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. 

The turn of the year...

The festivities are in full flow and I don’t know where to look, what to say or who to hold. I’m standing in a room full of close friends, having a fun time at a party and suddenly it hits like a hammer - you aren’t there, and you should be. You were last year, and the years before that. I presumed you’d be here this year and in the years ahead when we’d party less and parent more, maybe sitting at home and sleeping through the countdown at our children slept above us. 

Instead I’m clutching at friends and fighting a tearful breakdown. I presumed I’d be glad to see the back of 2017 so why am I ducking into a corridor to hide my tears? Because of the finality - the end of 2017 is the the end of the last year you were alive in. That sentence shakes me to my core. It's like we are leaving you behind - a firm and unstoppable moving on - and that scares me as much as it hurts me. 

How can I face into a new year without you? How's that meant to work? I couldn't be more daunted. 

The last time...

...I bought a Christmas tree, you were there.

...I booked my bike on a train, you were there. 

...I took our things from the attic, you were there.

...I planned a summer trip to stave off the January blues, you were there. 

...I turned around at midnight on December 31st looking for your embrace, you were there.

...I loved you with my senses, my heart, my mind and my soul, you were there.  

...I dreamt of being a father, you were there.  

From the mundane to the extraordinary, from the daily ritual to the seasonal, from the now to the then - your missing is felt so keenly. You’re present in so much yet absent so acutely. I can feel you but not hold you. I can sense you but not communicate with you. Sometimes I’m not sure if it’s real or if it’s just my yearning.   

With every new occasion comes a more heightened awareness of my loss, our loss, everyone’s loss. I hope it wanes someday. I hope it wanes. 

A promise taken

I feels like so recently I gently dragged Liane off the regular Killiney Hill walking track to the rocks that look over Killiney Bay and down to Bray Head.  She was a little irritated at the walk we’d only just began, being interrupted by me messing. I started on with a spiel about how well we’d been getting on of late and how close I felt to her -  her face a picture of confusion. I knelt down and asked Liane to marry me and the shock, the euphoria, the classic loss for words - it all happened so quickly and so beautifully. We burst into tears and we kissed and the world was ours and ours alone. 

Today that seems, like so many other special moments, equally close and equally far away. The blue promise ring I gave her sits in my house with no hand to go on. Our dreams of life, family and adventures sit gathering dust too, taken from us before they’d their fair chance to bloom. That day 4 years ago was so very perfect and here I am today looking at a very different life with tough roads and winding paths. 

The ever-sharp memory of her smile will be carried around and clung on to desperately by me today...

Surviving the firsts

After all the build up, the worry, the pain and the sorrow Christmas Day has come and it has gone. I can now add it to the growing pile of occasions and landmarks that I’ve faced and survived. With that comes a sort of grim sense of achievement or maybe a little nugget of self belief that somehow I can keep going in this mess.  

The day itself was a busy day full of love, celebration and support. Every step I took it felt like there were people beside me and behind me to help if I faltered. I could almost touch Liane she was so present in so much of it - in the warmth of her family, the mischief of the board games and the love of the various clinches. 

For me the hardest part was the day before when a wave of grief washed over me like a tsunami - destructive and relentless. I expect there will be many more days like that but yesterday was a comforting day, an example of how occasions don’t have to be misery and pain.

On to that I will hold in the future, when the bleaker side of grief tries to settle in. 

Let the count go only so far

Today I spoke to someone who lost his wife. His circumstances were very different and his approach different too but the hurt, the loneliness and the new life quite similar. He took my by the elbow and squeezed saying “don’t let the count get to 10 Mark - never give up. It might get to 7 or 8 but you’ll always having the beating of it. Never let it beat you”. 

I like this analogy. I like it because it allows me be hurt and go down. It allows me to fail. But, importantly, it makes sure I fight. Never out for the count. Always with reserves. And I feel that way - I feel as though all these experiences and all this growth have built my inner strength to a point that I can’t and won’t be knocked out. There’s just too much to fight for. 

Uncomfortably numb

Sometimes I wake up in a fog, my energy hard to draw on and my mood low. Liane used to call it my “funk”. It’s hard to explain - apathetic, unmotivated, flat and happier alone, or at least less unhappy alone. But the pervasive emotion is one of grey dullness. 

With every high must come a low. People like me who are naturally social, positive and outgoing have to have low points. It’s the nature of the beast. I guess it’s how we manage those low points that allows us to cope, or not cope. For the past decade I’ve had someone to help me through these patches. She’s gone now, so I’m turning to friends, to family and in time, to a professional (an important topic that I’ll come back to).

In the past I’ve gotten by with raw determination - a sort of grim wrestling match - to get up, to get moving and to face the day. I’ve used music to draw my mood out of greyness and to somewhere lighter. I’ve forced myself to exercise - playing Ultimate, running, cycling and now swimming. That first step is always the most difficult.

For the past couple of days that fog has settled and then drifted and then settled again. I wonder if it’s a self defence mechanism, shielding myself from the inevitable pain down the tracks. Or maybe a result of chasing sleep and a bout of man flu. No nurse Pannie to be found in the middle of the night. Whatever it is, this funk is taking its time to drift away. I imagine that’s pretty relatable for a lot of people this time of year. I’ll be asking around for advice on how best to go forward and get back up again. Help me up off this canvas. 

 

Celebrations

Tomorrow is December 20th meaning Liane is dead 8 months. Writing those words is difficult, saying them harder still but trying to comprehend them...

Anniversaries of Lianes death have been strange for me. I’ve marked nearly every one of them in some way, some more than others and each with a different level of strength or of pain. Am I meant to get used to it? Is it meant to be something I do every month forever? Does not marking it make it sadder or easier or even disrespectful? Will every 20th be a day of internal struggle for the rest of my life? 

Tomorrow feels like a big day already. The proximity to Christmas, the last date of 2017, the round number of 8 and the sense of time passing so very fast. I haven’t tried to process the day yet. I’ll be in work for a lot of it and then to a big dinner. My parents have invited lots of my friends over to thank them for being such rocks for me since April. I don’t think I’d be here without them and my family. That’s sounds extreme but I mean it - I can’t think of facing what I’ve faced and surviving without the crutches beside me at every turn.  My heart has rarely been so nourished, comforted or full despite simultaneously being so hurt.   

8 months.

So much takes place in that vast amount of time. Babies are born. Friends get engaged. People start new jobs and move to new houses. Travel happens and growth with it. New experiences and the forging of new memories. Time always passing. Life always changing. 

All without Liane there. That’s such a hard thing to accept. So often I turn to share something or look to find her only for that special nook in my life to sit empty. I wonder how many more months and years will pass with that same feeling...

Lost for thoughts

Sometimes the yawning abyss of no more sharing with you, no more holding you and no more being with you is unfathomable. As in I literally struggle to get my head around you not being here. There remain infinite occasions where you’d be in your element, bringing your unique slant to them not to mention that gentle beaming grin. Instead I still rattle through like a stubborn bowling ball down an empty alley.  

Maybe the weather is getting to me today. Maybe the lessening daylight and the increase in work pressure is at me. Maybe I’m realising what’s coming - holidays and empty spaces.

Whatever it is, I thought I was prepared. I’m not so sure any more.  

Reaching out

Last week I got off the train, my earphones in my ears and my mind away in the skies. I started towards home on my usual, reliable path. As I did a hand tapped me on the the shoulder. Tired and slow, I turned and looked into the warm face of a stranger. He looked vaguely familiar but we hadn't met before.

"Hi my name's D" he said, "I just wanted to say that myself and my wife are your neighbours and we're sorry for your loss. We saw your article in the paper and we've thought of you and spoken of you at home. We've bought just around the corner if you ever need somewhere to pop in".

We walked alongside one another chatting about Liane, about life, about his family and the usual mundane things that pop up in a comfortable exchange. It was a warm conversation and reminded me how many good people there are out there in the world. All it took was five minutes of his time and a little bit of courage and with that he snapped me out of a tough moment and into the present. 

I'm going to make the point of keeping a special eye out for those around me struggling with their own battles. I'm going to reach out and ask a question or two. I'm going to be there for others the way people have been there for me. 

Ritual Pain

Last night I bought a Christmas tree. It was the first time I've bought one without Liane since 2011. Five years of tree buying makes it a ritual in my book - something to look forward to, to enjoy and to do with someone special. This year that's so different. I walked through rows of trees in the same place we bought our tree last year. I went with my mum who left me the space to go in alone. It hit home so many times -maybe most driving home not in Liane's Micra Oliver with the tree taking up over half the space in the car. 

Decorations from the attic. Dressing the tree. Gathering the firewood. Digging up the playlist. No mulled wine this time around. 

The month is only 5 days old and the pain is repeated and building. I have decided on an approach for this year - facing it all full on. No changes in routine, no new manoeuvres or cancelling of traditions. I love this season and have done for many years. It will be different this year in a deeply sad way but the love of family and friends will likely be more obvious and warmer than ever before. To that I look forward. For the now painful rituals I brace myself. What else can I do? 

Cherish, cherish and cherish

Every moment is precious. I can't stress that enough to every couple, parent, sibling, friend and whoever else might listen. Bathe yourself in the small moments. Every second of it. You don't know when it could be gone. Life is a fickle mistress. Drink it all in.

The first time I sort of thought about a post like this was to give people advice. Who am I to advise anyone? I'm a 36-year old man, born into a happy home in a stable country and to comfort. I've lived a lucky life full of love and opportunity.

The thing is, I look around me and see so much of what myself and Liane had - understanding, love, gratitude, hope and dreams. I want to see those flourish while they can. I want to see my friends and family be positive, seize their lives, attack their futures, take what they want from their time here and enjoy the journey. It seems so easy to get caught up in life, in being busy, in living day to day and week to week - then a year has passed and another dream long-fingered. Soon you're too old, too tied down, too busy to follow all that desire that abounded.

"How did that happen?". 

I also see people upset with the small stuff, getting bogged down in the details and losing track of the big picture. We were like that. We fought over silly things, got upset over the irrelevant and sat angry until we couldn't remember the reason. What I'd give to take all that back. To spend more time apologising and accepting I was in the wrong. Openness. Honesty. The difficult road but the one that rewards. Push yourselves for each other. Cling to your love. Nurture it. 

I saw an interview with Ronan O'Gara recently, the ex-Muster & Ireland rugby player. He's become a coach since hanging up his boots and plies his trade in Paris at one of Europe's bigger clubs. A couple of weeks ago he announced he was moving to New Zealand to coach at one of the best teams over there. When asked why the sudden move he referred to the death of close friends of his: Ever since... it was really brought home with Paul Darbyshire and Axel. I think now, it is [living in] 'the now'. People are asking, when are you going? Everything as a result of that, I look upon it very differently, a short-term game.

Life really is a short-term game. My advice for what it is worth? Seize it. Enjoy it. Live it. Love it. 

X

 

 

All the little things

Memory is a harsh and unwielding thing. One minute a warm comfort and the next a piercing pain. Unpredictable. Unexpected. Uncontrollable. I never knew how unstable grieving is - so much lurching, so much renewed pain and doubt. 

Triggers are everywhere. Today it was as I battled to get out of bed, remembering a game we played to help face the day ahead. Today it was a gentle conversation with a student. Today it was angelic female vocals in a song. Today it was a tearful conversation with a colleague. Today it was forgetting my gloves. Today it was the taste of a mouthful of tea that rocketed me back to our couch. That’s just one day and it’s not even through. 

So much of the patchwork of my life has been tenderly knitted with one person and has now unraveled/is unravelling/will unravel.  And while that’s a scary thought it’s part of it all, another challenge I didn’t ask for but am facing head on.

Into the breach, as usual. Who ever knew my normal would be like this...

Humming the Bare Necessities

Today I received a photo from a friend on whatsapp. She’d taken it at a recent Oliver Jeffers talk in the Science Gallery - one of my favourite authors/illustrators. I saw him speak as part of the Dublin Literature Festival a few years back and he blew me away. I’ve bought his books for many of my friends and family. There’s a simple beauty to his narrative and illustration that I find inspiring and touching. 

Anyway, the photo was of a quote attributed to Oliver’s Mum and it resonates strongly today, a tired Monday alone after a busy weekend surrounded...

“Someone lives for as long as you remember the smile on their face, hum their favourite songs, and tell their favourite stories” 

What a beautiful thought... 

Without structure comes the void

Three years ago the school I work in moved the Christmas exams forward a month to late November. There were many reasons why, which aren't important here, but what it means for me this week is that, given the exams are on, the usual 8am-5pm routine, the flow of my 5 day working week, has been turned on its head. 

There are merits to this and it was on those merits my focus lay early in the week. A chance to catch up on sleep, to attack a load of work admin that had piled up, to see some friends and to try and get some headspace away from the hustle of life. I achieved some of that but after Monday what started becoming more pressing was the open time with no plans - a sort of yawning abyss of loneliness. I found myself wandering around uncertain of what to do or who to call. I went to the cinema for pure escapism and found myself getting unusually upset at any vaguely emotional scenes. I quickly became insular and apathetic. I stayed in, ignored invitations, turned down helping hands and wallowed. It wasn't really a choice, it just sort of happened. 

Yesterday the same feeling came on again and I faced it. I decided I wasn't going to fall into it. I then broke down in tears walking down a main street. I tried to pull myself together but couldn't. I changed the music I had on with little or no effect.  I made it to a friends house and cried on shoulders. Then I ran a 5km race in the cold and in the rain. I finished it elated, a feeling of positivity that has swept through to today. 

Perhaps most importantly, I understand what happened, how it happened, why it happened and that it will happen again. That means a lot to me. Recognition and understanding give me strength and if I can learn from the lows then they will become ever so slightly less low. That is today's hopeful thought. 

Here comes Christmas

Something about Christmas appealed deeply to both myself and Liane. The generosity of it, the focus on the family, the warmth of fires after long walks, hot toddies in hand and surrounded by friends. Even just the simplicity of holiday time spent together, away from work and normal weekly pressures. It was always a time we really enjoyed.

We lived in a cold house where watching TV happened wrapped up in blankets, curled around each other with the fire feeding us its warmth. From mid-December there was a dressed up tree in the corner and tinsel on all the framed photos. We collected Christmas decorations accidentally, almost apologetically. Liane hated clutter - unnecessary objects lying around around the place were not allowed - but at Christmas there was leeway, and together we picked up wooden toys, handknit finger puppets, cute baubles and other bits and pieces to share around the house.

I'm not sure what to do with all that stuff this year. Do I get a tree? Do I start afresh? Do I wallow in all our collected memories? What will it be like to come downstairs and turn on the lights like I used to before her shower in the mornings? Will there be a night of mulled wine driven fun this year? Will my friends find it weird without her? What will Christmas Day be like in her aunties house and after dinner with my folks? 

I watched that LIDL ad from last year in the cinema yesterday. The one where they bring the granddad up to his old house and surprise him with it all done up and full of relatives. It's corny and it made me collapse into tears. He glances across to an empty seat at the table, his eyes sad, and it made me think of everything Liane has missed and will miss.

I'm 5/6 weeks weeks out and crying at ads in the cinema. I imagine I'll return to this topic.

Here comes Christmas indeed...

Running to stand still

As another month passes I find myself busy, relentlessly busy. This isn't new. I've often been this way - it was cause of a lot of upset between myself and Liane. She always disagreed with me about how much I took on, how much I committed to and how many others I put ahead of us, ahead of her and maybe most importantly to Liane, ahead of me. I learned to control the desire to help with everything, to organise everything and to be at everything. I thought hard about what I needed from all this involvement and what I thought I was getting from it. Was it a popularity thing? Was I really that scared of missing out on something? Was I scared to stop and take stock in case I found something I didnt like? 

Somewhere and somehow I've drifted back into the pattern. The reason is easier, simpler this time - fear of being alone. But the solution is not found in careering around living life at top speed. Instead I'm in a permanent state of exhaustion - physically, mentally and emotionally. My brains tired. My hearts tired. My soul is tired.

So what to do? Well, I'm trying harder to make time for myself and to choose to spend time alone. I'm trying harder not to book something for every night in a week. I'm trying to sleep for longer and eat better food. It's a difficult process that doesn't come easily to me. It needs work.

Everything needs work.