In the space of a few moments, Geraldine Mullan experienced a loss that few of us could imagine in even our darkest moments.

She will be spending this Christmas without either her husband, or her two beloved children. The beautiful home they shared in Moville, Co Donegal, has no Christmas decorations, no Christmas tree and no presents.

"I know Christmas and New Year are going to be very difficult because Christmas would have been a big thing at our house," she told Miriam O'Callaghan on RTÉ's Prime Time.

"I don't have any Christmas presents to wrap for John, Tomás and Amelia this year and, that, I find very difficult, but I will still get through the Christmas. It's still going to be another day without them."

On 20 August, Geraldine was the only member of her family to survive when the car in which they were travelling plunged into Lough Foyle at Quigley’s Point. Her husband John, son Tomás, 14, and daughter Amelia, 6, died.

The family had been enjoying a day out together before the children were due to start back at school. They had watched a movie and played bowling. Geraldine said the memories of that day now give her great comfort.

A Christmas 2019 selfie of Geraldine and her family

"I didn't know that day would have been our last, but I wouldn't have changed anything about that day and the way we spent it – because we spent it as a family. It was full of love. It was… it was full of fun. It was full of smiles. And that's what I try to remember is: the smiles that John, Tomás and Amelia had that day and the laughs that we had. It was heart warming that we did get to spend that day together."

That night, as they travelled home, her life changed forever. Now as the year draws to a close, Geraldine wants to publicly thank all of those who have supported her since that tragic night – and especially the emergency services who worked so hard to rescue her from the water and bring the bodies of her loved ones back to her.

"The fact that I got to see them, got to kiss them one more time, got to say goodbye to them," she said, meant everything to her.  

"I know they're no longer here with me. And you know, I know, when it's my time to go, I know that they'll be there waiting for me. So, for now, it's just goodbye. So it was very important that I got to see and I got to hold them one last time."

She wants to thank all of the emergency services who were there that night, many of whom were locals Geraldine recognised.

"Charlene Anderson, the Sergeant on duty, was phenomenal that night. Nobody should have to break the news to somebody that they've lost their entire family.  And she had to break the news that they had found the bodies of John, Tomás and Amelia," she said.

"She was so compassionate, so professional – all the while managing all the emergency services at the scene."

She is particularly grateful to Kevin Barr from the Irish Coastguard, who stayed with her in the water while the team tried to rescue her. He held on to her even while she begged him to let her go.

Geraldine Mullan with her daughter Amelia in October 2019
Geraldine Mullan with her daughter Amelia in October 2019

"I had lost all hope at that time," she said. "I knew my family were gone and I just wanted to be with them. And I did. I asked him on a couple of occasions to let me go. And, you know, Kevin was so brave. He held onto me and he kept apologising because he knew they were gone too." 

"And he just said, I am so sorry, Geraldine, I can't let you go. You know? And I, I am here today because of Kevin and the work of all those people that worked so hard that night to get me out of the water. So that's why my dad, you know, referred to all of them in unison as my guardian angels."

As Geraldine faces into her first Christmas without her beloved John, Tomás and Amelia, she hopes other families will realise how precious life is and take the time to tell their loved ones how much they love them this Christmas.

"I can't turn back the clock. I wish it could be the 19 August and things were different, but I can't change what happened on 20 August, but in some small way, especially as we're coming up to this Christmas season, my Christmas present to John, Tomás and Amelia is that more kids get hugs and kisses from their mums and dads," she said.

She said that more people should tell their loved ones that they love each other. 

"I didn't know 20 August was going to be the last day I got to tell John, Tomás and Amelia I loved them. So my message is just simple: just remember how precious life is, cherish every moment and tell the ones you love you love them."

Watch Geraldine share her story on tonight's Prime Time on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player at 9:35pm.