My stolen son sends signs from Heaven

But my son found ways to come back

Chat It's Fate - - Contents - Ni­amh Dolan, 50, from Omagh, North­ern Ire­land

Iwas mak­ing buns for my daugh­ter Dervla’s six­teenth birth­day when my phone beeped. Shak­ing flour off my fin­gers, I tut­ted as I read the text.

Hi Mum, say happy birth­day to Dervla, Dervla,i’verunout ofI’ve run out of credit cred­i­ton­my­phone. on my phone.

It was my 18-yearold son Enda, away at univer­sity in Belfast study­ing ar­chi­tec­ture. My hubby Peter was an ar­chi­tect and our el­dest lad was fol­low­ing in his foot­steps.

‘Typ­i­cal,’ I mut­tered. ‘He’s got two jobs, a stu­dent loan, and I’m still buy­ing him top-up cards!’

Enda was the ap­ple of my eye, a tal­ented gui­tarist and keen run­ner. But, like all teenagers, some­times he pushed his luck!

I went back to my bak­ing, de­ter­mined to make Dervla’s day spe­cial. It was Tues­day 14 Oc­to­ber 2014, an or­di­nary school day, so we’d planned her party for the fol­low­ing Satur­day night. But a su­gar fix af­ter her chem­istry tu­ition wouldn’t hurt.

Textmes­sage

Get­ting ready for bed that evening, I re­alised I hadn’t replied to Enda, so fired him a mes­sage: Whatare you­up­tothi­sev­ening? you up to this evening? But when he didn’t re­spond I turned my phone off and fell asleep.

Hours later, Peter and I were wo­ken by ham­mer­ing at the door. The clock on the bed­side ta­ble said 4.20am.

‘Hello?’ called Peter, open­ing the bed­room win­dow. There were two po­lice of­fi­cers stood on our drive. Im­me­di­ately, my heart be­gan to thud. This Thiswasn’tgo­ing wasn’t go­ing to to­be­good­news. be good news.

‘Are you Mr Dolan?’ one of them shouted up. ‘Could you come down­stairs please.’

Peter went down­stairs to let them in. I hastily tugged on my dress­ing gown and fol­lowed them into the liv­ing room.

‘Mrs Dolan?’ the

of­fi­cer be­gan. ‘I think you’d bet­ter sit down. Do you have a son called Enda Dolan?’

My blood ran cold. Sud­denly I knew why they were here.

‘Is Enda dead?’ I asked them.

‘There’s been a fa­tal­ity and we be­lieve it was your son,’ the of­fi­cer told me. Auto-pi­lot

I couldn’t take it in. I felt like I was on auto-pi­lot, get­ting dressed while my mum-in-law came to look af­ter our other kids, Ben, now 16, An­drew, now 12, and Adam, now nine.

Once she’d ar­rived, Peter and I were driven to Belfast to iden­tify Enda’s body.

Sit­ting in the back of the po­lice car, I turned my phone on and a

mes­sage pinged up from Enda. Noth­ing, Noth­ing,we’re­just we’re just sit­ting sit­ting­in­halls in halls, he’d replied to my text mes­sage hours ear­lier. Hope flared up in my heart. ‘Maybe they’ve got the wrong per­son’ I whis­pered to Peter, show­ing him the text. ‘Look at this! Enda stayed in

Maybe the po­lice had the wrong lad

last night.’

I held onto this hope all the way to the po­lice sta­tion. But that was my boy ly­ing there. I felt my heart break in two as I looked at his still, silent face.

It tran­spired our son had gone out with a friend to get a Chi­nese take­away. He’d been walk­ing back to halls, along Belfast’s Malone Road, at 2.20am, when he’d been mown down by a drunk driver who mounted the pave­ment.

My beau­ti­ful boy hadn’t stood a chance. His neck was bro­ken and he was killed in­stantly.

The next few days passed by in an ag­o­nis­ing blur. In­stead of plan­ning Dervla’s sweet six­teenth, we’d be hold­ing her big brother’s fu­neral that Satur­day in­stead.

As friends and fam­ily con­gre­gated at our house, pay­ing their con­do­lences and mak­ing end­less cups of tea, I sat on the sofa in a daze. There was some­thing play­ing on my mind…

Funer­al­songs

A few months ear­lier, Enda and I had been en­joy­ing a cuppa and the papers when he’d spot­ted an ar­ti­cle about fu­neral songs.

‘I know what I want played at my fu­neral, Mum,’ he told me, list­ing a cou­ple of tracks.

‘Oh don’t be so daft,’ I’d laughed, not re­ally lis­ten­ing. ‘You’re only 18, you’re not go­ing any­where yet.’

Now, his words seemed heart­break­ingly know­ing. How

many 18-year olds plan their fu­neral mu­sic? But fast for­ward to the day af­ter his death, and I sud­denly re­alised I couldn’t re­mem­ber the songs he wanted – my mind was com­pletely blank. I could feel panic ris­ing in my chest.

‘It’s the last thing I could do for my boy, and I can’t think,’ I fret­ted.

Then there was a knock at the door. Peter got up to an­swer it.

‘That was Ryan,’ he told me a few min­utes later. Enda’s best friend – they’d grown up to­gether.

‘He thought we should know - he and Enda had talked about fu­neral songs. Enda wanted Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd.’

That was it! That’s ex­actly what he’d told me!

I felt a strange sense of peace en­ve­lope me. My lad had heard me fret­ting and sent us a mes­sage. He was still with me, in spirit.

Over the next few months, as Peter and I strug­gled to hold it to­gether for the sake of the kids, spirit mes­sages from Enda came thick and fast.

When­ever I was hav­ing a bad day, feel­ing like I couldn’t face the world, I’d turn on the ra­dio or walk into a shop and hear one of Enda’s favourite songs play­ing.

His friends dug out all the videos of Enda from their phones and made them into a com­pi­la­tion for me and the fam­ily.

‘Look at him!’ I laughed through tears as I watched footage of our lad dancing in a lo­cal night­club like he hadn’t a care in the world.

Un­can­ny­lyrics

The DJ was play­ing Die Young by Ke­sha – and the lyrics were heart-wrench­ing…

‘We’re gonna die young, we’re gonna die young,

Let’s make the most of the night like we’re gonna die young.’

Mu­sic wasn’t Enda’s only pas­sion - he’d been a keen run­ner too, of­ten com­pet­ing in 10k and half marathons with his dad. Al­though they rarely ran to­gether, Enda had soon out­paced his old man!

But as Peter went out for runs to clear his head, he told me he of­ten felt his son close by, keep­ing pace with him. It gave him great com­fort to feel him there.

That New Year’s Eve in 2014, a group of our friends and fam­ily vol­un­teered to run the Omagh Half Marathon with Peter in 2015.

‘It’ll be in me­mory of Enda,’ my hubby told me. ‘We’ll get t-shirts printed with a slo­gan.’

‘How about “free as a bird”?’ I sug­gested, re­mem­ber­ing how Enda had sent me a mes­sage about his fu­neral song Free Bird. ‘That’s per­fect!’ gasped Peter. Hun­dreds of run­ners turned out to sup­port our fam­ily that spring in Omagh. It was won­der­ful to see them all. Dervla had got into run­ning too, as a way of feel­ing close to Enda, and she and the boys did the 5k race to­gether.

Then Peter had an an­nounce­ment to make… ‘I’m go­ing to run my first marathon to re­mem­ber Enda,’ he told us.

He'd al­ready cho­sen his fu­neral songs

A fter months of tough train­ing, my brave hubby set out on the Dublin Marathon in Oc­to­ber 2015 – a year af­ter our lad’s death – in his spe­cial trib­ute ‘Free as a Bird’ t-shirt.

‘It was in­cred­i­ble,’ he told me that evening as I ran him a sooth­ing bath. ‘I thought I was go­ing to quit, then Enda came to me.’

‘What do you mean?’ I asked.

As he’d neared the end of the race, Peter hit a wall of sheer ex­haus­tion.

‘I could barely put one foot in front of the other,’ he ex­plained. ‘Then as I limped past the fi­nal wa­ter sta­tion this song was blast­ing out clear as day – Die Young by Ke­sha. You know - young hearts, out our mind, run­nin’till we outta time. I knew then that Enda was with me and I’d make it to the fin­ish.’ I smiled. ‘He’s al­ways there, look­ing out for us,’ I said softly.

Court­case

In March 2016, David Lee Ste­wart, of Gray’s Park, Belfast, pleaded guilty to caus­ing Enda’s death by dan­ger­ous driv­ing. He’d taken drugs and downed six pints of beer and four Ja­gar­bombs be­fore get­ting be­hind the wheel.

Our fam­ily went to court to see him jailed for seven years.

‘What a waste,’ I sobbed to Peter as we sat in the pub­lic gallery. Just seven years for my son’s life – where was the jus­tice in that?

It was later raised to nine years on ap­peal – mean­ing he’d serve four-and-half be­hind bars. Still not enough! He was also handed a five-year driv­ing ban, ef­fec­tive from when he was jailed, mean­ing he’ll be able to drive again six months af­ter he’s freed.

Our fam­ily founded the Enda Dolan Foun­da­tion in our son’s me­mory, or­gan­is­ing run­ning groups and events, gui­tar tu­ition for young­sters with Enda’s old mu­sic teacher, and fundrais­ing for a bur­sary for one ar­chi­tec­ture stu­dent at Belfast Queen’s Univer­sity.

And we’re cam­paign­ing for tougher sen­tences for drunk drivers who kill – no fam­ily should have to go through what we have.

Stay­ingstrong

Last year Dervla got the Diana Award for her strength. De­spite her brother’s death, she com­pleted her GCSES and founded a school run­ning club in his me­mory. Mean­while Peter and I have been given a Spirit of North­ern Ire­land Award for our work with the foun­da­tion. Enda con­tin­ues to watch over our fam­ily. In March 2018, we went out for pizza to mark what would have been his 22nd birth­day.

As we sat in the restau­rant, Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oa­sis be­gan to play – one of Enda’s favourite tracks and one he used to play on his gui­tar. We sat in si­lence lis­ten­ing to the lyrics, tears trick­ling down our cheeks. 'Slip in­side the eye of your mind, Don’t you know you might find, A bet­ter place to play.’ Enda’s found a bet­ter place in heaven, for­ever run­ning free.

Enda loved his run­ning

So proud: Our boy

Fam­ily life: Happy to­gether

Mu­si­cian: Tal­ented

Run­ning free: For Enda

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