What The Last 18 Months Of Sinead O'Connor's Life Were Like

When Sinead O'Connor's family announced that she had passed away in July 2023 — at the shockingly young age of 56 — the world came together to mourn the singer-songwriter who was as controversial as she was popular, as polarizing as she was beloved. Love her or hate her, there's no denying that she always stood by her beliefs and never bowed her head for the sake of compromise or keeping the peace. 

In 2021, The New York Times reached out to interview her from her home in the Irish countryside, where she was riding out the pandemic. They found that in writing her memoir, she'd developed a fascinating perspective on her story: While some might have said that she sabotaged her own career by infamously ripping up a photo of Pope John Paul II, she saw it very differently. She wrote in "Rememberings," "I feel that having a Number One record derailed my career, and my tearing up the photo put me back on the right track." It came with a price, though. "I'm not sorry I did it. It was brilliant. But it was very traumatizing. It was open season on treating me like a crazy b***h," she told the Times. (That photo, by the way, was taken from her mother's bedroom wall after she passed away.)

From the public to mainstream media, from other celebrities to industry experts and her fellow musicians, the world has put O'Connor through a lot. The last 18 months of her life were filled with a shocking amount of pain, both emotional and physical.

Her days were filled with grief over the loss of her beloved son

Whoever said that time heals all wounds was, simply put, wrong. Some losses are just too great, and on January 8, 2022, Sinead O'Connor announced that her beloved son, Shane, had died by suicide. She tweeted (via CNN), "My beautiful son, Nevi'im Nesta Ali Shane O'Connor, the very light of my life, decided to end his earthly struggle today and is now with God. May he rest in peace and may no one follow his example. My baby. I love you so much. Please be at peace."

His death was announced just a few days after he went missing, and in the months following his death, Sinead shared heartbreaking updates via a Twitter account. On July 17 — days before her own passing — she tweeted (via People), "Been living as undead night creature since. He was the love of my life, the lamp of my soul. We were one soul in two halves. He was the only person who ever loved me unconditionally. I am lost in the bardo without him."

What, exactly, is the bardo? A heartbreaking look into the heart of a grieving parent. The bardo is a reference to a Tibetan Buddhist concept that refers to the period between death and rebirth, typically a time when the spirit has a series of encounters with the otherworldly — good and bad, it's a time of confrontation between the subconscious and those things the subconscious manifests. 

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.

She canceled her planned shows for 2022

Sinead O'Connor hadn't been planning a massive tour for 2022, but she had been scheduled to appear in a series of concerts throughout the year. That was going to include playing in three massive concerts in July: Dublin's Iveagh Gardens, Galway's International Arts Festival, and the All Together Now festival. However, that wasn't to be.

Midway through June, O'Connor's management team issued a statement (via Dublin Live) saying that she was canceling all the shows that she had scheduled for the rest of the year. The decision, they said, was "due to continuing grief over the tragic loss of her beloved son Shane earlier this year." The statement continued, saying, "This has not been an easy decision for Sinead but a decision she has had to make for her own health and wellbeing at this time."

The cancellations came several months after O'Connor had raised considerable concern with tweets including one that read (in part, via People), "There is no point living without him. Everything I touch, I ruin." O'Connor later tweeted her apologies, along with reassurances that she had called authorities and was voluntarily checking herself into a hospital in order to receive the help that she knew she so desperately needed. 

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

She had been making good on a promise not to retire

Back in 2021, Sinead O'Connor released her memoir and issued a scathing condemnation on Twitter of the way she had been treated during interviews that she called "extremely offensive and even misogynistic," as per The Guardian. She further specified that she had requested that certain things be off-limits in interviews, specifically the parts of her book that dealt with the abuse she suffered as a child. When those wishes weren't respected, she announced her retirement.

She retracted the announcement not long afterwards. Although the circumstances of her son's tragic death put performing on hold, one of her last Facebook posts indicated that she had, in fact, been working on a new album. Rolling Stone had some clues to what she may have been working on in the months leading up to her death.

In a 2020 interview, O'Connor talked about her cover of Mahalia Jackson's "Trouble of the World," where the song evokes both death and hope. She recorded the song in support of Black Lives Matter and said that she had originally intended it to be released on a full album that she'd hoped would be out in 2022. While she didn't share much about the project, she did say that the name of the album was going to be "No Veteran Dies Alone," and that it was named after an organization that she volunteered for. She said, "I'm writing more about personal matters, being a mother. The record is like letters to my children."

She was living with the constant pain of an invisible illness

Sinead O'Connor spent the last year of her life in tremendous physical pain as well as grief. Back in 2005, she spoke with Hot Press about having taken a hiatus from performing and said that there were a few reasons for it. In addition to having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she had also been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. The two actually go hand-in-hand: A 2017 study published in the Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents reported that researchers had found evidence that suggested the combination of conditions made each one more acute.

What is fibromyalgia? It's a condition that is incurable, and Medical News Today says that finding medications to control it is often a long, trial-and-error sort of process. In the meantime, it's pretty terrible to live with. Symptoms include exhaustion, headaches and migraines, confusion, stiffness, and it's most often characterized by extreme, full-body pain, and an extreme sensitivity to external stimuli.

O'Connor spoke about living with it, saying that although she had a high threshold for physical pain, figuring out what made it worse had been something of a learning curve. Among those things, she said, was stress: "So you have to try to keep life quiet and peaceful. ... Which is kind of what I am trying to do, given that I love singing and that it's calming. So I want to do that, but to stay out of the parts of it that cause me undue stress."

Sinead O'Connor had plans for a biopic

When Sinead O'Connor released her memoir in 2021, it was full of pretty dark and pretty shocking stuff. She doesn't pull any punches, revealing her thoughts on her abusive childhood, the six years she spent in mental health facilities, and the complexities of her post-traumatic stress disorder and her borderline personality disorder. She fulfilled an old promise to reveal what really happened between her and Prince, saying to The New York Times, "there's a difference between being crazy and being a violent abuser of women." She also admitted she had no idea why people loved her music, and how the treatment she received throughout her life left her with petrifying agoraphobia. 

If writing about those memories seems heavy, it was. She told The New York Times, "Down the mountain, as I call it, nobody can forget about Sinead O'Connor." Had the last year of her life gone differently, it's entirely possible that she wouldn't have been finished with the stories tucked away and laid bare in "Rememberings."

According to what her management team confirmed on their website (via Billboard), O'Connor had been working on plans to turn the book into a film. Details were scarce, but her managers, Kenneth and Carl Papenfus, described the project as being in the works: "Wonderful plans were afoot ..."

She accepted a major Irish music award

In the last year of her life, Sinead O'Connor's formal public appearances were few and far between. She did, however, show up to the RTE Choice Music Awards to accept a long overdue award: She — and her 1990 album, "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" — were given the network's first "Classic Album" award.

Reporting for RTE, Sinead Crowley revealed that they didn't even know whether or not she was going to be there when the awards were handed out, and when she made her way up onto the stage, all that was felt was "neither a whisper nor a scream but a roar of love, affection and appreciation."

It's also important to note that she wasn't just accepting an award, but that she also took the time to dedicate the award to a community in crisis: Ireland's refugees. It's a cause that's only become more timely as the months crawled on, and at the time of O'Connor's death, that refugee community had found themselves in dire situations. After a long wait — sometimes around two years — to find out whether or not they would be granted asylum in the so-called "land of a hundred thousand welcomes," many refugees have found themselves not only forced to live in tents on the Dublin streets but targeted by far-right activists and subjected to anti-immigrant protests across the city and even the country. It was, clearly, important to her that they knew someone saw them.

She tweeted about going to the ballet

A tweet about going to the ballet might seem like a small thing, but for a grieving parent struggling to cope with the darkest days of their life, it's a big deal when they can find the smallest comforts. And in the days ahead of her death, it seems like that was what she'd done.

In a tweet (via the Daily Mail), O'Connor revealed that she was over the moon about the prospect of going to the ballet to see a performance of "Don Quixote." She wrote, "SO ... excited to go see Rudolf Nureyev's Don Quixote in 14 hours and 17 minutes !!! I mean, just, OM effin' G !!!"

That tweet was sent on July 16, and it left fans feeling hopeful that she had finally found moments of joy in what had been a very sorrowful year. The ballet in question was a reimagined version of the classic work that sidelines Don Quixote and his faithful sidekick in favor of a pair of young lovers, making it not only an evening out but at a ballet described by The Guardian as "furiously paced and endlessly complicated," as "robust and fiery," as "luxurious and sensual."

She moved to London and filmed a video from her flat

Just a few weeks before her death in her London flat, Sinead O'Connor seemed poised on the edge of a new beginning. She revealed on social media (via the Irish Independent) that she had moved back to England's capital and was incredibly happy to be there.

It was July 9 when she posted a video to her new Twitter account, saying that even as she encouraged fans to leave the old account and follow her on her new one, there were skeptics wondering if she'd been hacked, or if someone was trying to scam people into following a fake account. In order to prove it was her, she shot a video. In it, she apologized for her appearance (via the Daily Mail): "But you know the way your kid, unfortunately, passes away, it isn't good for one's body or soul to be fair. But anyways, let's not dwell on that."

She showed off sunflowers on the table, a guitar on the wall, and with a promise to write more songs soon, she favored the camera with a smile, a wave, and a final thought as she ended the video: "I hope you're all happy now." Then, she signed off with a final view of the sunflowers.