The sibling bereavement support charity, Jacinta’s Smile, is asking people to help support its vital services by fundraising and raising awareness later this month.

With the lockdown earlier this year and the ongoing isolation many people feel, its services are more important than ever so on Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th September, the charity is asking you to get outside and complete the ‘Choose Your Challenge’ fundraiser.

Set up in 2016 by Ballintubber sisters, Aishleen, Katie-Anne, and Charlotte O’Toole, who sadly experienced the death of three siblings, the growing organisation provides sibling bereavement support to children aged 7 – 17 and young adults, aged 18 – 25, across the country.

Jacinta’s Smile, which is named for their late sister’s wonderful smile,  gives tailored support to bereaved siblings and also crucially acknowledges the unique grief they experience. It also provides subsidised counselling to bereaved young people nationwide in their local area, so that surviving siblings can develop into healthy adults with a positive outlook on life.

This year, Jacinta’s Smile is organising the online ‘Choose Your Challenge’ fundraiser which will enable participants of all ages to stay active, get involved in an activity of their choice as well as raising vital funds for the charity. It will also allow people all over the world to get involved and the events can be anything from running to hiking, to soloing a ball.

Speaking to the Herald, Katie-Anne explained that like the entire charity sector, fundraising opportunities have been difficult due to the pandemic.

“We had set up two fundraisers this year and neither of them could go ahead because of the government guidelines,” she said

She added that the €15 registration fee with Eventbrite.ie will go to Jacinta’s Smile.

“Once someone has registered we will send them out a starter pack, which will include a sponsorship card, but getting sponsorship isn’t mandatory. They will also receive a postcard as part of ‘Our Wish You Were Here’ campaign. This allows someone to write anonymously to the person who they’ve lost. Perhaps they had something they wanted to say to them, and they can send it back to us here in Vita House. We will have it stamped for them. It’s a real therapeutic act.”

She said that while sibling bereavement affects many families around Ireland, people often feel alone in that experience.

“Growing up I only knew one other person who lost a sibling, so you can feel very very alone and actually think you are the only one,” she said. Jacinta’s Smile had hoped to organise a fun activity-based gathering for bereaved siblings as it had done in previous years, but this was unfortunately not possible due to the pandemic.

However, the charity will be setting up bereavement days for young adults, which will allow them to come together to talk about their experiences.

“It is a confusing time. But coming together will allow them to know that this is normal and to know that whatever feelings they are having they are not on their own.”

While it is widely accepted that Covid-19 has had a major impact on people’s mental well-being but for people who have experienced a bereavement, the effect is compounded.

“Grief can very much be at the forefront of people’s minds right now because of the lockdown,” said Katie-Anne. “When everyone was being told to stay at home, the empty chair of that sibling was very present. Because things were brought to a standstill, you have to face what is in front of you and that can be very difficult.”

Despite the coronavirus, Katie-Anne was also very optimistic about the charity and the work its doing.

“The entire organisation is very grateful for people’s continued support,” she said.

Katie-Anne was also delighted to say that her sister Charlotte, who is living in Australia, recently gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Amelia McKellar.

For more information and to register for ‘Choose Your Challenge’, please visit Eventbrite.ie.