I read and re-read the headline.
No. That’s not right. It can’t be.
And yet there it was in plain English.
‘Emma Mhic Mhathúna has died at the age of 37.’
My body went hot and cold and I realised I was going to have a panic attack.
Rather oddly, I was at an event called the Wellness of Women that was about celebrating mums and advocating looking after our mental health, I sat listening to a speaker talk about self-care, mindfulness and breathing techniques…
I had to leave the room as my breathing went into overdrive.
Emma had passed away? No, no, no, this cannot be right, she’s only a few years older than me. It just cannot be right.
You might think from my reaction that I knew Emma that we must have met, or even exchanged chats on social media.
But I didn’t know her.
I’d never her met her. I’d never talked with her, or even messaged her. And yet she spoke directly to me. Her story, her words, her sharp wit and deep love for her children. Her fierceness, her anger, her determination; that remarkable mix of fire and sadness in her eyes.
I never knew Emma, but by God I would have loved to go for a drink or a coffee with her.
Almost five months ago, I wrote a blog post called; ‘A Standing Ovation on The Late Late Won't Save Emma Mhic Mhathúna.’ At the time, I wrote the piece in anger at the situation Emma and many other women found themselves in after Vicky Phelan had brought the Cervical Check Scandal to light. I was angry at the systematic mistreatment of women in this country over decades and decades. I was angry that all we were doing about it was clapping on a chat show, when we should have been out demanding answers from our leaders.
And yet, I read that headline back yesterday and felt awful.
How could I write something like that? It seemed wrong and I thought about deleting it. But then I stopped and thought about Emma and part of me thinks she wouldn’t have minded. I think she would have understood my anger and I think in fact, she would have approved of the sentiments of the article.
In truth, I never really thought Emma would die like this. I just thought, she’d fight on; that after she managed to settle her case that she might be able to shift her focus to her health.
But in the end Cancer won.
The fact is, it always wins…. In the end.
And now she’s dead, but she shouldn’t be. A vivacious, witty, courageous woman only a few years older than me, Emma was robbed of precious time and with that time who knows how things could have changed for her.
How did this happen? Why?
In Emma’s own words, speaking to RTE’s Morning Ireland back in May –
‘If my smear test had been read correctly in 2013, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
That is what makes it so heart-breaking. I’m dying when I don’t need to die. And my children are going to be without me, and I’m going to be without them,’ she said.
Emma was let down massively and no amount of money or redress will ever change that or bring her back. Neither will all of the beautiful tributes that have and are still being paid to her. Nor will this piece or any of the many other opinion pieces written about Emma and the Cervical Check controversy.
As Emma said herself on the Late, late – ‘Talk is cheap.’ As usual she was right. Talk is cheap, but action is priceless, so please let’s do something. Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen again, let’s ensure our leaders take decisive action.
As I sit here today, going about my normal life I keep thinking of Emma and I’m crying like an ejit. I don’t really know why it’s affected me so deeply. I think it’s the fact that a women so close in age to me can die like that.
A young woman. A mum.
While Emma’s courage will have a lasting effect on our country, on a microcosm it’s had a lasting effect on me. I’m always giving out about tantrums, feeling tired, or bemoaning motherhood and yet Emma would give anything to have even five minutes back with her children, tantrums and all.
So the next time I take my simple, relatively uncomplicated life for granted, the next time I complain about being a mum, Emma I want you to give me a kick up the arse from up there in heaven. A great, big, huge one and tell me to get my act together.