My stolen son sends signs from Heaven
But my son found ways to come back
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.
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
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…
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.
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.
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.
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
Running free: For Enda