Sunday 15 Feb – The Infinite Cycle of Birth and Death. Happy 4th Birthday Sweet Butterfly Boy.


Shortly after Christmas, Oisin announced to Granny and Granddad one morning, “Can you buy my birthday presents early and put them into two big bags. I promise I won’t open them.”  

Oisin would have been 4 years of age today. A month has passed since his death. We put all the parcels that arrived in the days after he died into two big bags. We opened them today, in honour of our butterfly boy. He guides our way on.

Thank you to our friends for sharing in his special day here on the Ballymore Farm. You represented all the beautiful boys and girls who grew up with Oisin and created your own special memories with him. May you all continue to grow and blossom into radiant flowers.

We moved back down to Cork on Wednesday 28 January. Walking through the door to our home in Cork seemed to mark the beginning of a new phase in our grief. This was going to be us from now on. He was never going to be coming back to us. The finality of our new situation hit so hard. Confusing too, because every place we looked, every nook and cranny of our house, Oisin had a memory there waiting for us. The memories flooded us for days after we moved back, against the stark contrast of the present reality of our situation. He is not here any more. This all seems wrong. His presence is so alive. His toys are still all here with his marks on them.  His clothes are all here. His bedroom is here. Where is he? Where is our little boy? Why does Cilly look so lost in this suddenly big house?

Those first few days were very dark days. We cried a lot. We wanted to leave the house. We were in disbelief. A few more weeks on and we have learned to appreciate the house, our home, because it holds the memories and our love for him. So too does the surrounding area. As we visit all the places we were last with Oisin, and there are many, it is like we’ve had to grieve our loss and reclaim the place. Life simply keeps on going and we are putting one step in front of the other, treading very slowly and gently through the pain.

I want to mention people at this point. People are incredible. I felt very blessed to have gone through this journey cushioned and held by the community of Ballymore-Eustace and within our loving family. I have come to appreciate the same support and friendship in Cork. As soon as we arrived, people let us know they were available and were willing to help and support us in whatever way we needed. The love of others has been like a delicate, warm blanket. I have felt held through my grief. There is of course a time to be alone and it is important to be in those moments too. Evenings are very sad times for me. But I know support is out there in so many different forms. My professional background has helped me there. We were never offered any professional support or given any list of resources and help. We had to go out there and find it for ourselves. Please, please, please see the help and support page for links we have found useful (children and adults). I will continue to update them as I go along my own journey.

Cillian. He has been incredible. Once he got over a week long tummy bug he picked right up in himself.  When I saw Cilly back in Cork, on his own, I was so sad for him. I was so worried for him too. I knew I wanted to return to work at some point (I still love my job as much as ever), but I have been worried about how Cilly will cope.  He has spent all of his life glued to Oisin. Oisin’s friends became his friends. Cilly did what Oisin did. Cilly only went on the high slide in the play area if he had his big brother with him. Since Oisin’s death, Cilly has had to find his magnificent self that goes beyond “Cilly and Oisin,” one that is simply “Cilly.” As time has gone on Cilly has shown me that I don’t need to be such a worry bag about him. Since being in Cork, I have witnessed Cilly go through his own transformation and is emerging before us as a fun-loving, bright boy, so eager to engage in life. Like his big bro, he has taken it upon himself to ditch the nappy and put on the big boy pants. He has continued to play with his “own”toys and has little interest in cars. Every morning he goes to his kitchen and shop, he shouts down the microphone of his shop till and he makes a cup of tea for us and washes it up afterwards. He might potter over to his musical instruments and have a bang, clang and shake whilst singing a few lines of a favourite song. Most of all he loves to get involved in all of the daily domestics – putting things in the bin, wiping the table and helping with the cooking. He is his own unique soul, for sure!

In these last few weeks, I have learned a lot about how children process death. We met our mum friends in our usual Thursday meet up at the play centre. All of Oisin and Cilly’s friends came running over to Cilly to give him a big squeeze. They all seem to be very interested in us and I have connected with them in ways I never would have before. Some of the children were upset by our presence at first, a reminder of their friend no longer being there. We know they are all talking about him with their parents and trying to make sense of what has happened. We talk about Oisin with Cilly every day. We think of him as all around us still. At first Cilly thought he might be coming back. Through play and any other opportunity that arises, we try to help him with the idea of Oisin not returning, not being in his body, but being around us as a spirit. He might not be able to see him or hear him, “a bit like steam when it comes out of the kettle. It goes up into the air and all around.” The other day he decided he wanted to send a note to Oisin (you may have noticed some “notes” in Oisin’s coffin. They were from Cilly). So he made his note with some biro pens. He demanded to put a large quantity of stamps on the envelope and we left the note for the angels to collect. I asked him where we should send the note. Unsure of what to answer, I suggested we send it to heaven. None of us know the answer for certain, do we? Our human heads limit us. I simply go with what I feel in my heart. My many unanswered questions will all come to light at my own human end.

You may recall that the whole idea of “butterfly boy” came after we released a butterfly just last spring. The boys put its caterpillar self into a bug catcher that autumn and it shortly went into its chrysalis. We captured on video, the beautiful moment that Oisin and Cilly lifted the lid of the bug catcher and released the butterfly into the gentle breeze of spring. Oisin’s final words to it were, “I like you.”  We did the same again last autumn, just before Oisin’s diagnosis. The caterpillar we caught also went into a chrysalis. It emerged last week from its chrysalis. Sadly, it had no wings and did not survive. It reminds us again of how life doesn’t always go the way you hope or plan. We said goodbye to our butterfly and hope it finally got its wings along side Oisin. As for the lambs that were born around the same time that Oisin died, they continue to thrive. Cilly played a big part in their survival, going off with granddad each morning to the barn and giving them both a big bottle of milk (mummy didn’t have enough). He named them Peppa and George. Some lambs were not so lucky, and they have gone to keep Oisin company. Such is the endless cycle of birth and death.

I have decided to keep writing every so often about our life after Oisin (for those who wish to keep reading.) He has so much to teach us all about living. We also plan to distribute the generously donated money to research and other ways that will help others in this situation. We are open to your ideas and suggestions too so please post them up in your comments. We read every one. We would also like to have some kind of memorial for Oisin – like planting a tree or dedicating a park bench to his memory. We would welcome your ideas and suggestions there too.

Love and light to you all,



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11 Responses to Sunday 15 Feb – The Infinite Cycle of Birth and Death. Happy 4th Birthday Sweet Butterfly Boy.

  1. Anne ODonnell says:

    Dear Sheila and Barry,
    You’ve been on my mind so much, and we don’t even know one another!
    I thought of you both today as I remember it was to be Oisin’s birthday around now. I was playing Ong Namo in the car, which is not that typical at all, and immediately thought of Oisin.
    Thank you once again for a beautiful post. It sounds like you are coping as well as anyone could in such devastating circumstances. My heart is breaking for you both and Cilly but want you know that I think you are amazing for having the bravery to share your story and in doing so giving me such a perspective on life and death and human strength.
    God bless you.


  2. Kate Coleman says:

    Dear Boland Family,
    I’m a Graduate Entry Medicine student at UCC. Dr. Boland was our pharmacology lecturer in September. We first learned about Oisín, his story and your blog when there was a cake sale in college to raise some money for Oisin’s Wish List Fund.
    I hope you don’t feel it is in any way inappropriate for me to comment here.
    I have been reading your blog for the last few months and I just want to express my sincere sympathy to you all.
    I was first drawn to follow your story as I too kept a blog when my boyfriend and father were dying with cancer. So I have some personal experience of illness and death and a profound understanding and deep empathy for you and your loss.
    A bench is a super idea for Oisín, or perhaps something like a sculpture in a garden, like a butterfly? You will know what it best for remembering him.
    I hope you feel some comfort from the journey you have all travelled and continue to travel together.
    In time you may like to read Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven, it’s one of my favourites.
    Oisín left us on my 28th birthday: as you said, another little reminder of the constant cycle of life and death. So although I never met you, or your little boy, I will always remember Oisín now on that date.
    I am a primary school teacher, but Oisín, and others like him, are the reason I am have chosen to study to become a doctor.
    My heartfelt sympathy and warmest wishes to you all.


  3. Helen Bell says:

    Another beautifully written blog Sheila. Thank you for sharing your journey. It must be providing comfort to people who are experiencing their own loss.
    It is also helping those of us who are privaledged to know you but are too far away to see you, a chance to feel connected with you. Love to you all xxxx


  4. Nerys Yeates says:

    Hi Sheila and Barry, I have been thinking about you both so much and praying that you are all okay. It must have been the hardest thing going home and seeing all of Oisin’s toys and clothes there. I can’t believe he would have been 4 today such a gorgeous little boy. I am so glad you made today special for you all. I am sure everywhere you turn there are constant reminders of Oisin. Each day must bring new challenges you are being so brave and strong. It sounds like little Cillian is developing his own little personality which I am sure keeps you busy. I think it would
    a lovely idea to plant a tree for Oisin. Thank you for posting Sheila it is lovely to hear how you are all doing we think about you all lots.

    Love Nerys and David xxx


  5. emily spokes says:

    What a beautiful expression of love for Oisin. Sheila you are truly gifted and when I read these posts I can actually hear your soft voice reading the words aloud to me. Which of course makes me cry as I know how much you are all suffering. I wonder if there would be a science scholarship for children for example a camp at a science museum that could be in Oisin’s name — we have the natural science museum here and they have camps and study at the butterfly exhibit which is every year for several weeks and quite amazing. Or maybe in keeping with the wings theme a physical memorial garden for Oisin with lots of brightly colored flowers that would attract butterflies all the time when the weather was warm enough. sending you lots of love and hugs as always. xo, Emily


  6. Julie Meehan says:

    Dear Sheila and Barry and Cilly,
    Thank you for sharing this post Sheils.
    Like Helen said, it certainly helps us here in Meath feel closer to you all. That, and meeting you in the Heart Space, which is where Oisin’s infinite presence also resides.
    Your blog is a tremendous act of Service to our society. Writing from the Heart, and in Truth, you have written about a subject that our Western Society fears: Death and Dying. Your writing has opened up what so many of us keep in the shadows, and you have brought it into the light. Your words show us that shining a light on dying and death allows us to see what we usually close our eyes to, in all its ‘beautiful agony’. It is with deep gratitude and humility I read your words that flow from your Truth.
    Sat Nam.

    Well done Cilly on the Big Boy’s Pants!!! Such a leap for a little boy, but a boy who is all Heart and Soul. Thank you for sharing about Cilly’s morning ritual, I have a very clear image of you and Barry receiving your tea with gratitude, and of Cilly washing up – very important to complete the ritual!
    I love your description of Oisin’s presence that you shared with Cilly…steam…it is so evocative and clear and simple…and it reminds me of the descriptions I have read of ‘Shakti’, the universal energy that permeates everything, like the finest of mists. So Beautiful.

    A ‘Butterfly Tree’ is what is coming to me as I reflect on your call to us all. Either an organic tree that is planted, or a ‘tree’ structure that is carved or created in some way that invites people of all sizes, and especially little people, to write or draw or create a message of Love, or Gratitude, or Kindness or a personal message (or whatever else!) that they could then hang on the tree. A Little Ritual of Love.

    Loving you xxx


  7. Mary O'Connell & Mick Lennon says:

    Dear Sheila and Barry. Good to hear from you again. We’ve been thinking of you, especially knowing that you would be returning to cork and adjusting to a very different life there. So glad to hear that there are good moments along with the understandable difficult ones. Take care of yourselves. Love, Mick & Mary


  8. Jennie Murphy says:

    Dear Sheila, Barry and Cillian,
    I was a student of Barry’s in the School of Pharmacy in UCC for a brief period two years ago, and felt compelled to write a quick response to the blog. I can’t imagine what this must be like, and I wont do the clichéed “Sorry for your loss” bit, because I have no inkling as to what you are going through. All I have to say is that you are so strong and brave to chronicle Oisin’s journey in this way, so as to help anyone else who may be going through a similar experience. I hope it gives you some sort of therapy and strength, and I hope that with time you will be able to look back over this blog and beam at the memories you were able to create during the too short time you had left with Oisin. You have captured it so beautifully Sheila, and you should be so very proud of the gorgeous picture you have painted of Oisin and your whole family unit. I know I will think of this story every time I see a Red Admiral!

    “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard” – another Winnie the Pooh quote that I think echoes your blog.

    Stay strong,


  9. Carol Driscoll says:

    Dear Sheila, Barry and Cilly,
    After reading your postings I felt compelled to respond. I am so sorry for the heartbreak and pain your family has had to endure. But you have endured it with such grace and courage I just had to write.

    You need to know that Oisin’s spirit lives on through your writings. Do not underestimate the impact your words have had on so many people, many of whom you have never met. Nevertheless their lives will be forever changed by Oisin’s loving spirit.

    Thank you for sharing Oisin with us. Know that your family is in my thoughts and prayers and that Oisin’s spirit lives on in all who love him. I want to share a poem that was read at my mother’s funeral. It was very comforting to me, I hope you feel the same.

    Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there, I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glints on snow. I am the sunlight on ripened grain. I am the gentle autumn rain. When you awaken in the morning’s hush, I am the swift uplifting rush, of quiet birds in circled flight. I am the soft stars that shine at night. Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there. I do not sleep.

    Oisin is riding on butterflies’ wings!


  10. Kellie Dean says:

    Dear Bolands,
    Thank you for a beautifully written and touching entry, and more importantly for sharing Oisin with all of us through your blog. I work at UCC with Barry, but my only contact has been a few emails to organise a seminar for him in May 2014. Fast forward to October when another colleague told me about Oisin, and we both just stood in disbelief with tears in our eyes. Since that time, I have followed your posts, re-read many, and continue to be absolutely overwhelmed with your strength and parenting. I am so sorry for your loss.
    I have read the comments about a memorial for Oisin, and I would like to suggest a butterfly bench. When we lived in Durham, NC, I volunteered at a butterfly house (website is below) which is part of the Durham Museum of Life and Science. In front of the building they have metal butterflies that are ‘bent’ in the middle horizontally to make a bench. I have a photo of my son sitting on one to share with you if you wish.
    Anyway, it has taken me a long time to write, as I felt I couldn’t for a while. I will always think of Oisin because he shares his birthday with our daughter, who just turned 5. And the other day, my 10-year son decided to watch “Cars” – after many years! Maybe Oisin decided to hang out with us a bit that day?
    Thank you again for your blog and reminders of the important things in life.
    Wishing you love and light,
    Kellie and Paul


  11. Fi O'Meara says:

    Dear Sheila and Barry.

    Time ticks by, the world continues to spin .. And each passing day increases the time since you’ve last been with little Oisin. Just because everyone is back to their normal lives and routines, don’t think for a minute that any of us have forgotten you. I think about you and your wonderful families often and hope you can find peace with this. I remember someone telling me after my mum died ‘you never stop missing them but the pain gets less and less’. I just hope in time you will start to feel this.

    You have both shared such an amazing gift with us all in how you embraced your time with Oisin since his illness and during his death. I have learned so much from you both and it has changed how I approach every moment with my own son; relishing those sweet moments and realising that within the challenging moments there is always something to be learned. Your writing Sheila is so honest and open and you have so much to share with us – don’t stop. I’m sure it’s as therapeutic for you as it is for those of us reading it.

    I love the idea of a Butterfly bench and I wonder if Straffan Butterfly Farm which is so close to your family in ballymore would be interested in housing it? Or even planting something at the butterfly farm so that it could be surrounded by all those lovely butterflies?

    Much love to you all and looking forward to meeting in cork soon

    Fi x


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