As has often been the way in my life, the countdown to significant dates and events is never left to the last minute.
For someone who has a reputation for being a bit tardy or at best cutting it fine when it comes to time keeping I find that increasingly the lead in time to important dates starts earlier and earlier. For the year that has gone by, all family dates of importance took on greater significance than usual as they were all firsts in our life without John. I tried and failed miserably at keeping my life, my thoughts and my grief in the day. With frayed dread I poked pins into the calendar of my life.
In the many weeks, maybe even couple of months if I’m honest, leading up to the first year anniversary of John’s death, I found myself thinking this is the last time that I will be able to say “this time last year he was alive”. It will be the last time I’ll be able to think thoughts of him going work, sharing his days, his time, his company with those he loved in ‘a short year’ kind of past tense. I wanted to hang on to that space in time where the past was not too distant at all.
So it arrived, a forever unwanted day, permanently etched deep into the timelines of our lives. I sit here and I’m not sure what to write. There is no happy redemptive theme I wish to explore. I survived a year of John’s absence from our lives. A year of fractured time. A year with many ordinary days that never felt normal. Days where I felt as un-anchored as a dandelion clock in flight. A year of clean crisp Atlantic water swims scorching my skin with cold, injecting beats into the heart of my days. Grounding me while I am still all at sea. A year of missing him. A year of acknowledging my love for him.
I could sit and write realms about the man I call brother. I’ve gone through my cream hard back journal and his being and his death are the essence of a year of my words. But for now, as we mark the first anniversary of his death it seems most fitting to share some of the first words I wrote around a “well worn kitchen table” just over a year ago. They formed part of John’s eulogy at his funeral service as we began our first year of ‘Goodbyes’.
One of the most poignant of descriptions of John made this week was by way of an accolade spoken, while we were sitting around a well worn kitchen table in the heart of Co.Waterford. A setting fitting for the accolade, because as we know John hung out in kitchens, a lot. He had graced this particular kitchen many times over the years with his presence, as he had many a person’s kitchen table. John, it is fair to say was a bit of a kitchen groupie. We know he was at his happiest though in his own kitchen, sharing food and often cooking for his own wonderful family.
John didn’t just offer the promise of good food and drinks from his kitchen, without fail he delivered on that promise in spades, as any of you lucky enough to enjoy his and Mary’s hospitality will know.
But John did so much more than put food in our bellies. He gave of himself generously, open to sharing his love, affection and life with us. He’d be there, all the fibre’s of his being filling the room, from his sandaled feet and shorts to whatever style of facial hair he was currently sporting. As we know that was wide and varied over the years.
When the food duties were ended, John could be found there, still in the kitchen or nearby, back leant up against a counter or door. Chatting, with a wry smile or a broad grin to be seen on his face. Perhaps singing a song or regaling us his audience, his groupies, with tall or small tales.
John filled a room while creating a space for everyone with his warmth. Being in his company was something of a magical experience. From the first bear like hug of a greeting you were his. Nobody could give hugs quite like John. The world felt like a safer and better place when you were wrapped up in his arms.
Grounded, protected and loved is how you felt and we are bereft without him. The absence of his physical being seems untenable to us. Our brains are trying to take stock of those portions of our lives he will not share. The awareness of forever is already clearly etched in our hearts more potent than any lover’s fulsome promise. We are sombre in the defeat of life.
And yet in an instant, John is here in our hearts and thoughts. Here he is getting a clatter of Sheridan children to believe they can jump start a car by physically jumping fast and high in the air, clearing the ground while he toys with the jump leads. Here he is bringing a skelp of Waterford nieces and nephews away into to the jungle with him on a “wim ba wa aweh”
Here he is, swimming in many oceans, sea dancing with the swell, salt on his skin or diving to the depths; calling you in , no matter how cold to join him. Here, he is walking and trekking his beloved hills and valleys of Mayo or the Voseges Mountains and beyond. Spreading the joy and sharing his love of the great outdoors.
Wherever he was in the world he made it and the people there his own, taking them under his wing and fitting in like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that had never been missed until it was found. John completed the picture.
Here he is, teaching and sharing his knowledge and his love of life by his very act of being.
Here he is, opening his very first door on the Cork Road, jumping hedges and canting a ball. Being called in for dinner by his Mammy, Mai. Here he is, one of many piled into a car, a grey Morris 1100 or a Black Prefect being the ones that spring to mind, for a days swimming and fishing with his Dad, Nicky, at their much loved Guillamenes.
Here he is, roaring ” Allez les Vertes”, “C’mon Mayo ” and “Up the Deise”, God love him. Here he is, roaring us all on in our own endeavors from the side lines of our lives, our loyal and stalwart supporter. He wanted nothing but the best for us all.
John will always be centre stage in the fabric of our being. We each have a myriad of recollections, good, happy and loving memories that would fill libraries let alone books. We have an abundance of love for the man we are blessed to call, Husband, Dad, Son. Brother, Uncle, Brother in law, God Father and Friend.
We’ll come back to that accolade now that would have said it all anyway..
“John; he was a class act, wasn’t he?”
I think of John so much more than I did when he was alive. I miss him so much more than I ever could have imagined, but then I never once imagined having to miss him at all…..
The skyline of my soul is inhabited
by tree's, waves and mountain peaks.
Densely populated it is
a benign wilderness providing refuge
to my broken heart.
Camoflaging my whirring
There are no hiding places
that I seek,
on these the saddest of days.
You are missing from my life
and memory has yet
to bring me solace.
Ragged sleep and salty tears
grind out channels in my face.
Flowing with the speed of time
hurtling me to the date, that date;
when it will be final time of saying.
" Last year , he was alive."
J.Quinn Apr/May 2019