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Mother's emotional letter grieves loss of 3 children during holidays

A 62-year-old Irish mom whose three children died from cystic fibrosis wrote a viral letter hoping to connect with others who have lost loved ones.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Jareen Imam and Scott Stump

A single mother who wrote a heartbreaking letter about grieving the deaths of her three children during the Christmas season is hoping her message can help others coping with the loss of loved ones over the holidays.

Kathleen Keyes, 62, wrote a letter published in the Irish Times about Christmas being "a black surround, without tinsel, while the masses are plumping up the shopping streets," as she lives with the loss of her daughter and two sons from cystic fibrosis over the course of 16 years.

Kathleen Keyes with her son Fergal, who died at 31 last year from cystic fibrosis. Kathleen Keyes

"Losing a child is like having your heart torn out and your stomach emptied,'' she wrote. "Grief gets in the way of daylight, not to mention the nocturnal dark."

Keyes' daughter, Gráinne died at 15 in 2002, her son Darragh died at 19 in 2012, and her son Fergal died at 31 last year. She also lost two of them during the holidays, as Gráinne died on Jan. 3, while the first anniversary of Fergal's death was on Dec. 2.

"This is a seasonal time, and for me, I put those few words on the paper because my Christmas is going to be quite different,'' Keyes told NBC News. "I was hoping to connect with other people. Something inside of me needed to express this isolation this year.

"I wanted to reach out to others beyond me to let them know how lucky they are to have family this time of year. It's easy to get caught up with the Christmas shopping and stress of the holidays. Spend that quality time with your child and your loved ones."

Kathleen Keyes' daughter Gráinne died at 15 of cystic fibrosis in 2002. Kathleen Keyes

The letter by the single mother from Bray in County Wicklow, Ireland, has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times and has inspired an outpouring of support for her during an emotional time.

"I feel quite alone in the grief and to me this support is an opening,'' she said. "I am seeing people say they are profoundly moved by the letter."

Keyes has been hospitalized twice herself in the past year with an inflammation of the brain called neurosarcoidosis that she told the Irish Times may have come from the stress of everything she has endured.

People have also expressed to her how the letter struck a chord in them.

"People find it hard to read this letter because of how it makes people feel,'' she said. "People tend to leave grief in the moment and think they will come back to it, but they never come back to it."

Keyes has been a single mother for the past 20 years after she said the children's father left their home. She raised three children who carved out vibrant lives while also living with cystic fibrosis, which is a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

"The children were very witty and bright and they were wonderful to have,'' Keyes said. "I was so lucky to be their mother."

Her son Darragh died at 19 in 2012 from cystic fibrosis, leaving Kathleen Keyes with one child until her son Fergal died last year. Kathleen Keyes

She keeps their memories alive by writing poetry about them as well as spending time with their friends.

"If someone lost a child, I tell them to continue to live and carry them with you in your heart, and remind other people to live in their life and their reflection,'' she said.

Keyes will be spending Christmas with her sister and her family this year because she didn't want to be in her home after Fergal's death. She also has been going to therapy.

"I am at a transition in my life,'' she said. "I can look at myself as a human beginning. Just continue to live because that's all I can do.

"I want to do charity work, and help others, maybe children and help them with mental health issues. I want to do something worthwhile on this Earth."