Cocktails and spas

I was in Berlin last week. I stayed with friends and had a blast - covering all corners of the city by day and relaxing or going out by night. So often though I found myself yearning Liane's company. We'd such a simple routine and easy way about travelling together. Sure, it wasn't all roses - show me one couple who travels without a good row! - but we'd done it enough times to have it worked out. 

By default I found myself falling back on our go-to things to visit in a new city, the age-old Pannie & MP travel approach. It went something like this:

  1. Find the best breakfast cafe within walking/short travel distance
  2. Sit there for ages reading books, playing on phones, planning day
  3. Pick out some odd things to see and some very touristy things to see - ALWAYS look for a spa/sauna
  4. Hit the trail
  5. Eat again - this time with a drink 
  6. Hit the trail
  7. Home to chill out
  8. Dinner and the best cocktails we can find

In Berlin I followed this pattern utterly by accident until the third day of the touristy exploring. It hit me like a wave, the realisation of what I was doing, how I was doing it and who was missing. The messing, the warmth, the sharing, the confiding, the learning, the happiness, the intimacy, the sniping, the confidence, the content silence, the love. Not any more. 

Holidays will be strange for a long while I imagine but I'll be damned if I leave a city without a very good cocktail recommendation and knowledge of the best spa resort in town... 

* Berlin Cocktail: The Green Door
* Berlin Spa Resort: Vabali Spa
 

The last three events...

When I started this page and the connected fundraising page last May I had no idea where it would go. I felt a little uneasy asking people for money to support an organisation that few of my friends, family and acquaintances knew much about. Slowly all that changed and I sat back in awe at the generosity and love pouring in from near and far. I’ve rarely felt such love, support and I suppose in a way vindication.

The fundraising goal moved by a thousand euro and then by two thousand and now sits at fifty thousand, a figure we have likely already hit once direct contributions to the charity are counted. That money will do so much good. Epilepsy Ireland are a tireless, transparent and essential charity who work so hard with epilepsy patients and families alike. They fund invaluable research too. 

Like all good things the fundraising is coming to an end, specifically at the end of this month. There will be three more events between now and then - a run, a table quiz and a big swim. There a lots of reasons for finishing fundraising - I want the charity to get the money, I'm exhausted, there are only so many donors in one extended group, I feel like a year is a nice round figure and so on.

I think Liane would be very proud that as a group of friends, family, acquaintances and many strangers we can stand tall and say that we have worked hard to help others and to further the awareness of what she battled through for most of her life. I think she'd be embarrassed at all the attention and angry at how busy I've been at all of it! But I also think she'd be warmed and heartened by you collective love, energy and generosity. And those thoughts make me a very lucky, happy and grateful man.

Thank you all for everything along this path. x

Travelling and travelling and travelling

Over the past 6 months I've made a point of pushing myself to get away from Dublin. Sometimes it has been too much and I've run myself down - a deep exhaustion of mind, heart and body.  Sometimes it hasn't been enough - work, life & circumstance overpowering me, resulting in a deep lethargy centred around my day-to-day in Dublin. The balance is a tough one to strike.

For Easter - I'm in France now and then heading on to Berlin, a city Liane had previously visited and shared with one of her closest friends. We always said we'd go back but never quite made it. Apparently it is somewhere I'll love. So say many. I'm excited and I'm nervous. I love exploring cities on my own (and with others) but recently there's been a lot of me asking myself what Liane would think of the place. Trying to view it from her eyes. So often that makes me sad. I wonder how long it will be that way.

Last week I booked flights to travel to Canada for two months during the summer. It'll mean a lot of travelling solo, a lot of new experiences and perhaps hardest of all, a step away from the huge support net I have under me in Dublin. Being away from my family and friends is a bigger jump than ever before. July - the month of birthdays and a wedding anniversary - will be an obstacle. But I look forward to facing them with Pannie on my mind and in my heart. I've got this far and plan to go so much further. Unfortunately, that just doesn't make it any less daunting...

 

11 months

How is it that long? What has happened? How has it flown by? What have I done in that time? What would Liane think of me now? What would she be doing? Where would her career be were she here? What plans would we have for Easter? For the summer?

I'm finding the slow crawl to Liane's 1 year anniversary a long, arduous and slowly unsettling one. It feels like there's a turbulent sea at my centre, as if the core strength I rely on is wavering. I know in my mind I will get through it - much like I've been doing until now - but try telling my heart and gut that. 

What will the day feel like? What will my/her friends and family feel? What should we do? Am I respecting her memory? What would she want from me? What have I left to give? Where is the nervousness and worry coming from? 

I think were Liane here she'd tell me to sit down, breathe and remember that I owe nothing to anyone but myself. She always tried to get me to centre myself before planning for others, to put me first sometimes. I need that calming touch of hers, that delicate shoulder and warm embrace. She was an incredibly softening and brave presence. 

Onwards we struggle. 

Memories...

I was sitting on the couch Pannie, in our house, wondering when my memory got quite as bad as it did. We relied on my memory, that and lists/calendars/techniques to remind us of us of the plans we'd made. It worked for the most part. It still does. But there's a new memory loss now - not my lazy/tired brain and not your epilepsy-drugged brain - my grief-stricken brain. 

I've tried to read about it, learn about it a little but it's hard y'know. I read to escape - to get my mind away from the day-to-day - I always have. Reading about how my brain is in trauma after your death is hard reading. Reading that requires patience, strength and energy. I rarely have all of those at the same time these days. 

Apparently my memory will recover over time, much like the rest of me. For now, it's a frustration in me that, strangely enough,  I lived through you for many years...

I miss you with all of me. 

Talking to a professional

I think I mentioned previously on this blog that I went to see a grief counsellor about 3 or 4 months after Liane’s death. It didn’t work out. In hindsight, I hadn’t processed half enough of what I was feeling at the time. I was doing it to tick a box on the road to trying to make sense of it all and in my newfound battle against grief. I left her room having got very little out of the experience but determined to find someone else at some stage down the line. 

I have recently found that professional to talk to and it is equal parts upsetting, relieving, fascinating and needed. I come out of a session feeling lighter. I feel like our conversations are unpredictable and fluid. I feel like I’ve bonded with the counsellor and that we have a lot of work to do together in the future. Maybe most importantly I feel like she is somebody who knows about these types of journeys and can be a knowledgable and welcome crutch for me.

Therapy is new to me. I’m lucky that way. I am grateful I have found a therapist I trust and feel comfortable with - I know many aren’t as lucky. What I didn’t expect from it is how much it can give me, how much I can get from it. I really hope it stays this way. 

Naked without the ring

Last weekend I went to Tenerife to play in a brilliant frisbee tournament that I’ve been attending for over a decade. Ours was one of the last flights to leave Dublin due to the heavy snow and it was really nice to get to the sun, be around the frisbee crew and switch off for a few days. 

While I was there, as I do at all tournaments, I took my wedding ring off and clipped it into a special zip pocket of my bag. It stayed there until this morning through a combination of forgetfulness and misfortune. I really missed it on my hand - repeatedly looking to touch it - and worried that somehow it wouldn’t be where I’d left it, in the sand covered bag in the shed.  

A simple silver band that we designed together and had crafted by a close friend. Who could imagine how much it would mean and symbolise 30 months after Liane first put it on my finger? I often worry how much I need it and what the emotional cost of losing it would be. And I even wonder if a day will come when I don’t want to wear it any more. That’s an alien thought at the moment and one I don’t like/am not ready for. 

Just a small piece of metal and one yet of my most cherished possessions. 

Normal like a toothache

In early October I attended an event with students from school called Zeminar, in the RDS. As part of the day we attended a talk by Blindboy (of Rubberbandits fame) - an articulate, passionate and honest speaker. I learned more from him about mental health in 45mins that I have from any other source in my 36 years on this planet. How I wish I’d seen him as a teenager - although I’m not sure I had the emotional intelligence then to understand his simple message.

The message at the heart of his funny and touching speech was that mental illnesses are illnesses and need to be treated as such. Our society needs to allow us talk openly about depression/anxiety/panic (and more), in the same way we would discuss a broken wrist or a pain in our teeth. Instead, he argued, more commonplace is an attitude of silence and awkwardness where young people aren’t given the requisite space or the appropriate tools needed to express themselves.

Blindboy spoke openly and in detail about Mindfulness, Emotional Intelligence and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT - how we feel is caused by how we think and not what happened in the past but how we think about what happened) allowing those present to leave with a practical tool as well as some fact-based information. He told us that positivity isn't always the solution, asked us to celebrate failure as learning and encouraged the crowd not to feel under pressure to define themselves. His voice was one of gentle humour and he reminded us the you can say things with/through comedy and still care deeply. Seriousness and solemness is not always needed but more importantly the focus should be on honest human conversation. 

Two sentences really stayed me: "Life is full of inevitable pain" and "Anxiety is like a fire alarm without a fire - treat it like a bully that knows the deepest parts of you". Words to learn from.

As a teacher of teenagers and as another human (who is going through a tough time of their own) I left the room heartened, relieved, empowered and inspired. I can't recall another speaker ever having had that effect on me. Thank you Blindboy. 

The acuteness of it all

Last night I had a small party in my house. Close friends came over for dinner after a day of rugby excitement and lots of drinking. It was a fun night of messing, singing, dancing and chats. And then suddenly, like a sledgehammer, came a pure and a fierce sense of Liane not being here. The house oozed her absence. The rooms, the people, the yard - all of it was so Liane-less. I burst into tears and tried to talk it through. A few different shoulders and lots of tissues. Sure the alcohol had a part to play but the emotion still sits with me today, slightly dimmer but still here. I wonder will it fade and when? How? Do I want it to? So much to process...

10 months today...

...and missed as much as ever.

I still find it so hard to try and think of the time passing and so much happening without Liane being a part of it. Sometimes I see her in other people and get a burst of excitement. Other times I sit in moments and dream of her being there beside me. Despite the many months passing there remains a dull reluctance to accept what has happened.

And still it is driven home, day by day and night by night...

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Taken on holiday in Talinn 5/6 years ago...

Airports

I used to love airports. The bustle, the excitement, the book-browsing/pointless shopping, the pre-flight pints and the inevitable grumpy barking at one another. Being in them is hard now. Much harder than I thought it would be.

Airports now mean the following:

  • Broken dreams & trips we won't take
  • Looking at happy couples
  • The place I first heard of Liane's death
  • Memories of holidays and holding hands

I find them hard to travel to, be in and think of now, which, given the amount of travelling I'm doing, is equal parts ridiculous and difficult. So much of the banal is hurtful at the moment and since April last. I wonder how long will that remain? 

 

Valentine’s Day

Anyone who knew Liane, even vaguely, knew she wasn’t a Valentine’s Day sort of person. She simply didn’t like anyone telling her what to do, especially not a company looking to sell something. That said, she loved being loved (who doesn’t) and she loved expressing her love for others, but on her terms. One of her best friends told me recently that on February 14th last year Liane had texted her: "You know I'm not really into all this Valentine's stuff but remember I love you". 

We didn’t go in for flowers and big gestures but we did swap silly/pun-filled homemade cards and usually ended up on the couch with a takeaway. It was kind of our way of taking a moment to notice what we had and celebrate it a little, usually through a lens of jokes and cynicism! We took it for granted, expecting many more over the life we had ahead...

So when it came around this year I put up the defences and ignored it. At least, as much as I could. I busied myself for nearly every moment of the day - went for a run, met a friend for a drink, saw a show at the West End and went out that night in London. It was brilliant and I managed to avoid most of the fanfare. 

I've never really looked at Valentine's Day with anything other than disinterest or bemusement. Now, as someone who's hurting, it seems like such an aggressively unfair construction. Sometimes it takes a lot to see things from other people's point of view. Whatever way you look at what or who you have, don't ever take it or them for granted.

The children we didn’t have...

Where to start with a topic like this one? 

Myself and Liane were always excited about the idea of starting a family together. We yearned to be parents, like many people I know. We brooded in private and cherished our friends’ and families’ children in public. We both worked around children all day, every day. We loved everything about the idea of a family - the nucleus of love, the definition of commitment, the round the clock nurturing, the moulding of someone in our image and ideals, even the sleepless nights and the parental pressure. It was something we strived for together, a little nugget of love we cherished deep in our hearts but a plan we’d never bring to fruition. 

Pregnancy for someone on the drugs Liane took for her epilepsy, especially the amount of them she needed, is never straightforward. We spoke to as many doctors as we could and sought out the best of advice. We readied ourselves for a tough road - as I said before in her tribute - "we often wondered if our jobs’ skill sets were purposefully given to us so we'd raise an autistic or special needs child". That thought didn't scare us, it steadied us and strengthened us. We felt we'd overcome any form of obstacle side by side, hand in hand and hearts as one. It wasn't to be.

I’ve spoken to people who’ve lost a husband/wife/partner and are left behind with children. I can’t begin to think what that’s like. The difficulty of the new reality coupled with the children to live for; ever-changing and ever-challenging. I don’t know how I’d have coped alone if we’d had a child. I think it takes a certain inner strength to continue as a parent in that situation. The admiration I have for those widows and widowers out there is endless. And yet, there's jealousy. Always jealousy... 

I'm jealous of my best friends and their children. I'm jealous of my relatives and my colleagues, even of people I don't know, with their newborns. And it hurts. The jealousy hurts. On one hand I understand it and let it sit there - a negative emotion eating away.  On the other hand I despise it, worried it might tarnish my relationships and aware of how it festers. Awareness is one thing, allowing yourself overcome/control such a feeling, another thing entirely. 

I see such happiness from the young children in this world and being around them keeps me upbeat, giving me renewed hope. Maybe everything will be okay some day. Maybe this new generation is the one the world needs. Maybe I can influence those close to me and those I teach to be a better version of us. Maybe that's my role on this planet - an uncle, a godfather, a guide and a teacher. We will see. Maybe first, come to terms with my new self and then see where I go. 

Cherish your cherubs people. Know that you're the lucky ones. 

 

Another goodbye

I started this post a few times. The first edit I didn't like, the second needed refining and the third I deleted and saved over with nothing by accident. Maybe my gran Maura doesn't want me to try and sum up her life in a few paragraphs on a public blog where anyone and everyone can read it... Maybe I've been tired and uninspired recently... Maybe my typically frenetic brain is overthinking another moment, drawing big conclusions from the smallest error... Whatever it is, I feel like I want to talk about her so here goes. 

My grandmother Maura died in mid January. Hers was the third death I faced in a 10 day period and the one closest to me, her having been in my life since it began. She was 97 years old and a brave, fiery, strong and remarkable woman. Her brain was mischievous, creative, caring and sharp until the finish. Despite losing sight in one eye, surviving a stroke and being bed/chair-ridden for the past 2 years she fought and she tried to say positive. 

Her death isn’t comparable to Lianes in that it was her time to go. The shock and numbness of last April wasn’t here this time. If anything there was a palpable sense of relief in that she wasn’t suffering any more. But it does mark the end of an era in our family and I’ll miss her. I’ll particularly miss the way her and Liane has bonded so well and the way she backed me no matter what I said or did. Few people in the world love you that hard...

I regret not spending more time with her. I regret seeing visiting her as a chore at times. I regret not being around in the dark times for her. I regret never telling just how much she meant to me. I hope that somehow she’s at peace and that she can tell how much we all admired and loved her. She taught us more than I can say here. 

Words of a genius

Last night I met Liane's dad for dinner. He's a special person and reminds me of her in many ways - his gentleness, his warmth, his laugh and his generosity of spirit and heart. It was wonderful spending time together and with others. During the meal (an Indian feed Pannie would've loved) he shared with me a photo that he'd be sent by one of Liane's girl friends. It was lyrics to a Leonard Cohen song - an artist Liane and her dad had shared together often. Here they are - I expect they'll stay with me a long while. 

Now I greet you from the other side
Of sorrow and despair
With a love so vast and so shattered
It will reach you everywhere

Cards from another lifetime

I sat on the bed with a dull ache in my head this morning. The sun was streaming in through the same wooden slats we complained about for years, the house chilly but not in an oppressive way. I looked around the room and sought the energy/drive to get up and make the small window I had for a swim. Instead my eyes found two cards we'd bought in a small craft shop in Colombo on our honeymoon.

Colourful, bright, promising tokens of adventures we'd expected ahead of us. They shook in my clammy hands - my body slowly catching up with my brain and heart. Like a burst dam I collapsed, folding in to the grief, embracing the waves of it powering through my frame. So much emotion, so aggressive and so close to the surface. Out it poured. And poured. And relented and slowly I could see. My strength returned and I found the relief after the release, a sort of odd satisfaction that I'd visited the darkness and the loneliness and come out the other side. 

I put on some music and began my day. Another memory. Another cry. Another day. Plus ça change.

Back to work, back to a horrible new reality

Soon after Liane's death I decided I needed to go back in to work. It wasn't something I decided on lightly - there were many reasons behind it. I needed structure/routine to my day/week. I needed the companionship of the students and my colleagues. I needed distraction from my grief. I needed to do something I liked and needed to try and do it well, as I had before. Some days it worked, others it didn't and throughout I was guided and supported by friends on the staff. I got through it until June when we got our holidays. 

September was another new battle. Time had passed and yet the rawness of grief was still very real. I fought through again, this time with more pressure as the work intensified and things "got back to normal". I got to Christmas and faced the holiday season, recently coming back ready for another term. Or so I thought. 

Early on morning of the first day back from our holidays we learned the death of two priests on the staff where I work. One of whom taught me when I was student here and another who was a colleague and friend. I'm not sure what to say about them both here - in a way it doesn't seem like the right place for me to talk about them. In short they were two brilliant men - generous, caring, smart, devoted and inspiring. They gave themselves to the school and inspired generations of students. 

From my own point of view the week was a total write off. I took a few days to process the shock and then I faced two funerals and two removals in just three days. The community is reeling. Students, parents, staff, friends, past-pupils, neighbours - the grief is so palpable it is almost tangible. We've clung to one another as seemingly endless waves roll over us. I'm lost at times and upset at other times. Selfishly, the haven of work and distraction is now a venue of grieving and sorrow. That's really hard to take. 

Much like all grief this will soften and we were get comfortable around it and with it. The school will go on. The lives of the students and the staff will continue. Sometimes life throws such fierce curveballs they hit hard enough to make you lose a few steps. That was last week. This week, we're trying to get back to where we were and maybe next week we can plant one foot ahead of the other. 


 

Soul soothing out west

Before the return to work on January 8th I spent three blissful days and nights in Galway and Clifden. Every time I go to Galway my mood improves and memories of the streets, the people and the times spent with Liane come flooding in. It feels like a connection that will never end. 

Perhaps more than just that connection was the physical getting away from Dublin and the power of the pace of Dublin life. It was nice to pause all that, have an empty schedule and make plans on the fly. I spent much needed time with close friends and their children, bonding with a new addition. I swam alone and with friends, in places I'd been with Liane and in new places. I spent some time in Clifden, where we got married and spent time on my own, processing. 

I came back to Dublin in a better place than when I had left - mentally, physically and emotionally. Prepared for a new year full of new challenges and ready for the tough and the happy. 

Fragility by song

I've known this Bon Iver song for a few years. It stuck out on an album that disappointed me. Recently it has resonated in a way that few songs do. It's connected deeply with a rawness of anger, frustration and loneliness. The lyrics bend around to what I'm feeling, the negativity suiting my down moods and the anger appealing. "But all I'm trying to do is get my feet out from the crease" - pretty apt for a lot of the days I wake up. 

I thought I'd share it. It's grown to mean a lot to me. 

Apologies for the rubbish video. It's all I could find. And, ironically allows for reading the lyrics...

Bye bye 2017, you tormenting beauty

A few days into 2018 and I've been able to sit down and publish the drafts that have sat in the back of this blog for a few days. My heads clear after a hectic holidays. My hearts strong but wavering often - my resolve firmer and dragging me forward.

I'm writing this post from a café in Galway that myself and Liane loved. It has changed hands a few times since we were last here but sits on the same corner at the top of Middle Street maintaining a sort of hidden away feel to it. It seems an appropriate place to think about Liane, to dream of her and what we miss so keenly. I'm staying with friends in a house, room and bed that I shared often with Liane. I feel at peace here. There's something about the pace of Galway life, the salt in the air, the winding streets and the lack of Dublin worries that calms me. Much like it did Liane (https://therearewords.com/blog/2017/7/6/born-in-dublin-alive-in-galway).

I've a lot to say about 2017, and in turn, I suppose, about the years that went before and the years that will follow.

"Fuck 2017". "Glad to see the back of 2017". "Roll on 2018". I've seen lots of variations on this sentence/thought and it seemed to briefly resonate, at least to my anger and my sense of injustice. But it simply doesn't ring true. It's not what Liane would think and it's not fair on so many others.

Yes, I lost my wife, my soul mate and the woman I'd built so much of me and her with. My family and her family are reeling. Her friends are reeling. There's pain at so many turns because of her death in April 2017. It would be remiss to see that moment as defining a year.  

During 2017 I gained friends. I saw new family born. I was lucky and honoured to gain two beautiful godchildren. I felt a deeper love and a deeper understanding of my life and my relationships, learning more about myself than for years previous. I saw friends marry, fall in love, get engaged, raise children, travel, succeed in so many fields of work and generally inspire. 

I also saw others lose people. Parents died. Grandparents died. Siblings died. Children died. I saw people face pain and lose to it. I saw people go through hurt I will never comprehend. And yet still here we are, alive and living. All is not lost. And 2017 certainly isn't to blame. A year when so much good happened, when so many thrived - it would be unfair to tarnish all that with one brush. 

I don't know if I'll always feel this way. My emotions and experiences change and develop. But right now, I'm happy with what I have and that I had Liane for as long as I did. I was lucky. A lot of people are considerably less so. To those people, I hope 2018 brings you good fortune.