we’d meet for din­ner. She was so sup­port­ive of me be­cause she also worked in the me­dia and knew how dif­fi­cult that could be.

“She was al­ways at the end of the phone for me to ask how to deal with some­thing.

“Some­times now when I’m watch­ing television or what­ever and an ad­vert might come on I think to my­self, I must phone Fiona about that, we must go and see that. Then I re­mem­ber that she is not there.

“Fiona was so loved by ev­ery­one be­cause she was so kind and pa­tient, she was such a loyal per­son and so was Dara. Their fu­ner­als were ab­so­lutely packed. I had peo­ple com­ing up to me that I didn’t know telling me how much they touched their lives. Peo­ple were telling me sto­ries about them and I loved that. They were very spe­cial peo­ple and great char­ac­ters. We were so close.

“Fiona was very sen­si­ble and ex­tremely kind. Like my mum, she had a bril­liant sense of hu­mour. She was seven years older me and nine years older than Dara but ev­ery Satur­day she would take us to the Cur­zon cin­ema on the Ormeau Road and spend her babysit­ting money on us. She was so gen­er­ous and kind.

“When we were grow­ing up I pretty much tor­tured Dara. He was like Fiona, very gen­tle but I al­ways man­aged to per­suade him to get up to mis­chief. Dara was a big lad and was ex­tremely pro­tec­tive of me. When my lit­tle boy Ja­cob was born, he just adored him and Ja­cob thought he was great.

“Dara taught me to be pa­tient and to be kind, no mat­ter what the sit­u­a­tion. He was very pro­tec­tive, he left me and my friends out to where we were go­ing ev­ery Satur­day night and then would say ‘Have you got a taxi booked?’ Ob­vi­ously we didn’t so he would sigh and say ‘Right, I will pick you all up at a quar­ter past one, be­have!’

“Fiona taught me how hard the me­dia busi­ness is and how to nav­i­gate it. She told me that be­ing kind to those you work with and have re­la­tion­ships with is the best way to live.

“Dara, Fiona and I would have done ev­ery­thing to­gether. We were just very good friends and very close. Our fam­ily has al­ways been close. It is now very strange when Easter comes and Christ­mas comes and they are not there.”

Aideen says that she strug­gled to cope with the huge losses and turned to food for com­fort. She says once she re­alised her brother and sis­ter would not want her to be un­healthy, she took back con­trol of her life.

“I didn’t cope very well,” she says. “I was not good for a long time. I com­fort ate and put on loads of weight. I had re­ally good friends and fam­ily, but I stopped want­ing to go any­where or do any­thing. I was hid­ing my­self away. I put on about two and a half stone. Then one day I just thought, ‘This is enough. I can­not keep on like this’.

“I thought to my­self, ‘Dara and Fiona wouldn’t want that for me’ so I de­cided it was time to make some changes. I spoke to a cou­ple of friends and told them that I might like to maybe go out walk­ing. It started re­ally from there.

“At the start I was just do­ing a few miles a week. My best friend Claire said that I needed to walk faster, I needed to pick it up a bit. It was so help­ful go­ing out with peo­ple who were en­cour­ag­ing me.

“I started off slowly, do­ing just a few miles a week. Now I do 20 miles per week, do­ing about five miles, four days a week. “As I did it I started to feel bet­ter and bet­ter and bet­ter. And I’ve lost two stone and four pounds.

“It lifted my spir­its so much. Even get­ting into my old clothes. I was lit­er­ally go­ing around in a black top and trousers all the time and they were get­ting big­ger and big­ger and it was so de­press­ing. Whereas now it’s lovely to be back in my dresses.

“It lifted my mood, my con­fi­dence and my self-es­teem. I would say that to any­one go­ing through a tough time.

“I know that it’s so hard to make that first step out, but it is worth it.”

Aideen left UTV news at Christ­mas after 10 years. She says that al­though she loved the work, she wanted to spend more time with her chil­dren.

“I loved UTV,” she says. “But I just wanted a change of scenery. I was chang­ing ev­ery­thing in my life and I just thought a break away and some­thing dif­fer­ent would be good.

“I wanted to spend more time with my kids. I’m free­lanc­ing now with U105 and it’s been bril­liant.

“I’ve been able to go to ev­ery con­cert my chil­dren are in, ev­ery play and all Ja­cob’s foot­ball matches. It’s been just lovely.”

Her chil­dren, she says, have been a light in the dark­ness for her, along­side a res­cue cat she picked up at an an­i­mal shel­ter while cov­er­ing a story.

“I was de­pressed, I was dev­as­tated, we all were,” she says. “You sort of think, ‘Well what is the point?’ Yes­ter­day Ja­cob said to me, ‘We are a very un­lucky fam­ily, look at ev­ery­thing that has hap­pened to us’. And I told him that it was very sad, but that it was just a co­in­ci­dence.

“I told him that there was noth­ing to be wor­ried about and that Fiona and Dara look down on him. He calls them his ‘an­gel body­guards’. I told him that it was just one of those un­for­tu­nate things that has hap­pened.

“We were al­ways straight with him about what has hap­pened be­cause he adored Dara, his big 6ft tall un­cle who would pick him up and throw him in the air and catch him. He misses him ter­ri­bly. But I think it’s bet­ter to talk about him than not.

“The kids are such a bless­ing. I’m al­ways happy when I’m with them. They re­ally helped me so much. And then I got my lit­tle res­cue cat, Wil­low. I am mad about her. I did a story on aban­doned kit­tens and just had to take her home with me. She is ab­so­lutely adorable.

HAPPY TIMES: Aideen Kennedy (left) with her brother Dara (cen­tre) and her sis­ter Fiona (right) at a wed­ding


BAT­TLING BACK: for­mer UTV news re­porter Aideen Kennedy at home. Right, when she was pre­sent­ing

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