Roma McAleese, 21 May, 2005 – 31 March, 2009
On the 31st March, 2009 my world as I knew it would never be the same again. My youngest daughter, Roma, was knocked down and killed right outside my home whilst she was playing with friends. She was two months away from her fourth birthday.
In the days, weeks and months that followed, people from our local community and further afield, along with friends and family, rallied around my eldest daughter Maya and I. The kindness we were shown was overwhelming and really helped us through the darkest of days.
Eventually, we needed professional help, or some sort of support group to help cope with the trauma and grief surrounding the loss of Roma. I also felt I needed to talk to other parents who had lost children to know that I could carry on living after losing my beautiful wee princess.
However, due to the circumstances of Roma’s death, we didn’t fit into any of the support groups available; Roma hadn’t died of an illness, she hadn’t committed suicide, and she wasn’t lost as a stillborn or neonatal death.
It was soul destroying. I summoned up the strength to leave home one day and go to my GP Surgery to ask for help. He simply googled a telephone number, gave it to me, and sent me on my way. At this point I really had lost all hope.
Luckily for me, my sister researched and found the Family Trauma Centre in Belfast and they were so helpful in coming to meet me every week in Coleraine. I dread to think what would have become of me if I hadn’t been lucky enough to meet Anne, the counsellor who helped me for three years. The sad fact of the matter was we had to do this ourselves, there was no one to help us.
After the three years with Anne, I had learned to live and cope better with the unbearable, unending pain and I decided I wanted to help other parents struggling with the loss of a child, as well as create an everlasting memorial for our children in Roma’s name. To me, this felt like her death wouldn’t be in vain and losing Roma would hopefully help other parents suffering the same unimaginable pain. Building this beautiful space was also a chance for me to repay the community who had been so kind as I navigated my grief.
I floated my idea to create a memorial garden on Facebook and within the first few hours over one thousand people had joined the page. I knew then that it the right thing to do and that there was definitely a need for the garden. So, the fundraising began.
I approached the local council with my idea and the need for land but they immediately turned me down noting that the charity ‘Sands’ was already building a garden in Portstewart. I had to explain that my daughter could not be remembered there as she wasn’t stillborn or a neonatal death and that my garden would be for other children who, like Roma, had nowhere to be memorialised.
It took three years of fundraising and for the council to eventually provide a lease for land to build the garden. The original build cost £82,000 and not one pence of the money was given by council, grants or any other funding. The money was raised by myself, people in the community and local businesses. This remains the same today as we continue to fundraise for the necessary funds to maintain the garden.
Eventually, on 30th August 2015 our beautiful Angel of Hope Garden officially opened and I have been overwhelmed by the number of memorials now in the garden. It warms my heart to speak to other parents who have found comfort here, and to know that together we are stronger.
In December 2017 we officially opened a new memorial for stillborn and neonatal babies as Sands never did build the garden they planned. I decided that the Angel of Hope Garden would step in and now these beautiful little angels have their own dedicated memorial space.
A new Fairy Garden was built and officially opened on 1 July, 2018 and I am so incredibly proud of this beautiful space that I have created for Angel families with the ongoing help and support of the local community.
If you would like to make a one-off or regular donation to help with our ongoing maintenance costs, please click here.