“The butterfly does not count months, but moments and has enough time,” wrote the Bengali polymath Rabindranath Tagore, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913 for his poetry. Nature in general, and butterflies in particular, have helped Aggie Flanagan cope with the unfathomable loss of her daughter.
Iara Pugsley committed suicide aged 15 after being bullied online and Aggie has spent the past decade planting a garden in her memory. “The love of nature has wrapped its arms around me. That’s where I find my peace and serenity. The garden represents a journey from darkness to light,” said Aggie, 56.
In the numbing aftermath of Ciara’s death in the woods near her home, the image of butterflies comforted Aggie. It was her first glimpses of beauty and hope, reminding her of heaven and that Ciara had a place there.
She decided to start a garden and Ciara’s Memorial Garden at her home near Dromahair, Co Leitrim is the result. Friends and strangers came with spades, dug and planted, helping Aggie and her partner Declan finish the garden in time for Ciara’s 16th birthday. Some brought their children to help, and Aggie took comfort in the small footprints that were still being left in the ground days later.
The garden has evolved and Aggie has added butterfly keynotes, including an eye-catching sculpture and a butterfly-backed metal garden bench. Last month, on the 10th anniversary of Ciara’s death, she invited a gathering of those who had contributed to this first version of her garden to see the results.
At its entrance is a plaque that reads: “Welcome to Ciara’s Memorial Garden. A place of great comfort for Aggie on her journey through grief.”
“I wanted to get everyone to see the garden again 10 years later,” Aggie said. “But in doing so, I feel more connected to Ciara than ever. For the first time I feel really close to Ciara. I wanted to thank them and tell them how much it meant to me. But in doing so, it brought me closer to Ciara.”
The garden covers about one hectare and includes a 20-minute walking trail with 10 reference points. This includes “our tiny little orchard” – four apple trees, one of which has a special connection to Ciara because a branch was grafted onto the rootstock of an apple tree planted when she was born.
That year Ciara’s tree bore fruit for the first time. “It’s like a rebirth,” Aggie said. “Gardening is about being in the now. When I’m in the garden I don’t think about the past or the future, I look at the colors of the petals. With the garden I feel like I have created a story. This is our story for the last 10 years: the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s a little bit of hope.”
Another feature is a keyhole garden – a circle that has had a pane removed so it looks like a C for Ciara that Aggie can see from her kitchen window.
Elsewhere are 18 rowan trees for Ciara’s 18th birthday and a Zen garden with a Buddha statue. Nature makes its own interventions, and some self-seeded Christmas trees sprout.
For Ciara’s anniversary, Aggie hung photos of her on trees, some showing her on her horse, Basil, who led Ciara’s funeral procession and remains a treasured part of the family. Another photo showed Ciara as an excited teenager with a ticket to a disco she was supposed to attend. Condolence cards were also laminated and hung from tree branches.
“This is my journey through grief,” Aggie said. “You pass under a willow arch and a dark place due to shrubbery while I am in the early stages of Ciara’s death, literally going from darkness to light. I’m trying to make sense of it and that’s where I have the butterfly sculpture because it gave me hope for the first time.”
The garden was inspired by community gardens in Bundoran, Co. Donegal, a visit to Bloom and the Japanese Gardens in Kildare in 2017.
Originally from Omagh, Co. Tyrone, Aggie was educated at the Organic Center in Rossinver, North Leitrim and works in the shop of a garage near her home in Leitrim.
“I try very hard to be nice to people because we don’t know what people are going through,” she said. Suicide is still “a taboo,” but she found solace when people were willing to listen when she spoke about Ciara, who died on September 19, 2012. “I always talk about Ciara and I know very quickly if people want to listen, but that also helped me.”
Her thoughts turned to Donegal and she said: “My heart sighs with a sympathy that only those of us who are losing children can understand. The way to support these grieving people is to give them space and time and just be there for them. Don’t worry about not knowing what to say.”
Few teenagers remind her of Ciara, but when she saw a photo of Creeslough victim Leona Harper, 14, “another beautiful soul,” she was particularly moved by the similarities between these two lost girls.
Aggie recalled the sense of unreality surrounding the early days of her death, which families in Creeslough also experience. “I just wanted Ciara in my arms again,” she said of her sporty, adventurous girl with her infectious “big, big, happy smile.”
“With grief, you’re sad, you’re angry, and you’re thinking how you’re going to put the food on the table. You still have to go to work and earn a living.”
Aggie’s partner Declan and son Daniel (27) have been a tremendous support, even if “sometimes have to take a big sip”. But she has a positive nature.
“I mourn her every day but I’m lucky because I had the ability to deal with it. The bond I had with Ciara was incredible – I’m surprised I survived. But I’m a very happy person. I choose to move on with my life even though this horrible thing happened. I made a mental note the day after Ciara died that I wouldn’t let that define me.”
Her garden serves as a source for Aggie to draw from – a woman with the grace to understand that events beyond our control happen and shape us, but don’t need to state who we are. Rest in peace Ciara and all the other Ciaras.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/how-the-mother-of-ciara-pugsley-who-died-by-suicide-at-15-used-nature-to-help-her-on-journey-through-grief-42065399.html How the mother of Ciara Pugsley, who committed suicide at 15, used nature to help her through her grief