Living Leeside: Cork friends helping Polish entrepreneur process grief of losing wife

Michal Sikora is still processing the loss of his beloved wife, Lesil, to cancer last year, but his social enterprise and his friends are a huge help, the mental-health advocate tells Roisin Burke
Living Leeside: Cork friends helping Polish entrepreneur process grief of losing wife

POLISH entrepreneur Michal Sikora has had a lot of highs and lows in his seven years in Cork, co-founding a social enterprise but also losing his wife, Lesil, to cancer, but said there are many good things to keep him here.

Straight out of high school, Michal came to Ireland 14 years ago for a summer, but he returned a year later to stay. He spent seven years in Dublin, working in retail, and then came to Cork to further his studies.

”After a two-year spell in further education (Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa), I moved on to Cork Institute of Technology (Munster Technological University). I graduated in 2019, with a degree in recreation-and-leisure management and I am currently pursuing an honours degree in business at MTU.”

MTU was a great experience for Michal. “MTU is more than a college: Everyone was highly supportive and I received great mentorship. They kept me in college through difficult times,” Michal said.

“I think it is important people know it is not just a place to study, it puts people in your corner, which is very important, now more than ever.

Michal originally went back to college to prove something to himself.

“I had been a bad student in high school and I wanted to prove I could do it.”

He graduated with two awards and was the best-performing student for six years in a row.

“The idea was to work in the leisure industry, but you can never plan anything,” Michal said

Now, at the age of 34, he is one half of Da Silly Heads, a social enterprise that promotes mental-health advocacy and wellbeing through clothing, workshops, and animation.

The idea was conceived at MTU.

“Da Silly Heads project I set up with my partner, Daniel O’Mahony, is based on creating a community, or circle, of mental-health advocates, as we call it,” Michal said.

“I am extremely glad to see this group growing so fast, and I truly believe it’s the most inclusive and empowering circle to be part of.”

Living in St Luke’s, with his deaf cat, Babog (‘baby’), Michal is still processing the loss of his wife, who passed away just a few months after they were married in March 2020.

“It feels very surreal, going through it,” Michal said. “Like a double effect, being in lockdown and losing my wife. Lockdown makes everything surreal; it’s like living in a different reality.

“I’m still trying to find myself as an individual. It’s a bit like being a kid again, learning things all over again, finding a new identity.”

Michal met his Donegal wife, Lesil Nielsen Sikora, in 2015.

“I fell in love at first sight,” Michal said. “Honestly, we bumped into each other on Washington Street.”

The pair had previously matched on Tinder, but had never messaged each other, but when they bumped into each other on Washington Street, they got talking. Michal said it took a while to meet again, but when they did, they became inseparable.

“After years filled with unforgettable and joyful moments, but also life-defining challenges, Lesil passed away in May 2020, after bravely kicking cancer’s butt for a long, long time,” Michal said.

His close-knit group of friends and his social enterprise have supported and sustained him in the months since.

“I have the nicest circle of Cork people around me now, who have been supporting me through the difficult times,” Michal said. 

“I wouldn’t be able to go through the last 10 months on my own and I’ll be forever grateful for everything they have done for me. Although we’re not related, we became a family.”

The mental-health advocate said it would be very hard, or close to impossible, to go through everything alone.

“It is almost unbearable at times,” Michal said. “It is my first time coping with mental-health issues. I never struggled before. I wanted to help others, but after the unexpected trauma, it impacted me mentally.

“Now, more than ever, I want to get the conversation going, make sure there is someone in that corner. These days, I’m getting more from the social enterprise than before. There shouldn’t be shame in talking about emotions.”

Looking ahead, Michal said he is making no plans.

“The last seven years have really moulded me as a person, taught me a lot, and made me redefine my priorities in life.

“I want to focus on myself, my mental health, and my social enterprise,” Michal said.

“Da Silly Heads is what drives me forward. It allows me to work in the area I’m passionate about, give something back, have a positive social impact, and empower whoever may need it. Especially now.”

Da Silly Heads is one of a number of projects that received funding from the Local Enterprise Office in Cork.

Local Enterprise Week 2021 will take place from Monday, March 1 to Friday, March 5. All of the events throughout the week are free and will be online this year.

  • For further information on the list of the free events and activities taking place in Cork city during Local Enterprise Week, visit www.localenterprise.ie/CorkCity

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