Audrey Power does not agree with that old saying that time heals everything. Time, she knows will, never completely heal the wound; never completely apply enough balm to ease the pain or the deep - fathoms deep - sense of loss of losing her daughter Kiara. Even if she lives 1,000 years.
“People say time is a great healer, it’s not. Time heals broken bones cuts, bruises, but time doesn’t heal a broken heart,” she says.
These days she “manages” the pain of no longer having her daughter, her only child with her. She has reached a certain reconciliation of that hard fact yet it has been a long hard journey through grief. It is 10 years ago since 20-year-old Kiara Duncan died following a car accident in Perth, Australia. A decade filled with what her mother terms “a tsunami of tears.”
“The greatest thing you become after something like this is a liar. That sounds funny I know. People ask you ‘how are you?’ and you say ‘I’m fine, I’m grand’ - that’s an automatic reply, but if somebody then said: ‘No, how are you really?’, you can answer then. ‘I’m crap, I’m broken, I’m screaming inside.’”
Now, 10 years on, Audrey admits that she made mistakes in grappling with her grief. One of those was to shut herself away; to turn in on herself. She did that for a while after she and her family and friends had brought Kiara home from Australia; a young women, barely 20 years of age whose life had been snuffed out all too soon.
“You have two choices when something like this happens. You can lay down and die or you can get up and live. I wouldn’t go into Navan because people know me. I slept during the day and I stayed awake at night. You have to learn to go out, meet people, it’s bad to lock yourself away.”
Kiara Duncan and her mother Audrey on Kiara's graduation day.
Kiara Duncan was by all accounts a vivacious, vibrant, beautiful, “sparky” young Kentstown woman who loved life. She was brought up in Kentstown by Audrey with the help of her grandmother (Audrey’s mother, Celine Duncan) and went to school locally.
Like any 20 year-old, Kiara wanted to see the world, particularly Australia. She headed Down Under armed with her qualifications as a beauty therapist. Life was good, exciting, full of possibilities. Then it all went wrong; terribly, tragically wrong.
Dates and exact times are etched in Audrey’s mind, never to be erased. One of those dates is 31st October 2007 when Kiara and six of her friends were in a Toyota Corolla that was travelling through the Perth superb of Bedford. The car hit a kerb, flipped onto its roof and collided with an oncoming vehicle.
Kiara was in the back, sitting on the knee of a friend. One of the passengers, Colm Reilly (20) from Slane, died instantly. Kiara was brought to hospital with profound head injuries.
A phone call came from one of the friends’ mothers about 5.30pm on 31st October was the first Audrey heard of the accident. The initial indications were encouraging. Kiara, the reports suggested, “seemed to be ok.”
Yet Audrey still felt a deep unease. When she phoned the hospital the news wasn’t encouraging. She was told Kiara was on a ventilator, in an induced coma. The doctor said she had “a one per cent” chance of making it.
Over the phone thousands of miles away Audrey made one request from that doctor: “Ok, I said, we’ll be on our way. Just do one thing for me, and he said ‘yeah.’ Tell her I love her and don’t leave her on her own. People sat with her who didn’t even know us. An Irish nun, Sr Dolores Coffey, whose brother is a milkman from the Dunderry area, sat with her. If anything happened to any Irish people she would go in and be with them.”
As soon as she arrived in Perth Audrey was brought to to the hospital where Kiara lay. “It was four o’clock in the morning and the last place you want to go is the hospital but they allowed us to see her. She was still my Kiara, minus the hair, there was a lot of hair gone and she loved her hair, that upset me. She lost her hair, more than anything else, that upset me. The doctor spoke to us and told us the brain activity had ceased at 23.23 on 2nd November.”
One of the things Audrey remembers from the time was the kindness of people. When the news of the accident first filtered through, Audrey’s passport was out of date. Calls were made by certain people to get that sorted. A visa was secured. There was a world of bureaucracy to get over to bring Keira’s body back to Ireland. With the help of many, including the late RTE presenter, Gerry Ryan who took up the cause, it happened. Kiara’s body was brought back to Kentstown.
Audrey name checks people such as her sisters Patsy, Janet, Joan, Sharon, the undertakers Ollie and Thomas Curtis, but there are so many. She says all in Dunnes Stores were “brilliant.” Her heartfelt gratitude to everybody who helped remains undiminshed.
In 2014, the driver of the car was sentenced to almost three years in prison in a Perth court. He pleaded guilty to two counts of dangerous driving and causing death. Audrey says: “I waited seven years for a death certificate, it was too long.”
For ages Audrey couldn’t even say the word ‘grave’. She returned to work in Dunnes Stores but broke down and eventually she took 15 months off. She locked herself away, had her share of dark days but went to counselling and eventually found a better way. She says she “fell out with God” but goes to Mass now from time to time. She feels there has to be a better place we go after death.
Three years after Kiara’s passing Audrey met Waterford man Pat Power. They were married two years ago in a humanist ceremony. “Pat is brilliant, if I’m having a bad day he will let me deal with it my way.”
Now she’s fine with people coming up to her and telling them their memories of Kiara - and Christmas, of course, contains an extra poignancy. “Kiara loved Christmas, the more lights, the better, the more glitter, the happier she was. I’ll put up the Christmas tree, I’ll do the lights but it’s not the same. I’ll put a Christmas tree on the grave.”
Often, when Audrey hears of a car accident of some young person needlessly passing away, the memories can come coming flooding back - and overwhelm her. She would advise anyone who suffers the loss of a loved one to get out, meet other people, no matter how difficult that may prove to do. She also urges drivers not to speed and for people to always, always wear a seat belt.
She doesn’t want people to suffer the kind of loss she has endured. Nobody should have to go through that.