At 15, Hannah Carlin has been through events in her life that most people don’t face until they are well into adulthood.
Last month, Hannah accepted a joint award for Courage at the Derry Credit Union Limited Young Peoples’ awards. The award is proudly displayed on the mantlepiece of her grandmother’s home in Cable Street, where the Derry teenager now lives.
Hannah, a student at St Mary’s College, has been living with her grandmother, Anna, following the death of both her parents who passed away tragically within eight months of one another last year. Now, the dedicated teenager is back at school and determined to work toward her GCSE’s.
She’s come in for praise from the staff at St Mary’s who say Hannah’s courage has been an inspiration to those around her.
Hannah was nominated for the Courage award by her teacher, Navanna Doherty who decided the local school girl’s bravery and courage should be recognised.
Speaking to the Journal this week in the middle of a hectic exam and coursework schedule, Hannah said she was over the moon with the award.
“I was excited, and ecstatic and happy. It was just brilliant,” she smiles.
Nervously listing off the GCSE’s she’s studying for, Hannah doesn’t really see herself as different from any of her peer group, who are feeling the same exam time pressure.
In speaking about her mother Sharon’s battle with illness however, she displays a medical knowledge far beyond what’s typical for the average 15-year-old.
“My mammy had Pernicious Anaemia, which means there’s not enough iron in the red blood cells to support them. It’s a blood disorder which means you have to have a lot of blood transfusions, which mammy did. I always remember her being tired and quite often she’d be really run down and stuff. It was tough seeing her like that.”
While Hannah was fully aware of her mother’s ill health, the death of her father Kevin, in December 2012 came as a shock to the entire family.
“He had a burst stomach ulcer, and we were devastated when he died. It was so sudden. That hit me really hard, because even though I still had my mammy at that stage, I’d always been really close to daddy. It was really tough. He was just amazing, he was like my best friend.”
While she was trying her best to cope with the death of her father, Hannah’s mother’s condition was deteriorating, and Hannah took a lot of time off school to help care for her.
“Mammy was a legend,” she smiles. “All my friends said the same thing about her. She was great craic. While I’d always been closer to my daddy, over the months after he died I started getting closer to mammy, so when she died it was hard, It was really hard.”
Hannah’s mother passed away on August 5 2013, and less than a month later, after having had to take almost her entire third year off school, Hannah returned to her studies.
She says the teachers at St Mary’s have been nothing but supportive to her since her return.
“They’ve been really brilliant. It is tough because I missed so much, looking back I suppose I wish I hadn’t taken as much time off but at the time there was no real way around it. When I came back I had to pick my GCSE’s pretty quickly and decide what I was doing. I chose Technology, Health and Social Care and ICT. I really enjoy technology but I think it’s good to have Health and Social Care because there are lots of jobs in it. I think it’s a good GCSE to have under your belt.”
Hannah’s real passion however, is animals.
“I’d love to be a wildlife biologist some day,” she smiles.
“I have a dog and I’m looking after a horse too for a friend of mine at Templemore Stables. I’m hoping to do more things like that during the summer. I just really like the thought of travelling when I’m older and I’d love to visit Fiji. That’s what I’ll work towards.”
Hannah’s also a member of well known Derry youth group “Reach Across.” She has a big group of friends and says their support has meant a lot to her since losing her parents.
“I need to thank Matthew Horner, Niamh Harkin and Rebecca Weir and Luka Dion Thompson. And I really need to thank my granny too. She has the award that I got on the mantlepiece, she cleans it everyday.”
Hannah is determined to make her parents proud of her.
“I miss them every day,” she says. Anyone who knows the teenager would agree that there’s a lot to be proud of, as her teacher, Navanna Doherty, recognised when she nominated her for an award.
Ms. Doherty said: “Hannah kept a positive and pleasant attitude during the time when her mother was ill, showing great creative potential, even though her school attendance has been affected by family matters. Sadly, Hannah’s father passed away in December 2012, and her mother then died in August 2013.
“Hannah has faced many obstacles from the loss of her parents, but faces them with tremendous courage. Her attendance and dedication to her school work since then has been very impressive. Losing one parent is quite hard on a person, but losing both, and having to study for GCSE’s shows that Hannah faces each day with a positive attitude and is testimony to Hannah’s courage,” she added..