WRITTEN BY ALISON O’RIORDAN
Top Irish model Alison Canavan has opened up about the true extent of the inner despair and anguish she felt when her dad passed away nearly fourteen years ago next month.
“My dad was my protector no matter where I was in the world. He could fix anything and now he was gone. I felt lost.”
Tom Canavan was diagnosed with lung cancer at only 48 years of age, the father of five young daughters, less than a year before he had fallen victim to the hands of the cruel life threatening disease.
The attractive brunette had only turned 21 years of age and was beginning to make a name for herself at home and abroad, cutting her teeth on the international catwalk circuit and sharing the ramp with some of the world’s top earning models when she was faced with the dismal prospect of her loving father departing her world.
“I remember dad came out of Blackrock Clinic for a few hours to be at my 21st birthday a few weeks before he left us. Shortly before he passed he had asked to speak to me alone. We talked for about an hour and he touched on what would happen if he passed away. I was in complete denial at the time and there was no way I was even considering him dying” explains the five-foot-10 model from Castleknock.
A day after their intimate chat, the brown-haired, brown-eyed statuesque model was on her way to shoot a fashion commercial in Portugal, when the heartbreaking news reached her.
“My plane had just landed in Lisbon and a call came to say that I should come straight home again. I remember looking out the window of the plane back to Dublin praying to god dad wasn’t up there in heaven. I had to travel via London and picked up a message from a friend saying how sorry she was but at the time I thought she had just heard about him being taken into hospital. Little did I know he had already left us.”
When she arrived at Dublin airport, she saw her dad’s best friend waiting for her in arrivals and knew instantly he had died.
“It took me a long time to forgive myself for going to Portugal and being the only one not present when he passed away.”
Imagining it was all a bad dream, Alison the second eldest of the five daughters begged and pleaded with her father to come back as he lay there in the hospital lifeless.
“Grief affects our judgement and decisions and the healing process can be simply unbearable at times. I remember the pain being so deep in my stomach, somewhere unreachable that I had never felt before” said the model who was discovered by model agent Eddie Shanahan at 15 years of age when she represented Ireland in the Supermodel of the World competition in Las Vegas.
As her father’s fourteenth anniversary approaches on May 18, life has changed considerably for the thirty five year old, now a mum to son James who was born in September 2010 and with a twenty year career in the fashion industry under her belt, which has taken her to the main fashion capitals of the world, her fondest memories are still of her dad which will stay with her forever.
“I loved his sense of humour. He had incredible wit and was so much fun to be around. I still bump into people fourteen years later who tell me stories like it was yesterday. I was very close to him but we were also very alike so did tend to clash a bit, both with strong personalities but soft on the inside.”
“I used to call my dad in times of trouble and he would make everything ok. I called him from a job in Greece when a sleazy photographer hit on me and he had me on a plane a few hours later. He was magic.”
In the aftermath of the death, Alison’s eldest sister Jennifer took on the responsibility of minding the younger three sisters at the time, ranging from eleven years to seventeen years of age.
“I came home for a while and took a break from travelling the world modelling and went back to college, as it was my dad’s dying wish. Grief can bring you close or tear you apart. We all pulled together.” said Alison who is now investing her time in her new project the ‘ 0 To Toddler’ show which toured the country with thirteen shows last year.
“In the short term I coped incredibly well, too well some might say, going out a lot. I didn’t cry very much until his first anniversary and at that stage I had to accept he wasn’t coming back. I buried it all which is what I do best. If you can’t cope you push it down and deal with it at a later date which is not a good idea.”
Not a day goes by when Alison doesn’t think of him and she is very grateful to ARC Cancer Support for providing counselling to her mum Margaret at the time. A great place of healing for her family, it holds a special place in their heart.
“I will always be so grateful to ARC as mum had an enormous amount to cope with. Losing a husband at such a young age and being left with five daughters. It’s a place of refuge and peace during such a difficult time and I love the holistic approach they take with reflexology and meditation.”
“When my Mum first went in she saw that the main room was dedicated to Anne O’Callaghan (Miriam’s sister) who Mum had worked with years before. She passed away so young with two babies and Mum found that quite emotional and couldn’t help but think of her poor family and kids as well.”
Alison has a picture of her father Tom hanging in her sitting room and sees many resemblances of her son James in him. The two year old is proud to tell everyone who calls to the house that this is his “mummy’s daddy”.
“I will always tell James about his granddad because no one is ever gone far if you keep them in your heart and in your memories and I always say that memories are best shared.”
ARC’s 10k run taking place on the Monday May 6, the May Bank Holiday in the Phoenix Park at 10am. Please support and help raise vital funds to cancer patients. All services are free of charge. For further information on the run please phone 01 8307333 or logon to www.arccancersupport.ie