Life

Heartbroken family undertake 103-mile 'butterfly walk' in memory of schoolgirl Abi

The family of a Portaferry schoolgirl whose death two years ago changed their lives forever are walking 103 miles to keep her memory alive and raise awareness around mental health

Abi Rogers was just 15 when she died
Maureen Coleman

ABI Rogers was, in many ways, a typical teenager. She loved pretty things like fashion, make-up and butterflies. Two years on from her sudden death, her loved ones are reminded of a special girl whose "cheeky smile" could light up a room, whenever they see a butterfly fluttering nearby.

Not that mum Cathy and step-dad Andrew Brodie need a prompt to remember her. There's not a day that goes by since the 15-year-old Portaferry schoolgirl lost her battle with mental health issues that her heartbroken parents haven't thought about her. She is always present in their hearts and minds and though still working through their grief, Abi's death has changed their perspectives on life.

As Andrew says, they don't 'sweat the small stuff' any more. Losing Abi to suicide has taught them not to worry so much about things they can't control and to focus on what really matters to them.

To keep her memory alive and to raise awareness around mental health, the couple have organised a virtual 103-mile walk or run next month, called Abi's Butterfly Breeze. The number of miles represents the distance from Seaforde Gardens and Tropical Butterfly House in Co Down to another butterfly centre, Tropical World in Letterkenny, Co Donegal. Fundraisers are being encouraged to walk or run the 103 miles, if possible, between September 7 to 13, or divide the route up among a relay team.

Abi with her brothers Cian, left, and Dylan

Andrew, a keen runner, plans to cover the entire distance in 24 hours. He says he'll probably run it on September 11, Abi's anniversary and he believes she'll be there with him, in spirit, pushing him on.

“Abi loved girlie things and she loved butterflies,” Andrew says. “To us, her family, butterflies will always be synonymous with Abi. Whenever Cathy is out with Abi's younger brother Cian, and sees a butterfly, she'll say to him 'look, there's Abi'.

“After her passing, Cathy and I looked at a few charities to see about doing some fundraising for them. We worked with Pieta House and during lockdown, we did a virtual Darkness Into Light walk. We also did things like pub quizzes but to mark Abi's anniversary we wanted to do something really special and that stood out from other 5ks or 10ks.

“Then we came up with the idea of Abi's Butterfly Breeze for the mental health charity Inspire Wellbeing, walking or running the exact distance between two butterfly houses in Seaforde and Letterkenny. Cathy intends to cover the 103 miles within a week but I'm going to try my best and do it in a day.

“I'd like to think Abi will be with me, encouraging me to keep going if I get tired or feel like giving up.”

Andrew had originally considered walking the whole way from Down to Donegal but logistically, the route proved too challenging. Instead, he will cover the miles in and around Portaferry, cheered on by family and friends.

As well as raising money for Inspire Wellbeing, Andrew and Cathy hope the event will encourage more people to speak out about mental health and to confide in someone if they feel they are struggling.

In the run-up to her death, Abi, a pupil at St Columba's College in Portaferry, showed no signs of being depressed. She had a close circle of friends and was popular and well liked. Her family still don't know why she felt unable to carry on and are urging people, especially children and teens, to not be afraid of opening up.

“There were no warning signs,” says Andrew. “We never got any reasons. But people can be good at masking things.

“I'll never forget the morning it happened. Cathy had gone to work in Belfast and I was getting the kids up for school. I kept calling for Abi and when she didn't appear, I went into her room and found her there.

“It was devastating. I then had to break the news to Cathy. Our world just fell apart.”

Abi's older brother Dylan and younger brother Cian were also heartbroken. To Cian, Abi was someone he looked up to and idolised and the pair shared a close bond. Andrew says Cian has shown so much resilience and helped give him strength to carry on.

“It's weird; the best way I can describe our lives now is that we're doing everything in slow motion,” he says. “Sometimes it feels like everyone is moving on with their lives and we're being left behind. It's hard to explain.

“But losing Abi has definitely changed our perspectives. We don't worry about silly things any more; things that aren't worth talking about. There's no point wasting time getting annoyed with each other, for example. We just take five seconds out and then we're fine.

“We don't sweat the small stuff any more.”

He describes Abi as an outgoing teenager who had her own unique sense of style and was outwardly bubbly. He doesn't know why she kept her struggles to herself but is determined that if even one family can be saved from going through similar heartache, Abi's Butterfly Breeze will have been worth it.

“Our lives will never be the same again and there's not a day goes by that we don't think about Abi,” says Andrew. “She's always with us and we miss her very much. Both of us have bad days and good days but our lives have changed forever now.

“So many people hold back and don't speak out. I would encourage anyone struggling with mental health issues to talk to someone, anyone, a parent, a grand-parent, a friend. There are people who can help. We need to raise more awareness of this.”

Andrew and Cathy have had 250 special T-shirts designed for Abi's Butterfly Breeze and so far, the response to the fundraiser has been good. Most of the people who've signed up are from the Portaferry area and knew Abi. Some of her friends are expected to take part as well.

As Abi's second anniversary approaches, Andrew says emotions are running high at home. He and Cathy recently travelled to Donegal to visit Tropical World and view the hundreds of butterflies there. It's a trip Abi would've enjoyed too, Andrew says.

“Cathy was out training last week but didn't really feel in the mood for a run and was planning to head home,” Andrew says.

“She stopped and was about to turn back when she saw two butterflies. She felt straight away that Abi was with her. She's always with us. We carry her in our hearts.”

:: If you are interested in taking part in Abi's Butterfly Breeze, email fundraising@inspirewellbeing.org.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Life