A short letter to PT from Canada

Well, Panzer – what would you think if you could see me now? That’s a question my therapist has asked me nearly every session I’ve had with her, especially over the last four or five visits. “And, what do you think Liane would say to that?” or “What would Liane say to you if she were here in the room with us?”. Invariably I told her that you’d be telling me to go easy on myself and to slow down, to be more present and less busy.

I’m in Canada at the moment. I’m travelling over here for two months – a month on each coast and a few frisbee tournaments for good measure. I think you’d love where I’ve been so far – the gentle and kind people, the outdoors buzz and the amount of time I’ve spent sitting still – reading, thinking, being. I even found a nice chai latte spot.

I arrived into Quebec tonight after flight delays and sleep deprivation. I’m sitting here in the dark writing my thoughts out to try and steady my mind and maybe get to sleep. A wave of melancholy washed over me quite suddenly tonight and it's been really hard to shake off. 

I still find it weird travelling without you. Nearly 14 months on and the way we were so used to going places together is as fresh in my mind as ever. I feel like a tandem missing a wheel. It was all so sudden Pannie – so final. No last adventure or chance to tick one of the places off our list. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to airports again.

I’ll either read this in the morning and delete the whole thing or just throw it up on the website warts and all. It’s so hard to know any more. I was so certain of so much and now its seas of doubt and loneliness.

I miss you.

x

Destination Canada

For the first two months of this summer I am going to Canada. Some of it with be spent with friends, some of it alone and some of it playing Ultimate with strangers and friends alike. I've never been to Canada before and I've heard great things - the buzz of Montreal, the Irishness of Newfoundland, the outdoors life of Vancouver and much more. I'm excited and I'm nervous. 

I've never set off anywhere alone before, certainly not for longer than a few days or a week. I'm starting on the east coast up in the north east of St. John's and then to Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. It's daunting and it's refreshing. I'm keen to be physically away for a while but I'm worried about the severing of the chord to the support network. 

From Toronto it's to Seattle to play a tournament I've wanted to play since I was in college and then up to Vancouver for a few weeks in July - the tough few weeks - birthdays and an anniversary. Second time around - harder? The same? I guess I'll see soon. Whatever the dates bring, I've made sure I'm in good hands up there. 

After that it's to Winnipeg for the World Masters Club Championships with the Sydney boys. I'm expecting a tough week or hard battles on the field and a lot of catching up with close friends off it. It'll be a perfect way to round out July and start into August. 

I've debated in my head about whether or not to write about the trip here on the There Are Words site. I've decided not to - at least not like a travel blog. This site is about grief, growth and Liane. I want it to stay that way as opposed to branching off in other directions. I'm certain the time alone will bring up lots of valuable writing and I look forward to the headspace and time to get a chance to share that.

2000 yellow bands and counting...

Bak in June of last year I wrote about the yellow wristbands that have become affectionately known as "LianeUpBands". I made 500 of the first version of the bands with the following aim:

"The idea is simple - to promote the personal values/strength that Liane's love and kindness helped to build in me. She gave me confidence, self belief and inner strength. She taught me to be self aware and to back myself in situations I wasn't ready for.  Liane's belief in me got me through tough times. I'd like people to wear the band, to pin it up to their wall, to give it to someone else or to put it away somewhere safe but to always remember that you have inner strength and your belief in yourself has got you so very far already. "

Since then they have had a redesign and I've given another 1500 away. The bands now have an oak leaf and wave on them, representing her link to nature, our swimming, her strength, the oak as her favourite tree and a tree under which she is buried. I've mostly given them to frisbee players after games. In our sport the two teams come together in a circle and share thoughts on the game just ended. After these circles finish I talk to the other team about Liane, about the bands and about her (and my) story. Most of these talks are special moments full of emotion and human connection. Every single time I finish speaking I look into the eyes of friends/strangers and see compassion and love. It is beautiful and it is heart wrenching. 

The next largest group of recipients have been the students in Gonzaga College where I teach. Most recently the graduating class of 2018 each received a band and I spoke to them about what lies ahead. It was a moving and memorable experience for me, and hopefully for them too. If I can help just one or two of them in a tough moment it will be special. 

The thought that somehow Liane and the memory of her can give solace to a stranger, a friend, a family member, a student and more is something I'm really happy about. I often talk about the Liane Ripple Effect - how much good her death has brought into this world. Through all the pain, the loss, the sheer lack of sense comes this positivity and compassion. She'd love it. She'd absolutely love it (although ideally without any attention given to her!). 

Missed

For the first time since Liane died I missed one of the monthly anniversaries this month. On May 20th - a Sunday - I was in Berlin at a frisbee tournament, playing and drinking in the sun. I spoke of her, thought of her and felt her at times in some of the connections I made that day. But, I didn't think of her anniversary - not until the Monday when it hit me like a cold dagger. 

It is such a strange concept - guilt from not remembering the 13th month of your soulmate leaving your life. I mean, am I meant to mark every month? Am I not meant to? Where's the balance? Should I forget? Is that possibly some sort of strange progress?

I don't know the answers to all of these questions. What I do know is what I feel and what I felt. And in that split second of realisation on Monday May 21st I felt hurt, disappointed, guilty and like I'd let Pannie down...

A vote for you

Today, not for the first time, my thoughts drifted to what role Liane would have played in the current debate about the Referendum tomorrow. I know where she’d stand on it but my heart warmed at the thought of how much work she’d put into sharing that opinion. 

Liane had a strength of character like few people I know. Her opinions were rooted in experience, learning and logic. She soaked up other people’s views and loved developing her world view from them, over languid cups of tea or a stolen half hour in a smoking area. She’d come back to me with all sorts of stories, eager to share them, a beautiful enthusiasm behind her eyes. 

Today it was an image of her - dressed with a small badge maybe, knocking on doors, entering people’s homes equipped with her openness and strong will - that made me smile to myself. It made me think of how much the referendum would have meant for and to her. It made me well up as a cast my vote. I hope we get the result the country needs - the result that says that the country supports the women living in it. I really do. 

Back to the Corner Note

The Corner Note is a small restaurant in Dalkey village run by locals. Myself and Liane spent many a Saturday and Sunday morning there - enough to know the owners, to order for one another and to grow comfortable in the place. It was a little haven for us - the right amount of chatter, silence and atmosphere. 

On Sunday morning I returned there for the first time since early April 2017 - a time when life was simpler and happier. As I pulled up on my bike my eyes welled up and heart skipped a few beats -  it constantly surprises me just how much emotion places have attached to them. I spoke to the owner, who I hadn't seen since Liane's death. We shared anecdotes, tears and a gentle understanding. I ordered the same order I always got. My words caught in my throat and I sat there - upset anew. 

"I'll be back and next time I'll bring friends" I said as I turned away from the memories and the generous owner. She's refused to let me pay for my meal - another small gesture, like so many before it, that make me believe in our race more than ever before. I unlocked my bike and cycled away slowly wondering how many more "first times" lie ahead but also happy, glad I'd faced another place.

Another brick for the wall. The slow rebuild continues. 

Proud of me? No, HERE with me

"She'd be so proud of you".

"If Liane could see what you've done..."

"You must be so happy to have honoured this way"

So often there are turns of phrase delivered gently and kindly that ring hollow. They echo in my mind, drift into my heart and pinch at the strings in there, gnawing away below the surface like an underwater current. There's a sort of constant uneasiness - a dark discomfort that I can't shake or soothe. 

The truth is I don't want Liane to be proud of me from afar. I don't want to sit and look back at what I have achieved since my soulmate died. I don't feel suddenly better from growing without her. 

I want to hold her hand. I want to whisper in her ear and see her face react to the words. I want her to look me in the eyes and see the spark of belonging that I felt for her and from her. I need her to be by my side and to advise me on what to do, carefully unpacking my messy thoughts as they tumble out onto her lap. I want to touch the soles of my feet against hers just before we fall asleep. I want to pick up the phone and send her my inane daydreams. I want to plan holidays for the two of us instead of seeing my friends travel the world in pairs. 

I wish she was here. It's that simple. 

The end of a stage

On the 1st of May I closed down the fundraising account just over a year after it began. The feeling was a numb sort of relief mixed with a sense of accomplishment. I'm delighted to have raised so much in Liane's name and really hope it can go to help some of the families around Ireland dealing with what Liane's went through. 

The next step is a focusing on myself for a while. I'll come back to fundraising or helping with Epilepsy Ireland - the cause will always be one I care deeply for - but not for a while yet. 

For now, it's a step back from the limelight. A step inside. Time to heal. 

This Mess We're In

I've always loved this song. Two brilliant musicians singing a sort of sad song about their relationship. I listened to it for the first time in years this morning and the last couple of verses resonated in a painful way - I miss her so much.

 

What were you wanting? (What was that you wanted?)
I just wanna say (I just wanna say)
(Don't ever change) Don't ever change now baby
(And thank you) And thank you
(I don't think we will meet again) I don't think we will meet again

(And you must leave now) And you must leave now (Before the sun rises over the skyscrapers)
Before the sun rise (And the city landscape comes into view) 
Over the skyscrapers (Sweat on my skin, oh)
The city

This mess we're in

Raw exhaustion

I survived the weekend. It was every bit as difficult as people told me it would be and now I sit here spent - dizzy with exhaustion on a Monday after work. I spent the day getting through it - keeping one foot in front of the other and waiting for the quiet sanctity of my own home to let the upset pour out. 

Today I visited the same funeral home Liane reposed in before we brought her home to wake her. It was strange being back there in a sort of numb way that I wasn't able to process at the time. Walking in the door brought a shiver of cold memory and pain quickly replaced by the harsh reality of why I was there. It felt like another step taken, another hurt faced and another sort of selfish task completed - toward what end I'm not quite sure but completed. 

Everything from Friday until Sunday couldn't have run any smoother or been a better way to send Liane off, again. My family, her family and all our friends were there in numbers at her tree in Blackrock, at the graveside in Wexford, at a party in Dalkey and at a swim in the Forty Foot. It was a big cocoon of love, tears, hope and sadness. I ran out of words and energy but every face and touch brought me a little more strength. For that I'll be forever thankful. 

Rest easy Pannie. We miss you so much. 

X
 

Don't let the year end...

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of the death of my wife Liane Deasy. As sentences go that is as hard to write as it is to read or understand. The senselessness of the loss is still so prevalent, and not just my loss but who we lost, what we all lost and how much that person meant and had to give. The world shines a little less brightly without her smile, her heart and her kindness in it.

In a strange way, that I'm sure many people grieving feel, I really don't want the year to end. I mean a calendar year is a construct, sure, but it's one around which our lives revolve. And for this year to end means Liane hasn't been in our lives for a full 12 months. She hasn't experienced the things I have, she hasn't seen my growth and my change, she's missed babies being born, birthdays and family occasions. The world has kept spinning and life has rattled on. The memories are less certain and the "first times without Pannie" are becoming second and third times. That sits uneasily with me. 

In another sense her death isn't important any more. I know that's not true and I know many who know it's not true but there are other daily events, life milestones and hardships being visited on everyone around me. And that's hard. I want her memory to be front and central. I want her life paraded and celebrated. I want her on our minds. And those wants are unreasonable. Life doesn't work like that. 

So as the next hurdle arrives tomorrow I approach it cautiously and full of fear. At this close stage to it, I just want to be passed it. And that feeling brings with it of guilt, confusion and yet more sadness. 

 

Counting down

For over a month now there has been a steady counting down of the weeks, the days and the hours to Friday April 20th - Liane's 1 year anniversary. It's approaching like a big barrier on my calendar - one I'm going to face with a mix of fear, sadness, exhaustion and resignation.

I really don't know what I will feel on the day - will there be the raw pain of that day one year ago? Hopefully not. Will there be a sense of relief as the build up to the date ends? Possibly. Will there be the usual sense of loneliness an hurt that comes around with all the first time without Liane dates? Definitely.

I've made all sorts of plans for the weekend. In a way it's a coping mechanism in itself - planning, organising and trying to make sure other people are involved and happy. I think the prevailing emotion is a tired sadness. It's so tiring being upset so often and the one person who I'd turn to for help is gone.

Under a week to go...

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.