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...

1175356_10153112130055570_520323451_n.jpg

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. 

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.