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February 20, 2023
Min read

“I lost both my parents before I was 25. They’d be proud of what I’m doing now.”

Written By
Nausheen Eusuf
Jack Dowdall | Sales Development Representative at Oliva

Growing up in Donegal, Jack was part of a tight-knit Irish family. His parents had always wanted a large family, and they were blessed to have a lively household with four boys.

Being the youngest, Jack was especially close to his parents. His mum was the heart of the family, as well as the breadwinner. His dad was a “man’s man,” more inclined to tough it out than go to the doctor if he was sick. But he was also a devoted family man who gave up his career to become a stay-at-home dad.

“Dad used to wake us up for school in the morning, and bring us bowls of Ready Brek with more sugar than oats—because otherwise we wouldn’t eat it.”

Jack thrived at school because he enjoyed meeting people and making friends. He was also a bohemian sort, very much into fashion and art. While in secondary school, he started working at the local cinema.

Things were going well—until they received some unwelcome news.

“A tough pill to swallow”

Jack was 15 when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. He remembers it being “a tough pill to swallow.” Still, he thought she’d surely get better.

Initially, the treatment was successful. “It was like winning the lottery—we were ecstatic,” Jack recalls. “It was the best thing ever to see your mum beating cancer and going back to work.”

But the cancer eventually returned, and slowly spread throughout her body. Despite his mother’s strength and determination, it was becoming “an unwinnable battle.”

Meanwhile, Jack went off to university in Dublin. It was his first time living away from home, though he’d visit on the weekends. But it was also stressful to balance his social life with the academic pressure. Eventually, he dropped out and moved back home.

“It was nice to be back because that was when Mum’s illness got more serious. I could help around the house and be there as much as possible.”

Jack spent the next two years working at the cinema and helping out his family as much as he could. He tried going to university again, but couldn’t connect with his studies. He was constantly worried about the situation at home and felt like he was “burning the candle at both ends.”

Then his mother passed away. Jack was 21.

Jack dropped out and returned home once again.

“That’s when the shit hit the fan. Like, is this what life is about? I didn’t want to be stuck in university. If life is so precious and so short, I needed to find something meaningful.”

“I watched my dad deteriorate”

Dealing with his own grief was hard enough. But Jack was also deeply affected by his father’s distress.

His dad was devastated by the loss of his wife. She was the love of his life and they’d been married for 40 years. He’d spent every moment taking care of her as she battled cancer. With her gone, he became a shell of his former self. He stopped leaving the house.

It was painful for Jack to watch his dad slowly deteriorate. After all, his dad had always been his role model and the rock of the family.

“Watching my dad break down was one of the most difficult periods in my life. If we tried to talk, he’d start crying and then I’d start crying too. ”

As his father struggled to cope, Jack found himself in a difficult spot. It was an intense time for them both, and they often ended up fighting. It was hard for him to keep an even keel.

Jack needed to get away from the “constant arguments and clashing of heads.” So he decided to visit his friends in Amsterdam.

A new job and a new life

Jack’s plan was to stay for a month. But his friends ended up getting him an office job in Amsterdam. It was incredibly exciting, and Jack called his father to share the good news. “You’re going to be so proud of me,” he told his dad. “I got a job—a grown-up job.”

His dad was pleased of course, but Jack could also hear the disappointment in his voice. He was only supposed to be going away for a month—not indefinitely.

But Jack quickly became immersed in his new life. He was independent and self-sufficient, living his life the way he’d imagined it. He loved meeting new people, encountering different cultures, and embracing new experiences.

The distance also improved his relationship with his dad. He’d call nearly every day to talk about the job and life in Amsterdam. His dad would tease him about working in customer service, but Jack knew that he was proud of him.

Then, less than a year into his new life in Amsterdam, the unthinkable happened.


“This can’t be happening”

Jack was in bed one night when he got a text from his oldest brother: “Dad just had a stroke.” 

“I thought: this can’t be true, this can’t be happening. But he kept sending messages: Dad’s in the hospital. They put him on machines. Fifteen minutes later: it’s not looking good. Thirty minutes later: you need to get home because Dad’s being kept on life support.”

Jack remembers the grief and horror that descended on him that night in the tiny apartment he shared with his best friend.

“I just broke down into tears and started screaming. Why me? What is going on? How is this possible? This shit doesn’t happen to anyone.”

With his mother, at least they’d known that she was sick. When her time was up, he knew she was happy and at peace. But this was different. It was sudden and unexpected. When he flew back home and saw his father on life support, “it was the most harrowing sight you can imagine.”

Although the medical explanation was a brain aneurysm and a stroke, Jack knows that his father died of heartbreak. 

“It was the stress and turmoil that triggered it. He’d had enough of being on this earth alone. He needed to be with his wife.”

In fact, it was around the anniversary of his mother’s death that his father passed away. 

Meeting the pain head on

The shock and grief of losing his father had a profound impact on Jack. He struggled with guilt over his decision to leave the nest for Amsterdam. He couldn’t help wondering if things would’ve been different if he’d stayed home.

The months that followed were a period of intense turmoil. He turned to alcohol and drugs to dull the pain. His two best friends tried to intervene, telling him he needed to stop. Then on a flight home to see his brothers on the anniversary of his mum passing, he completely broke down. That was the turning point.

Jack realised that he had so much life and opportunity ahead of him that he couldn’t afford to waste. He started taking care of himself and processing his grief in a healthier way.

“I decided to go through the pain, instead of trying to find ways around it. I met it head-on and really thought about it. I meditated. I started taking care of my body and mind.”

<quote-author>Jack Dowdall<quote-author><quote-company>Sales Development Representative at Oliva<quote-company>

The loss of his father also forced Jack to grow up very quickly. “That’s when I really became a man,” he says. But Jack’s idea of being a man is different from his dad’s.

“For my dad, being a man meant even if he got shot in the stomach, nobody would know until they saw the blood. My idea of being a man is being someone who can cry, who understands hardship, who’s comfortable talking about tragedy and is empathetic towards others who may be suffering.”

Meanwhile, Jack started a new job at a sneaker store. He loved the people there and made a lot of good friends. About 3 or 4 months into the new job, he opened up to his colleagues about what he’d been through.

“Being able to share this with people gave me an overwhelming sense of comfort. I even had people come and tell me their stories. It just shows that you never know what’s happened to someone or what’s going on in their head.”

Jack also found that opening up accelerated the bonds he formed with his colleagues.

“Deep-rooted connections at work are only possible when you open up. I made friends at that job I know I’m going to keep for life.”

Not only did Jack flourish at his job back then, his passion for mental health and wellbeing would eventually lead him to a new career in a new industry. 

A continuing journey with mental health

Jack eventually decided to try his hand at sales. After completing a SaaS sales training course, he looked at a list of software companies he could apply to—but couldn’t connect to their missions. 

Then he interviewed for a sales role at Oliva. When he was offered the job, he felt an overwhelming joy wash over him.

“I felt like everything I’d been through was finally coming full circle, that I’m supposed to be working at a mental health company. I’m helping companies alleviate problems they don’t even know exist. I know I’m helping someone in crisis get help.”

Despite the loss he’s experienced, Jack has arrived at a place of acceptance and describes himself as “a very positive person.” He continues to be outspoken on mental health issues in order to help other people.

As for his parents, Jack feels their presence in his life all the time: “I feel their energy in everything I do.” He’s proud of where he is today, and he knows his parents would be too.

“I swear to God, if my mom and dad knew about the job I’m doing now, they’d be insanely proud. Wherever they are right now, I know they’re cheersing a big pint of Guinness."

Oliva therapist photograph

5 tips for coping with loss

by Oliva therapist

Inmaculada Rodríguez Ángel

Be patient with yourself

Every grieving process is different—and so is the time you might need to recover. There are many factors that influence this. For example, it’s not the same to lose someone suddenly as after a long illness. Or to lose an elderly person vs. a young and healthy person. So if you need more time to heal, that’s OK. Be kind to yourself.

Don’t shy away from talking about the person

There is a misconception that the less we talk about the loss of a loved one, the less time it’ll take to recover—and the less painful it’ll be. But we should understand that the goal of the grieving process is not to forget the loved one, but to learn to live with their memory in a healthy way. Sharing with your loved ones and getting their support is essential to achieve this.

Return to the daily routine ASAP

It's important—and healthy—to get back to your daily routine after losing a loved one. It’ll help focus your thoughts on other activities. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid thinking about the loss, but it’s totally possible to continue living while processing grief. Stopping your life completely increases the chances of depression creeping in. Remember: your loved one would want you to get on with life and be happy.

Take care of your physical health

It’s normal for both our mental and physical health to be affected in the early stages of grief. Many people report problems with their appetite, sleep, and physical activity. But even if you don’t feel like it, try to eat healthily and regularly, and to sleep at least 6 hours a night. Doing exercise will help with your appetite and sleep, as well as improve your mood.

Follow rituals you connect with

Depending on your beliefs, there will be different rituals when you lose a loved one. Follow those that you identify with, and that you feel will help you the most. A mass, burial, prayer, farewell letter—the rituals associated with loss are part of the process and can be helpful to accept it.