Each day, when Siobhan McHale was writing her letters to her beloved daughter in heaven, she gently formed the words: ‘Good morning, my beautiful Angel x’.
Whether the Killeter woman felt beset with pain, overwhelmed by profound grief, or filled with buoyant gratitude for the special time she had with her beautiful daughter, whom she lost to a road crash on May 18, 2012, Siobhan’s words were always the same.
Etched with hope, heartbreak and healing. Golden threads to heaven; received with love eternal.
As days rolled into weeks, and years transformed into memories, these letters to Gemma, became not just a warming comfort to Siobhan – but the realisation of a lifelong dream that had been lingering on the precipice of her imagination: She wanted to become an author, and write her own book.
So in 2016 Siobhan, in earnest, began writing her memoirs; her feelings white with rawness, and many, many pages stained with tears.
The 32-chaptered work quickly took shape: It was a story of a Tyrone mother’s grief and survival – a very human tale of triumph and disaster, decorated with, in Siobhan’s own words, ‘Every emotion known to man’.
Harrowing themes in her book ranged from a bomb that exploded underneath her bedroom window as she lay in her bed on the night of December 14, 1972, which claimed the life of her dear sister, Kathleen, to a knock on the door at 3am on May 18, 2012, where she was faced with the tragic news of Gemma’s death.
Calling the work, ‘Good Morning, My Beautiful Angel’, in poignant tribute to Gemma, the writings also feature shimmering overtones of the power of family, friendship and faith – and staying strong, in a world unrelentingly stuck in deep midwinter.
“As I tried to write the chapter on Gemma’s death, I was filled with many different emotions,” Siobhan told the Chronicle.
“They ranged from excitement – to a sheer profound grief which engulfed me.
“Gemma was a bright, bubbly girl. She was stunningly beautiful, and not just on the outside. She had a beauty that radiated from deep within.
“She had so much love to give, and got so much love in return.”
Such a deep dive into distilled grief and detailed memories meant that for Siobhan writing her book was a lengthy process, which required, deservingly, meticulous attention.
However, the pain of an inquest into Gemma’s death on May 31, 2016, impacted her deeply – and it prevented her from continuing with her writings for more than three years.
But in November 2019 the cloud of writer’s block and procrastination subsided, and Siobhan regained hold of the power of the pen once more.
“Overall penning this book has been therapeutic,” Siobhan said. “There are 32 chapters in it, with the main themes being the explosion that killed my sister, Kathleen; Gemma’s accident; family, friends and faith; justice for Gemma; and staying positive in the face of tragedy.
“And while I do feel pleased to hold this book in my hands, I also feel heartbroken at the reality that this is the story of my life,” she said. “However, I have learned that I can achieve anything that I put my mind to – and that writing letters to heaven provides solace.”
Siobhan also knows that deep in her heart she is not alone, for Gemma is always walking right beside her.
This is perhaps symbolised best on the book’s front cover: “The cover is my Gemma walking on Portstewart beach, leaving her footprints in the sand,” Siobhan described.
“I absolutely love this picture.”
A true testament that love conquers all, ‘Good Morning, My Beautiful Angel’ will be available in local shops across Tyrone, Fermanagh, Donegal, and Mayo, and from ‘Amazon.co.uk’.
“I wish to thank my beautiful girl for encouraging me to keep writing,” Siobhan concluded.
“My special message to Gemma is to stay close and walk with us wherever we should go, for ‘not even death can keep us apart’.
•Gemma McHale’s tenth anniversary Mass will take place tomorrow (Friday, May 20) in St Patrick’s Church, Agyharan, at 7.30pm, followed by refreshments, and the launch of Siobhan McHale’s book, ‘Good Morning, My Beautiful Angel’, in Aghyaran GAA Centre from 9.30pm.
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