‘Pieta House’s crisis helpline gets 300 calls a day. I think we’d all sleep better at night if we knew we’d paid for a call like that to be answered’

Arwen Sullivan loved Christmas. Her mother Marie says the tree couldn’t go up soon enough . The 23-year-old physiotherapist and yoga teacher had “any amount of Christmas earrings,” says Marie, including a pair that grazed her shoulders with cascading letters spelling out ‘Ho-Ho-Ho’. So it is bittersweet that ShareJoy, the pre-loved clothing platform launched following Arwen’s death by suicide in 2020, has this weekend opened a raffle for a Late Late Toy Show Christmas jumper, donated by Ryan Tubridy and RTÉ.

hareJoy — founded by Marie, her friend Maeve McMahon and journalist Anne-Marie Tomchak — has already raised €30,000 for suicide-prevention charity Pieta House. Readers may remember a moving interview that Marie gave to Life about the loss of her daughter and the launch of ShareJoy in January 2021.

Now, raffle tickets for the iconic ‘hybrid’ jumper — made from several other Toy Show jumpers stitched together — are €12 each, which represents the cost of a trained professional at Pieta answering a call to their 24-hour helpline from a person experiencing a mental-health crisis.

“It’s not just adults who are calling the helpline, it’s children, and the age of people accessing Pieta’s services is getting lower and lower, unfortunately. They receive calls from children in primary school, the same age as the children I teach, which is terrifying,” says Marie, a fifth class teacher from Stamullen, Co Meath.


Arwen Sullivan pictured at Christmas. Her mother, Marie says: “It’s just so hard to be at home, especially because Arwen loved Christmas so much.” Arwen died by suicide in 2020.

“Their 24-hour crisis helpline receives over 300 calls a day and it’s open all year round, including Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. So my pitch is that by entering this raffle, you can pay for somebody to answer that call from that person in their moment of need. I think we’d all sleep better at night if we knew we’d paid for a call like that to be answered. And the incentive is you might win this beautiful jumper.”

ShareJoy has been a lifeline for Marie as she negotiates the heartbreaking terrain of a world without her beloved daughter. Her son Cian, too, has found comfort in his sister’s legacy project.

“In our grief, it’s been a way of spending time with Arwen — almost. It’s been incredibly therapeutic. From the silly little things, like when a donation of clothing comes in the door and I will be talking to Arwen, going, ‘Oh my gosh, look what we got!’ I just can’t express how much it has helped me.”

Arwen, a bright and talented high achiever, first began to struggle with anxiety in her teens. Marie and her husband, Paul, arranged for her to see a counsellor, who said Arwen had social anxiety. In the first year of her physiotherapy studies at RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, Arwen confided in both her counsellor and her mother that she was having suicidal thoughts. Marie says she was petrified hearing this but followed the guidance and spoke openly with Arwen about these intrusive thoughts.

Meanwhile, Arwen worked hard at improving her mental health, exercising daily, teaching and practising yoga, building bonds with her physiotherapy clients and friendships outside of work.

She kept abreast of mental-health research and had hoped to do a master’s on the intersection of psychology and physiotherapy. Arwen was on anxiety medication and her GP had upped the dosage in November 2019, shortly after her graduation from the RCSI. She would still sometimes have what she called anxiety attacks which manifested in irrational anger, sometimes at friends, which Marie now cautions as red-flag behaviour.

On the Easter weekend when she took her own life, Arwen had cooked a Mexican meal for the family with her boyfriend and cleared the backyard for shooting yoga YouTube videos. Just hours before Marie found her, Arwen had been “roaring laughing” on the phone with friends. She is smiling and beautiful in a photograph taken the day prior.

In her first Life interview about Arwen, back in 2021, Marie said that appearances can be deceptive: “We saw the smile and the beauty and just couldn’t imagine that there would be anything wrong behind that. She dazzled us.” At the time, Marie lamented how few public role models there were for surviving the loss of a child to suicide, challenging what she perceived to be a culture of unhelpful silence, taboo and shame.

When Sallyanne Clarke spoke to Life in August this year about the 10th anniversary of her son Andrew’s death by suicide, Marie says she read that article “almost like I was doing it for the Leaving Cert. I was just really trying to understand her, because she is a woman who has been through something very similar to me. And you feel that connection and understanding that you wouldn’t wish on anybody else”.

She commends Sallyanne for speaking publicly about Andrew. “I think we have to be able to talk about our pain because there are children like my daughter and her son who are going through their pain, and they maybe don’t feel they can talk about it. We have to be able to talk about it for them, to keep the conversation open and somewhat accessible, so that it’s not a taboo and it’s not anything to be ashamed of.”

Marie mentions an infographic she saw on Instagram that challenged the idea that mental illness and mental wellness represent a ‘them and us’ situation. “Really, it’s a continuum from being well to not being well, and we’re all somewhere on that continuum on any particular day or at any particular period of time. A mental-health crisis can happen in any family and I don’t think I understood that fully myself, to be honest. But I do now.”

The circumstances were particularly difficult for the Sullivan family as the first Covid-19 lockdown meant just 10 people could attend Arwen’s funeral. “Oh, it was unbearable,” says Marie.

The family finally held a memorial for Arwen in April of this year. “After I spoke about Arwen and ShareJoy on The Ryan Tubridy Show, a company called RHEA got in touch. They organise memorials and funerals and helped us completely free of charge. They did a fantastic job.”

The memorial took place in the RCSI, with 100 invited family members and friends.

“We made up video montages and montages of pictures of Arwen and we interspersed those with people speaking about her. We had a chair there for Arwen with her coat hanging on the back of it and we put her shoes, yoga mat and bag with her sparkly dress there too. It really felt like she’d been there a minute ago and she’d just walked out for a few minutes.

“We left feeling that we’d done her proud, we’d done our very best and we’d put on a beautiful day. It was just beautiful from beginning to end. You want to give your loved one the very best possible send-off, something really meaningful and beautiful and that’s what it was. I’ve definitely found more peace since that. I think we underestimate how important those rituals are — the funeral ritual or even an anniversary.


Ryan Tubridy with The Late Late Toy Show jumper – made from several jumpers worn on the show stitched together – being raffled by ShareJoy in aid of Pieta House

“You don’t realise how important they are until you can’t do them. You think maybe they’re just there as a custom and tradition, but I personally felt that it was really important for me to do it. I definitely felt the benefits for having done it, and so did Cian and Paul. It was hard and it was emotional, and you are opening the scar again, but ultimately it was definitely the right thing to do and worth doing well.”

The next celebration on the calendar is Christmas, which is, understandably, as Marie puts it, tricky for the family.

“The first Christmas was particularly difficult. As you can imagine, the first of everything is very difficult. Not that it gets easier but I think you just get used to it or your expectations are different. Last Christmas, I actually couldn’t face the thought of another Christmas here, and Cian was going to spend Christmas with his partner’s family, so Paul and I decided that we’d go away. I checked with Cian if it was all right,” she clarifies. “I had been talking about going to visit my sister in America for Christmas for a long time. So, we actually went last Christmas.”

This was a very, very different Christmas. The American side of the family had its own festive food and traditions, so there were fewer triggers, Marie explains.

“My sister lives in Nevada. It was snowing, it was a white Christmas. My niece and my two nephews were there. They did a big dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is the day to hang around in your pyjamas.”

Instead of turkey, there was a beef dish, and presents were exchanged on Christmas Eve. “It’s obviously their Christmas but it was so different for us, it was like it wasn’t Christmas. It was like we skipped Christmas and we just went on holiday. To be honest, I think we’re going to have to do that maybe every second year because it’s just so hard to be at home, especially because Arwen loved Christmas so much.

“She would have her Christmas Eve outfit and her Christmas Day outfit and they always had to be sparkly. We’re going to try Christmas at home again this year, so we’ll see how it goes.” ​

“Cian was saying yesterday that he doesn’t really feel any draw to try and go back to doing things the way we used to do them beforehand, because they won’t ever be the same. So, we’ll just let that go and try and figure out a new thing. That’s part of the grief process as well — just trying to figure out what works or what’s helping. What would help Cian, what would help me, what would help Paul? We’re trying to figure that out together and come up with some sort of a plan.”

Coping on a daily basis with the tragic absence of Arwen is also a continuous process of recalibration and reinvention.

“It’s just one step in front of the other, one morning at a time, one afternoon at a time, one day at a time. It really is baby steps. I never really understood what that phrase meant before. But I think when you go through a grief like losing your child — or somebody that you really love that much — then you really learn that that is incredibly wise advice. It’s a saying for a reason.

“You can’t really take in the big picture. You don’t want to. I’m not sure I could function if I was to sit and think about the reality of the situation all the time. You just think about, what is this next thing that I have to do right here in front of me now? What am I going to eat for dinner? Who’s going to walk the dog? The really small little things. Then, slowly, over time, you’re able to take in bigger periods of time — like what am I going to do next week? Being able to plan into the future was how I knew that I was kind of healing. In the beginning it’s impossible to have any enthusiasm for anything in the future. So, when you start finding that little spark in yourself again, that for me was also a sign of healing.”

To purchase tickets for the Christmas jumper raffle, see sharejoy.ie or Instagram: @sharejoy_ie

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