The Center for Hope and Healing is grateful for the many volunteers that make outreach to grieving individuals and families possible. Periodically we want to introduce some of these individuals to the reader as they are crucial parts of the team at the Center for Hope and Healing.
Our first featured volunteer is Cian O’Byrne. Cian is 19, the son of one of the counselors, who has volunteered with Midland for about a year. As with many of our volunteers he was directly impacted by death when his father died over 11 years ago when he was 7 years old. Cian is interested in movies and music. He plays several instruments, including the violin, mandolin and the ukulele. Cian volunteers in the children’s programs at the Center for Hope and Healing, helping with Family Nights and the children’s camp. He has shared his music talents with the kids at camp, teaching them chords on the ukulele. He also provides his insights and suggestions for movie based groups, such as Reel Grief and the video clips used for Family Nights.
What was your life like before your dad died? And what do you remember about the day he died?
I honestly don’t remember much of what life was like before dad died. I do remember some particular stuff, like devotions, and listening to/playing music and my aunt living with us. The day he died was a weird day. All I remember is being school and being pulled out by a church friend. I go to her house and find out my dad died, and I don’t believe it. I just thought he was asleep. Then when my uncle brought me home, I realized that my dad wasn’t coming back, I just screamed. And then we watched the Muppets. We watched some tv. I think the comedy was something I needed to keep my head above water.
What changes did you have to deal with after his passing? Which changes were the toughest?
Honestly, as mean it sounds, it got a lot easier. We got out of a bad neighborhood. We got to be with family and all the animals on the family farm. I adjusted to a new school and new friends. But for awhile, I was vulnerable and got in with the wrong kids.
I remember your teacher or counselor telling me they were concerned because you just sat by yourself at recess.
I had no friends. I had nothing. I got into music. I got into music because it gave me a sense of community. I like it when people are talking together and playing together, compromising together. It is a sense of community. A lot of it was part of my dad. I remembered when he taught in school and I saw people playing in orchestra. Orchestra gave me a way to communicate.
What helped you during the days after his passing?
Honestly, I don’t know. I was so young. What helped me when we lived at my grandparents’ farm was going out to the pond on the farm and looking for fossils or going out to the barn and trying to capture kittens. I latched onto origami, which is something that my dad did. It’s not my passion anymore because I don’t see in it the sense of community anymore. In school there was more community when I did it because I made it and gave it away all the time.
Did you go to the funeral? Was that helpful or not for you?
What wasn’t helpful was all the people. I developed anxiety. I asked to watch tv and get out of the way.
Anxiety is a very common response to grief. How has that evolved for you over the years?
I was very vulnerable to the people I hung out with. I got hurt by my first friends and by girlfriends over the years. I just don’t trust people now. For years I would carry a knife with me for years because I didn’t trust people.
The other thing I remember is how you were and still are very protective of me and your little brother.
There were a couple of instances when we were at a church and I saw my brother being bullied by other kids, and I about lost it. I have trouble trusting people in big churches now.
What do you look for in a friend?
With my best friend, he is brutally honest. He is honest and I can be honest with him in my beliefs.
Losing a parent is inevitably going to change a person. How do you think you changed due to your dad’s passing? How did it impact your other relationships?
It has made me a lot more distrustful of people. I have anxiety. With my best friend who lost his mom a year ago, I see he has lost some morals. He will say some things he might not have said before. He is not the same person he was before. He had some time to prepare, though because he lost his mom over a long illness. I didn’t have time to prepare because I lost my dad to an accident. When it is sudden, you have shock amplified. You don’t have time to prepare. My friend had time to prepare, but he still didn’t believe it would happen.
You had the experience of being with a close friend when his mom died after an extended illness.
We were hanging out, my friends and I, and my friend sent the others home and asked me to stay and entertain the kids from the extended family who were in to say goodbye to my friend’s mom. And she died. I had to tell the other kids that their aunt died.
That must have been quite the experience when you were there when his mom died.
It WAS quite an experience. I knew it was going to happen. It was like déjà vu. But I think it was because of the fact I stayed and helped that his dad seems to respect me.
What are some ways you remain connected to your dad now?
Music and origami, really… mostly through music. Especially when I get out those exact devotional songs that we did, I feel like we are back at that same exact table again where we played music together as a family.
You have been volunteering for about a year in the kids’ program at Midland. What has this work with grieving children meant to you as someone who lost a parent in childhood?
I’m not sure what it means. Sometimes these cases are much more extreme than what I went through. It is overwhelming, and I don’t know how to respond yet. That is why I can express things better through music and movies, being artistic.
What has been your favorite part of your volunteer work at Midland?
One of my favorite things has been helping you find good movies or songs that help people connect in their grief… or helping one of the kids connect with music in grief.
You have a lot of interest in our Reel Grief program. How do you see movies and music as ways to help people grieve.
One of my favorite movies is a romance with extreme emotions but it doesn’t work out, and when it is over, the main character grieves and has to learn how to move on. Not everything works out the way they want. Another favorite movie involves a difficult situation and having to come up with coping tools to help deal with it.
Music just helps with just the chords, the major and minor chords, and you can “spice it up.” You can add “tension” to it to tell the story. With film, it is images to tell the story. If it is done right, you feel exactly what the story is trying to tell. Both of them are dialogue too.
What final thoughts would you like to share with a grieving child, or with the parent who is trying to raise a grieving child?
It does eventually get better. Who knows, this may eventually lead to something better down the road. We had a lot of death in a short time period. I lost my aunt, my dad, my grandfather and several pets (which I took personally). But that eventually led to me learning how to cope from mistakes and learning how to become the person I want to be.
If you’re intersted in becoming a volunteer for Midland Care, contact Sherry Combs at email@example.com or call 785-232-2044.