THE untimely death of a loved one in a fatal road traffic accident is incredibly traumatic.
In the aftermath of such tragedy, many bereaved families seeking support are unsure of who to turn to as they deal with their sudden loss, including the pain and suffering they have endured.
This is where the devoted community group 'Life After' comes into play whose primary role is to provide support, encouragement and hope to families bereaved as a result of a road traffic accident.
Inspirational Drumsurn Counsellor, Debbie Mullan, who suffered the tragic loss of her 17-year-old son Keelan to a road traffic collision seven years ago, is promoting awareness of the vital group she has become a part of, making a difference and lending a helping hand to heartbroken families within the community.
Over 15,000 people have died on the roads in Northern Ireland since records have been kept of such fatalities.Debbie, who is also a mother to three girls, told the Northern Constitution: “I believe whenever Keelan died that I had two choices to think about, do I just exist or do I live?
“For many people we do just exist for a while because that's part of our grieving process and some people just exist for the rest of their lives.
“One of the things we are wanting to promote is that we can make a life after our loved one has gone - it's just helping and encouraging people into believing that can happen.”
Life After was established around three years ago in Derry city by Christopher Sherrard, following the untimely death of his father, Wilson, to a road traffic collision on the Glenshane Pass.
Following the realisation there was no support for those who have suffered this type of bereavement, Christopher took it upon himself to take action.Debbie continued: “I met Christopher when the fire services and emergency services along with Road Safe NI ran a public meeting in Cookstown - I was invited to come along and tell my story around Keelan's death and the aftermath of it.
“They had seen there was a gap in the market and as much as their role and responsibilities were important, they realised
there was nothing there in the aftermath for these families whose lives were ruined and disrupted by the impact and loss of someone through an RTC.
“I was then asked to come on board and we have been having monthly meetings ever since.”
According to Drumsurn mother Debbie, the group are now supporting 45 plus families throughout Derry, Strabane and Omagh but have recently moved into the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council areas.
Debbie continued: “We also support families in different areas of Northern Ireland through messages and phone calls etc because we haven't got time resources just yet but that's our bigger plan.
“However we have met with the Western Trust and the Northern Trust because we do believe this is something that shouldn't be the sole responsibility of a community and voluntary sector, it really should be something that is put into place there.”
Debbie went on to explain the process involved and the importance of the group's role supporting families who are in desperate need.
She continued: “The family can contact us directly or the PSNI have our information which they can give to the family involved. “After the family have got in touch, we go for an initial pop in and spend time talking to them and find out how they are.
“We are mainly there to support those individuals because sometimes all they need is a listening ear and we give them reassurance that we are here for them if they need us.
“Those members can contact us if they feel necessary and find out what it is we can offer which is all free of charge, whether that is counselling, a listening ear, advocacy support or support through court proceedings.
According to Debbie, 'Life After' played an instrumental part in the aftermath of U.S honeymooner's death, Michael Monroe who was killed in a road accident close to the Dark Hedges in Co Antrim.
The group had been lobbying for months and were eventually successful in their campaign for 'Stop' signs to go up on the road that took Michael's life.
Debbie explained: “Last September we were alerted to this case by the PSNI who asked us to intervene and give support.
“Unfortunately Michael had died and his wife Caroline had pelvic fractures in three places.
“She was taken to Altnagelvin Hospital but she was on her own so it was very much about supporting their family and help with getting his remains back to America.
“We are still in contact with both of their families and Caroline still feels a connection here to Northern Ireland.”
On March 2, 2013, Debbie's world was turned upside down following the death of her only son Keelan who had only passed his test four weeks prior to the accident.
Debbie recalled: “I lost a child in an RTC and it was something I never thought would come to my door and I do remember that feeling of me and my family being completely left on our own to pick up the pieces.“I was already in the process of becoming a counsellor so I had really good peer support, so if anybody was in a good position to be supported, it was me.
Debbie continued: “The NICE guidelines say that counselling isn't available for anybody until six months after a bereavement and this is something that 'Life After' are trying to change because we believe that early intervention is necessary - it's those weeks in the aftermath of that death that you feel totally alone. Recalling fond memories of her son, who was a pupil at St Mary's Limavady and a keen Gaelic player, Debbie said: “Keelan was very quiet and reserved, he was always on the peripheral of people.
“He had planned to go into engineering and in the aftermath of his death his teachers were singing his praises to me.
“I was lucky to have had him for 17 years as some mothers don't even have their child for 17 minutes so for the length of time I had him I was blessed.
“It's just such a tragic loss it really is, his life was cut short so, so quickly.”
Debbie continued: “After his death I had to look for positives in my life.
“After I attended the first meeting of Life After, I realised that I cant bring Keelan back but I can help others that are in a similar situation and if you are helping others, you're also helping yourself so there is definitely healing in that process.”
Family support group meetings
According to Debbie, Life After have been extremely successful in transforming the lives of families bereaved by a RTC and are working on bigger plans for the future.
She said: “We all have a membership to this group that you never want a membership to, a membership of having lost a loved one far too soon in a road traffic accident.
“As much as this has happened, we can't change it, so we have to do something about this.
“There is comfort and there is strength when people who are wearing similar shoes to you come together as no one knows what we are experiencing on a day to day life except us.
“However, together we can find that positivity and strength to move forward.”Life After family support meetings will run on the fourth Wednesday of every month in River House, Coleraine from 7pm to 9pm.For further information, you can visit the 'Life After' Facebook page.