A sudden change

It is with great sadness that I find myself writing my first editor’s column for Ambulance Today. And I find myself at a loss for words as to where, or how I should begin. My father would never have had this problem: it did not matter what words were present or not – his silver tongue would soon find a way to bring you to the point of conversation he wished to elicit from you.

My father was a great man, and to almost as great an extent, it is fair to say that this magazine was an embodiment of him. Declan Heneghan and Ambulance Today are, and always have been, synonymous.

I grew up around my father’s work. He was a journalist, but also somewhat of a social engineer. The web of people who know him across the country is as deep as it is wide, yet I suppose I see some of the deepest effects in my own neighbourhood, here in Liverpool. This is a man who has friends from every stratum of society, and the reason why is very simple in theory, yet very difficult in practice. He basically devoted his life to helping others, and those who knew him could see it in almost every action he undertook.

I genuinely struggle to think of a single time where he has acted selfishly or put himself first. This can be said of many people, but there is one way in which my father differed of which I have always been proud, and that was in his absolutely fearless tenacity to pursue anything he felt strongly principled over – no matter what the threat or cost.

If my father thought that a truth had to be spoken, or an act had to be undertaken, then he would storm through whatever had to be done like a hurricane. Locally, he has helped so many people in this way through his various drug abuse and social programmes, the various charities, bodies and organisations he has either set-up or worked tirelessly with, and just through plainly being a good friend – the type of friend who would go to lengths few others would.

A loyal, principled, just man. When he had an idea in his head, there was no stopping him. Moving through life, and indeed the many obstacles it threw at him, with an unstoppable force, anything that challenged him would certainly be met with an immoveable object – and those that stood behind him where covered in the shadow of his protection, provision, and his immense depths of emotional understanding.

It is with this tenacity that he approached the world of pre-hospital care. In all of you, he saw the saving graces of humanity. Those who, like he did, work tirelessly putting every last bit of themselves into everyone else.

Those with an uncanny ability to relate to complete strangers who so desperately and obviously need help, and to provide that help with love and understanding, even if they are lashing out in pain and confusion. Those who sometimes give
up the most vital parts of their time and life, working so that others may live in peace, comfort, and reassurance. Caring for people.

Caring for people sounds like a bit of a bland phrase, but it isn’t. To do so properly, you must be able to see them without judgement. You have to be able to strip away the class, the colour, the gender, the personality even and look at one simple thing- are they good? If not, are they trying to be good? Now, in your work, this last question is, ethically, not even a question which presents itself.

If someone is in the back of your bus, you treat them no matter what. You don’t play God, you act as an angel instead. But, in my father’s dealings, I think it is safe to say that this was the first, and often only, thing he considered. After determining who you were, and if he could see even the smallest amount of hope and love within you, then he would help with whatever was needed – and if he couldn’t then he certainly knew someone who could.

It is a fond memory that I will always have, that wherever I have travelled with him, we would continually be stopped by this person or that person. Socially and professionally, his exuberant, intelligent, funny, warm, loving and determined personality made him somewhat of a celebrity and earned the respect of… I daren’t even estimate a number as to how wide my father’s various circles where.

As I sit writing this, I’m sat in his editor’s chair and smoking his cigarettes. I’m sat in it, but it still feels empty. A massive hole has been left in my life, and that of my younger brother Isaac, who was my father’s world. I have always had a way with words, and for the first time in many years, none fit. None are good enough. And, indeed, a great hole has been left in many other people’s lives too, not to mention the global ambulance community at large.

I can guarantee that the effects he has had upon our society through his tireless efforts simply just to help and love people will never be truly known. He rarely spoke about them, and I used to find most of it out when friends would bring it up in conversation with him present. Everybody knows a bit – and it will always pain me that I doubt anyone, including myself, will ever have a full picture of Declan Heneghan – for that picture is simply far too wide, detailed, and utterly majestic.

Whilst I find myself struggling for words, a shortcoming in my own eyes for his beloved editor’s column in what turned out to be the final edition of Ambulance Today that he ever worked on… whilst I find myself lost for words I can only conclude with a couple of sentiments.

The first is that the love, tireless devotion, and stupendous amounts of selfless work that my father gave to the global ambulance community was met back with respect, gratitude, and in many cases life-long loyal friendships which similarly provided love, care, help, and understanding for him in his own hours of need.

I was with him frequently when others would approach him with a quiet and reserved eagerness to be involved in his various projects, and as those conversations progressed and the potential in which these ideas could help people started to appear, my heart overfilled with pride every time.

To hear how people in ambulance circles spoke of my father – always with the highest of compliments – yet again overwhelmed me with pride to the point where I found I could only stand there, quietly dumb, smiling with a simple “I know”. The most common ones I ever received where “You’re so lucky to have a dad like that”, and “I wish I had a relationship like that with my father”. I was lucky, and I am happy. My father saw the very highest of good in all of you. A section of society who devote their lives to the lives of others. People with an unmatched quiet, simple and pure goodness.

I have never met an EMT who’s levels of intelligence, kindness and emotional understanding haven’t impressed me and won me over immediately, and so it was with my father too. It should come as no surprise then, that the entire ambulance community, both in the UK and across the world, and my father had such a deep and unshakeable friendship.

It is to you all who I would like to extend my deepest condolences because, whilst I have lost a father, I know all too well that you have all lost a dear, faithful, funny and highly intelligent friend who fought for the best interests of staff and patients alike with little or no regard for himself. I am truly sorry to you all for your loss.

And it is with that that I also offer my own open hand and my own respect to you all. The love and respect, the eagerness which my father approached you all with, is echoed in myself. He cannot, and will never, be replaced. But I will do my very utmost to honour him, and his relationships, as best I can.

The second is that my father, through necessity and I also believe simply through who he was as a person, was first and foremost a fighter. He would fight for everything, and anyone. And he has raised me the same way. Whilst the pain of losing the person who undeniably stood by me the most, loved me the most, taught me the most and provided for me the most – a person who turned out to be my closest confidant and best friend, who taught me just about everything in life – whilst the pain of losing that person so suddenly is so indescribable, my father raised me a fighter. I can take that pain and stand. I can work for his magazine, I can care for Isaac – the son whom he loved and protected so much, my brother. I can navigate all of this, because of him.

A mantra has made its way into my head over these past couple of days, and I think it describes the mix of strength and fearlessness that he carried, and passed onto others, fairly well. ‘We may be in bits, but it doesn’t mean we can’t take those bits and hold them together in our hand’. That, to me, is certainly a mark of strength.

And if I can live my life to be just half the man this giant was, then I will feel as though I have succeeded.
Dad, there simply aren’t words. I love you.

Joe Heneghan
December 2018


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