A wilderness on my doorstep…Minutes of lush living.

I am trying not to spend so much time clock watching. I still have a wall clock that has a tick and a tock. TICK TOCK TICK TOCK. Similarly to our small summer stream that morphs into a river in winter time, it seems to be more noticeable present aurally, after the house has bedded down at night and I’m alone at the kitchen table, eschewed in some piece of writing, or mindless internet browsing or darning a sock. Ok, I am only having you on about the sock.

I’m not quite sure when I fell into what has become a rather embedded habit of thinking ahead, thinking of the next thing to be done before I have even completed what I’m doing. Looking at the clock wondering where the day has gone to and already allocating in advance the minutes of my tomorrow. This clock watching, keeping an eye on the time leads me to inhabit my time and space in a way that is the polar opposite of mindful travelling through my day. It is separate and in addition to the required planning (though I am questioning, what level of planning and indeed activity is actually necessary ) for having a functioning life. This tendency grimly occupies much needed head space and removes me from the beauty of now. I don’t like it and find myself increasingly trying to resist.

My now has moved on from then, the ‘then’ when I first started this post being I think in early August. I have some hazy recollection of sitting down to type the above words but I can’t for the life of me remember the context. All that remains is only a note of remembrance that something had struck me that evening about my absence of presence. Anyway, with my hands on my head, my feet in my sliders I stayed away from the computer. I have been busy living the summer, away from our garden in the mountains and spending as much time as possible with some view of the sea on my horizon. Dipping my body in and out of swathes of the sea’s coloured water of various hues, from deep Mediterranean blue to a more familiar Irish aquamarine greeny grey. The water this summer has more often than not been crystal clear and dazzling with refracted sunlight. Drinking coffee and eating sausage *blaas featured strongly too.

One of the catalysts for my increased awareness of my carrying a full head load of unnecessary and constant forward planning was what I have fondly referred to as the big summer melt away in July which lasted for about for two weeks; a truly hot Irish summer spell, which is quite a rare thing. People living outside of Ireland probably just use the term “summer”. What is seldom is wonderful. I took a break from my head and parked it and it’s clock watching tendencies along the many seascapes of Copper Coast of Waterford and baked myself into mindful relaxation, with not a tick or a tock to be heard. I made thinking real thoughts (as opposed to list thoughts) and writing become the mainstay of my brain activity, in between the sun worship and the sea swims. On occasion, I managed to leave the house early morning and not return until nigh on thirteen hours had passed, I cherish those kind of days. Some days, I travelled solo and some days in delightful company. The kind of days where the sun warms you to your bones, the sea becomes a much needed cooling vessel and the sights, sounds and smells of summer gather you in.

Outside of my sea swimming, which just tethers me to all of my self, I have found a mindfulness of sorts to be captured behind the lens of my camera. Grounding can happen as soon as I step outside my front door, into our wilderness nestled under the shadows and shape of the Comeragh Mountains. With my phone in my back pocket, I enjoy having short explorations of my garden in a go slow strolling mode of movement. There are such daily delicate intricacies of nature to be found; from magnificently spun spider webs to tiny wild flowers defying the stature of the mountains and owning their own space with such self assuredness and proper aplomb. Trees, ferns, rocks, mosses and wildflowers parading their seasonal colours along with my own minor contribution of roses and lupins. I cannot help but be absorbed in my observations and in the photographing of them with my fairly old cheap mobile phone with its’ fractured screen. Time again passes without a tick or a tock. I allow myself the pleasure of my mind being full of what is in front of me, ‘the here and now’ rather than ‘the then and later.’ There is such peace in being present. Given that I can’t spend all my time either in the sea or in my garden, I am trying to slow my train of thoughts, to capture and recreate that inner stillness by focusing on what is and more importantly who is in front of me.

Time fractures and splinters in unimaginable ways after the death of someone you love. It stays surreally splintered for a very long time and I believe it never quite reassembles in the same way. It seems to configure and present itself differently. It becomes relative. The big clock of my life has naturally rearranged itself around John’s death and his ongoing obvious absence. Variable sized particles of grief piggy back on both the joyous moments, the worrisome ones and the many moments of daily living that exist in between. Everyday places take on more meaning. Everything takes on more meaning. I have found that all connections with my brother John, however tenuous or however familiar have taken on a love charged depth of significance. There are places and things that connect me to John and places that John was connected with and I feel drawn to them, to give them, both my physical presence and my thought space.

It is the growing realisation of the importance of apparently insignificant mundane moments of life and the being present with people in those moments that has created a growing resistance to the yawning pressure to mentally run through some arbitrary to do list. Enough of my time is given to the actual doing of the list without having multiple dress rehearsals. I want to give more of my attention to the day to day life that scuttles around me. There is a gift in the humdrum for the taking. My possession of a brain that I allow to be governed and indeed swamped by a tick and a tock leads me miss out on so many segments of my day. It is akin to focusing only on the font style and size and not paying any heed to the quality, colour or shape of the paper that the text of my life is written on.

The page that my life story gets written on demands more conscious awareness. None of us get back time and our time is a finite resource whether we live the longest of lives or not. So I’m trying to actually keep my head where my body is, with the people and in the interaction or activity of the moment or the hour. I’m trying to be kind to myself in the trying too.

*Blaa – a floury white bread product specific to Waterford that was awarded Protected Geographical Indication Status in 2013.

Sisters On A Beach. ( The abandonment of to do lists)

Snippets of life stories
shelter behind wind breaks and
in the creaks of sunchairs.
The moving parts 
of love and loss
are hidden with the application
of sun cream
on shoulder tips and
those hard to reach places.
Heart wounds find exposure
under the sun's gauze.

Day trippers
with stuffed oversized
shopping bags
of half eaten sandwiches
the crusts cut off
for roaming children. 
Young, lithe teenagers
standing on the sea shelled
cusp's of just about everything
reject the pretence of patience
and dive right in.
More sun cream, with sweat
oozing from feeling pores
usually cloistered
but now open to a
sun-dialled beating heat.
Salt laden towels
form draping changing rooms
around bodies
that try to decipher 
middle age.

Top knots
on women who are like
living breathing 
grey haired mermaids,
washed ashore at birth
in a golden wordless world
that always mistimed
the surge of their needs
and the ebb of their flow.

Reclaiming a spot
on ocean sieved sands
their broad beamed bad asses
in loose fitting bikini bottoms 
make no pretence
of effort
to camouflage
the folds of their bellies.

Inhaling the tide
riding the wave.
Soaking up, a fair share
of the July sun.
Reading their books and 
readying themselves 
for the next full tide
as they have done
for most of their lives.
Now blissfully aware
of just this moment
with all it has to offer.

J.Quinn - July 2021
Kilmurrin Beach


Surface Tension

I have never been the best at dusting, or I should say at regular dusting. Saturday mornings of my childhood, were spent polishing linoleum floors and dusting a myriad of surfaces. The sideboard, the top of the china cabinet, the tops of the presses; each a display space for a plethora of knick- knacks and treasured possessions. A proper dusting entailed the careful(ish) removal of each item to the large oil skin clothed table crafted by my grandfather that dominated our small corporation house living room. The item was itself wiped with cloth, the holding surface area dusted and the object replaced. There were varied styles of approach to this task that could probably form the basis of a philosophical treatise or some old-aged psychometric testing. As the ‘sense in’ or ‘point of’ dusting every week eluded me, my own approach could sometimes be a little less precise than that outlined above. In my own adult life, I have embraced a more elongated interval style approach to dusting and household chores in general. I have no memories of John dusting, I suspect that ne’er a duster was ever put in his hand by my Mam. John left for university when I was six going on seven when he was sixteen going on seventeen and so missed the true glories of my dusting years- the time trials, the cutting corners and the dropping of ornaments.! John never lived at home again but how I remember his visits home, each one forever like a mini Christmas and thus it ever was.

After over three lockdown months (in which there was very little dusting done) away from the sea, I returned with what felt like the longest awaited exhale upon arrival. Phooshhhh! Blowing away so many cobwebs. As I exited the sea (which my body experienced as being at least two degrees colder than what it was, it was somewhere between 8 and nine degrees) it felt that I had begun to wash out particles of stiffness and weariness that had collected in the crevices of my being. The crevices and folds where my grief sometimes physically lurks, hiding itself in the mix of depleting hormones and age. Re-immersing my whole being into an enveloping body of literally breath taking, pain inducing water helps the decanting of some of my grief. It enables the happening of an internal reckoning with my grief and is one of my many small acts of mourning.

A small act on a big stage. I can let it all spill into the ocean, invisibly to other naked eyes, the many forms that “all” takes on any given day’s visit. I know it sounds a bit daft. A silent soliloquy of my soul that brings John and his absence back in into the light of my days. Back where it has some sense of unwanted belonging, acknowledgement and integration. As the sea pain eases into numbness, and my quickened breath slows, this is another place where my softness gathers.

Five beautifully cold swims later( all squeezed into the one week) with my ability to stay in the water gradually increasing, it feels like I have moved from decalcifying my grief to rendering it into oddly shaped broken gems for dusting and polishing. It’s veneer is once again more multi faceted. Reflecting back both the love and the sorrow. Once again, the sea just strips me back, to nerve endings and breaths and blood moving through my veins. In the moments when the pain surges in my feet and my hands, and I work to slow the initial panic breaths, I am suffused with an encompassing knowledge that I am alive. Its’ exquisite coldness propels me to an urgent pulse of self preservation that I’m not as attuned to, on dry land. There is a joy to that pulse that feels separate from everything and intrinsic to it at the same time. The pain is followed (reasonably swiftly) by a most glorious numbing that flows into a distilled pleasure of awareness that allows for the opening of me to all that this piece of seascape has to offer. It opens me to myself.

I often find myself writing about the sea and my grief when I really want to write about John. I’m circumventing the mixed up feelings that are mine as we approach the third anniversary of his death. I feel I am spoiling for some imaginary fight, but it is myself who is in both corners of the ring. There can be no winner. It is easier for my heart and mind to focus on grief rather than on his death. The symptom rather than the cause.

This past year has been full of plenty of ‘lockdown downtime’. Gifting me the opportunities to remember and recall my life from way back when and from more close by times. Opportunities to sit and think, to mull again and again over my life and my expectations of myself. Lockdown amounted to a more introspective way of life as my world pared down to ever decreasing circles of contacts and space. There were times in this past year when that was so welcome. I felt the first lockdown which included John’s second death anniversary was the world belatedly catching up with how I wanted it to be in the aftermath of his death. ” Stop all the clocks ….. he is dead” [W.H Auden Funeral Blues]

There were other times, particularly the first months of this year where I felt I needed distraction, social contact and movement to counterbalance my sad feelings. Those feelings of sadness that underpin my present life are not going anywhere. I will be forever sad that John died when he did, in the manner that he did, I will forever miss him. I have grown accustomed to the circular presence of sadness, the peaks and troughs. I am okay with feeling this feeling, it is bittersweet, it is love and it is not eviscerating shock. I have decided not to use the word ‘still’ in relation to any of my feelings around John’s death ever again. This feeling of sadness does not preclude the feeling of happiness but it does underscore it. My unheard musical symphony of continuing love.

I believe I thought living with grief would be different as an adult middle aged woman with a fair bit of life experience under my belt to what it is. I am not the person I was at nineteen when I sat at my Dad’s bedside and watched him die and my daily life now is so very different. We change during our lifetimes. Our experiences shape and shear us. I believe that the world expects more of me too, that’s the truth, the world has unrealistic expectations of all grievers. Death and its attendant emotions cause such discomfiture among people, who can find it hard to bear witness to the pain of grief. I too expected more of myself, I have difficulty sometimes in remembering that I am in fact human. Wanton wistfulness that age and perspective and life experience would somehow reduce the full hammer blow of death. Really, how could it?

I have had such an amount of conflicting thoughts in the living of my “on” after the death of John and I am much more aware of my emotional spectrum and my ability to feel so much more than one thing at any time. Grief is just that label of the folder that all the emotions you feel after the death of someone you love gets filed under. Some emotions require more space than others and come to fore at different times and in different combinations. There are feelings that I have never been too comfortable sitting with, anger, resentment, guilt, fear, loneliness, insecurity, anxiety, but death and grief demands more of us than we think is possible. Trying to rationalise them out of existence did not work for me. That is just the way it has been for me. The phrase ‘at least’ is too being banished from my grieving lexicon.

I am coming to the last few pages in one of my journals, (I have three on the go, there is a system involved) it lasted just over a year and a half. Fits and starts, ebbs and flows, surges and retreats it holds them all, and somewhere, written in the gaps and between the lines are also all the unspoken thoughts and words, lurking there among the inked words that did make it to the page. I can hear some of my internal wrangling’s when I read back my words. I can sense when I worried that my grief felt ‘indulgent’ in comparison to John’s actual death. I have to live with his absence but he is the one who is absent. I can sense where I’ve muzzled the pain in my words , capitulating to my own need for some forced positivity and hope. I can revisit the days when tending to my grief seemed to strip me of my own compass of compassion. Seemed to strip me for seasons of my ability to be a fully present parent. Stripped me of my ability to provide a holding space for my own children’s grief at their Uncle John’s death and sometimes stripped me of my ability to be a holding space for their lives. I can also read of the acceptance and the recognition that I have to meet myself where I am at and that in truth I could not be other than I was, and will not be other than I am.

I have never been able to swim fully under water, I inhabit the surface ,like a half submerged iceberg and I travel about at the same speed stretching the sea water into ripples around me. I can duck my head under and keep my face downward coming up for unequal breaths but in the main I like my head above water seeing whereabouts I am. I wish you were here John , firmly in my view finder, doing the odd cannon ball. I miss you and love you.

  The Foxglove and The Fern.
  
 It took me by surprise
 the familiar foliage on my left.
 Not belonging in
 my previous imaginings
 of this place at all.
 I walked,
 where I had never
 walked before,
 Following in your footsteps.
  
 I knew where I was headed. 
 With leaden feet,
 a dizzy head
 and a dulled
 quickening heart,
 I picked my steps.
 Brokering the tangled
 knotted wood underfoot.
 My tempo and my gait
 as uneasy as my mind.
  
 Just before the bend
 which was sharp,
the foxglove and the fern
 popped brightly into view.
 Their familiarity 
catching me offguard,
 Evoking thoughts of home.
 Thoughts caught in my throat
 Catching my breath.
 Breaking the watery
 rhythm of my gaze.
     
 I had been furiously
 surveying the landscape.
 Trying to memorise
 my surroundings, 
 your last surroundings. 
 Imprinting them forever
 in my addled brain.
 Trying desperately to keep
 a back dated
 company with you.
 To be there with you
 To catch you as you fall.
  
 Their presence and
 their leafy clothing
 added an everyday essence
 to the taste of the air.
 The cooling shade
 of the mountain’s trees
 Providing relief from the
 high bright continental sun
while reducing 
my aperture of the scene.

My depth of field
plumbed along my soul lines
bridging the distance
between then and now.
Giving focus to my mind and
refuge from those many
late night calculations. 
Shrouding my
 uncertain disbelief,
 that I could not,
 still,
 undo that day.
  
 The foxglove and the fern,
 ensured that we,
 were never mere tourists
 You & I.
 I could see you at home there,
 Striding towards
 the outcrop
 of gray granite rock.
 A Guillamene of a rock.
 You, as at home there,
 as the lone fir tree.
 Jutting out, oddly angled,
 Its roots embedded
 in its' scant
 rocky source of life.
  
 All the close up
 commonplace groundlings
 mixed with
 my uncertainty
 of the everything;
 The closeness of the sky
 the metric,
 orderly ridges of the trees.
 The barren and the lush playing
 counterpoint to
 my erratic breath.
  
 The foxglove and the fern.
 Did you notice them again?
 Did they bring you home?
 Transport you unknowingly 
South East and West?
  
 The Foxglove and the Fern,
 I know not if they brought me
 heedless comfort but
 they will forever
 be my mental waymarks,
 To the path that made me pilgrim.
  
  
  
  
 Jillian Quinn/  July -Nov 12 th 2019 

LOCKDOWN LOVE

As I type on what seems like day seven hundred and seventy-six of our third lockdown due to Covid 19, (it is, in fact, closer to day seventy), I am bemused by the knowledge that once again I am finding my way towards my exit from an unscheduled stop in ‘Avoidance Alley’ which also is known to me as the ‘Bóithrín of Burying One’s Heart in the Sand’ or the ‘Laneway of Listlessness’. Given my periodic visitations to these locations, it is time (I think) I at least accept that these too are pivotal parts, not just of my grieving process but my way of being. It is understandable; (I want to write excusable) in light of the fact that I am without access to one of my mourning rituals: that of sea swimming (which is also one of the joys of my life). It is an activity that allows me care for myself, allows me to acknowledge my grief in a definitive sacred space and time on a regular basis and thus enables me to carry it along in the blurred prisms of everyday life.

The navigating of my entry into our third calendar year without John morphed into a navigation of our third lockdown. January felt like an extended Christmas break without the decorations and the fun bits (like people who don’t normally live here having time at home, or visitors calling in). Home-schooling competed with screen-time and board games. An unexpected knock on the door created a mini stampede from the kitchen to the front door with what can only be described as a somewhat wild and hysterical frenzy of excitement as we rushed to see who it was. It must be somewhat disconcerting for the lovely Tesco delivery people to be greeted with such overt enthusiasm, as we, (no; read I) pretend to be characters out of ” Little House on the Prairie”, getting our supplies delivered.

February brought the most depressing inclement weather. There was something ridiculous about the amount of rain that fell from the sky, the ground so sodden. My mountains hidden by reoccurring low skirmishes of dense cloud. Preparing for the possibility of flooding providing a focus for a couple of the days and a connection to the memory of a precious night a few years back. A memory of our first real flood threat when my brother John was on a Christmas time visit in 2014 and together with my husband and neighbour John (a veritable trio of Johns) and my older children we built a dam of stones and mud and black plastic bags to try divert the water running like a river down our driveway. We were bailed out by a local farmer and some heavy machinery in the end. It was a wild night. A night where the children wanted to kayak in the flood waters on the laneway in the dark. A night I treasure. A night that makes me welcome the rain.

As the rain continued, it felt like my energy was inversely seeping into a Netflix sofa. There was a slowness to being which felt weighted and unwanted. An inertia that screamed my need for sea salt on my skin and hypothermia-inducing water temperatures. A need for wider horizons beyond the mountains, where I could search for my connections. There was also the landing of my huge sadness at the death of our beautiful next door neighbour, Tilly, from our childhood neighbourhood. It felt incredibly sad and opened a vault of memories that I am still sifting through. Happy childhood memories that should just be that and not grief memories of my brother John and the mainstay of my memories of my Dad.

Restless, listless and with a disquieted mind and a heart beating off kilter, I practised self-avoidance, rejecting again my pen and page and the contact and connection to my feelings that it brings to me. Hand in hand, the retreat from others ensues, where I’m not fully present with my presence. My patience with others wearing thin. My patience with myself and my grief wearing thinner. The trust I had tentatively felt in my courage, to not let the passing days take John any further away from me than death had, already feeling diluted. Neither of my hips feeling big enough for my grief pangs to perch on. My restlessness had an edge, like the feeling of being barely balanced right on the side of the bed as a child, used to bring, unwilling to let the day start with my feet touching the floor. This wary circling of my daily life. This weary circling of my grief.

I was finding it relentless to have the unwanted litmus test of death as a sliding scale to judge the tribulations of life. I want my daily stresses and Covid grievances, my petty resentments and my boredom to be the pinnacle of my worries: for these to be the only mountains that I climb. However, I need to be able to acknowledge them to myself as being of some merit, worthy of my attention within “the grand scheme of things”. I have nearly given up on missing the sea. Meanwhile, all my ever present emotions are sometimes travelling at breakneck speed, crossing spaghetti like junctions at barely subterranean level, and I’m crying at the most unlikely things I watch on television. I’m occasionally crying when I’m not watching the ‘telly’. Grief has reclaimed ‘the pangs’ of physical presence. Crying is good. I no longer have false expectations of grieving to carry along with the reality of my grief. I do lose faith in my trust of my own pacing, wanting to indulge in the ever-false hope that there is a possibility of a sprint to an imaginary finish line.

Still, I can be seen climbing mountains decorated with mystical-looking, windswept hawthorn trees that look like part of a still life painting, as sheep dart along a myriad of trails edged with bracken and boulders. I am admiring the inky black water of coums (lakes) with a promise to immerse myself therein soon. On the rare days where the sun is high, and the sky is not laden and often on the days when it is, I am enjoying the emerging cues of spring. The trampling around my five kilometre stomping ground and the snapping of my micro-view brings me joy and keeps the worst of my forlornness at least temporarily at bay. I’m cooking dinners, loading the washing machine, exchanging what’s app messages, making calls, building fairy forts for small children, laughing with my family, hoovering the floors, having precious visits with my Mam and trying to chide children into some sort of daily scholastic pursuits. In a moment of clarity I signed up for a once weekly zoom version of the FF circuit classes that I would normally attend. Everything has made my body stiff and weary. As my own words fail me, or I fail at my words, I read the words of others and escape. I read my own previously written words and that too brings me some sort of addlepated peace. I grasp at half-formed physical memories that are just outside conscious touching distance.

Before I know it, I am staring down the scope at the looming ‘Ides of March’. My love debt will never be paid. The number three firmly replacing the order of the two. I’m heading towards the thirty-third anniversary of my Dad’s death on March 13th and this date has become more potent, demanding more of my heart space that has re-opened to the loss of him since John died. My continuing grief for John excavating the faced and unfaced, the named and un-named losses and grief and wounds caused by Dad’s death a lifetime ago. There was so much more knowing of each other to do. My dad was a patient man, I did not inherit that trait but as slow a learner as I can be, I am learning that sometimes I’m going to end up parked in the middle of Avoidance Alley. Parked where my grief that they are dead appears immense against my gratitude that they once lived. While I acknowledge that it okay to be here, I fear and resent that it is not too good for me to stay too long. The child in me may want to stay hidden in a squiggly, cracked white line etched around my heart but the woman in me needs to pick another course, a braver road, not one less travelled but still worthy of the tender exploration.

My hope is that I’ll be somewhat quicker at recognising this view and see where I am before I’m on the way out. There is always merit in seeing one’s surroundings. I hope to keep at hand the things I know to be helpful, even when I feel I’m getting nowhere fast. Failing that, I have to see the signposts that mean I just have to cut myself a bit of slack. Sometimes this is the place where my softness gathers.

"It seems again that it is time to learn,
In this untiring, crumbling place of growth
To which, for the time being, I return.
Now plainly in the mirror of my soul
I read that I have looked my last on youth
And little more; for they are not made whole
That reach the age of Christ."
Excerpt from 'Mirror in February' by Thomas Kinsella.

https://abroadsthoughtsfromhome.wordpress.com/2019/04/06/the-old-and-the-new/



Letters to You

From Another Year and a Day

I am old enough, at 52, to remember when letter writing was our main means of staying in contact with others. I grew up in a household with no telephone and before these heady days where an assortment of social media apps are available with a thumb-tap. A time where ‘thank-you’ letters were required. I can vividly recall sitting up at the top of the table in my Dad’s seat to fulfil the requirement under the watchful eyes of my Mam. I was young enough to have to use lined paper or have to draw faint guide lines to prevent my words sliding off the page in a slant. I have never quite mastered the skill of writing on unlined paper, not being one to give myself the time to pay enough heed to the image of the words as they spill out from me. A pencil would still be my preferred choice of writing instruments if I had my way. I prefer my handwriting in pencil.

I have a high regard for good penmanship: it is a thing of beauty. A good hand does stir a pique of envy from me but admiration and appreciation are my dominant responses. Letter writing, as I have aged, has long since ceased to be a chore. I love the writing and the receiving of letters. Letter writing is in itself an art form, an intimate sojourn on paper capturing the connections between the head, the heart and the pen. It matters not if the content is often of no real consequence at all. A letter is just a written chit chat, or at least mine are. Letters, like a lot of worthwhile things, do make a demand on one’s time but there is no rule that you have to start and finish one in one sitting or use the same pen, is there?

It is one of my regrets that I haven’t kept my lifetime of letters received. I have always held on to them for some considerable time but then, as required by the urgency of my younger years (moving houses and life stages) I felt I had to shed some of my life’s acquired paraphilia, let go and start anew. I wish I had afforded them more space in my suitcases and packing boxes. I wish I had asked the question ‘Will they bring you joy?’ I keep my letters now, tucked in books and journals and drawers, behind flower vases and in memento boxes. They get housed in the kitchen for some time after their arrival, for re-reading and continuing enjoyment and gradually find themselves into other nooks and crannies of our house. I see them with older eyes as the irreplaceable treasure that they are. I think nestled somewhere in the Cork Road, are the seven years’ worth of letters that I wrote to my Mam when I lived in London. She has, I think, most letters that have landed through her post box; a literary archive of the correspondence of her days. It turns out that on this one she has a much keener instinct than I. I can see her, engaged in the folding of her most recent epistle to John and inserting it as an unpaid-for passenger into the Munster Express paper that she wrapped in brown paper and secured with twine and sent on to him during a student’s summer in London.

As the third calendar year without John crept into existence and I marked with the dawning of New Year’s day: the actual three-year mark to the day since I last saw John, I was disappointed that I would be without my now-traditional way of acknowledging this ‘John Day‘ with my swimming for two. Our swamp of a garden doesn’t offer much shelter at the moment to sit and think and we think there could be alligators lurking in its thereabouts. So once again I have started exploring the nearest bit of our five kilometres, my beautiful bóithrín. Often the best things happen when moving: the head quietens, and the space evolves to hear one’s heart. So although there wasn’t a cormorant in sight on my laneway, or a fish jumping out of the water just in front of my eyes, John was there as always in my heart and I walked out some of the words of this letter to him, to be added to all the words I have written over the last 965 days, my words of love from me to him.

Dear John

I’m not quite sure what to do with myself today. It is three years since I last saw your face, felt one of your legendary hugs, on a night when life was how it should be. All of us gathered in celebration, gathered back then when we were so sure of each other’s continuing existence as we took our leave of each other outside the Majestic Hotel, with our casual ‘See you later in the year’ sort of Goodbye. One thousand and ninety five days later how I envy that other self that was me. That three years have flown by on untethered gossamer flights of time is hard to reconcile with the many slow passing hours of grief. Time is certainly just a construct bearing little resemblance to the weight of the hours and the days and the weeks that I’ve counted in the time without you.

Today I don’t get to swim at the Guillamenes, and swim for two. I don’t get to seek solace in the skyline where between the sea and the sky I am certain of love. I don’t get the visceral reminders of you, my heart’s aperture open wide to other days when the sea water served an altogether different purpose and was not mine alone. I don’t get the water’s coldness numbing my body to a state of certainty that this is where I am meant to be in this moment. Not that this moment is the right moment, but it is the best place to inhabit this actual moment of love and life and death and yearning. So I have to find you where I find myself, among the hedgerows, the birch trees and the snow dusted mountains. I have to glimpse you, in the yellow gorse, the oak gall, and the waxy green holly now done with her berries. I have to let my feet quieten my mind, that resists the surges of grief and the waves that continue to wash over. I have to trust the sacred space I have created around and within me for you, post life to inhabit, a Tardis of a space. A Tardis of love.

I have to trust that again today and for the coming years’ tomorrows I can shape the space for love and grief, longing and your death into the living of my life. Missing you will be a life long occupation, it is part of who I am now. I will never stop wanting it to be other than it is. A complicated weave of breathing on, placing one foot in front of the other, one more stroke swam. Your absence will always be a but that rides on the coattails of joy, no longer extinguishing joy’s spark but ever present in the moment. Why or how can it be other?

So John, today as I walk, I am struck with the knowledge that neither sorrow or happiness are a betrayal of the living or the dead. I will put my heart together for today, so I can carry the sadness, the extent of which doesn’t change. I can carry it along with me, now able to shift its weight like a mother moving her child from hip to hip. I do not want to put it down but with its shifting weight I can see glimpses of you beyond your death. I can see you as I breathe more easily in my life and I will not allow each day’s passing to take you any further away from me. I will hold you in my many moments. I will hold you always with love.

With so much love

Jillian

Sacred Spaces in a Small World.

The months of May and October are the two most significant months in my calendar of grieving John. There are plenty of other dates in the year that warrant more than the usual pause in the daily clatter of my life to remember and miss John. That daily clatter looks on the surface quite similar to that of an earlier life of mine. However, there are numerous ordinary days where that daily clatter is interrupted or sidelined completely regardless of the innocuous date that the calendar presents to me.

Whole waking hours, blocks of night-time being, randomly spaced collections of intermittent life pauses of variable lengths from brief to long and back again, when grief and longing for John to be here, for him to be alive moves from the back passenger seat of my life right up to the front seat as I steer my way through my days. There are days, when all I can do is just loosen or let go of my grip on the steering wheel and hand it over.

These two months containing the dates of John’s death and his birth and my own birth and my birthing of one of our boys demand a longer and more encompassing conscious span of attention of me. There is a now familiar lead in period to these specific dates that allows the funneling of love and sadness, grief and mourning, yearning and remembrance to take the space they demand of me. The dates marking the days of birth and death have themselves become sacred spaces. So too have the smaller quietly carried acts of mourning and the places where I can freely acknowledge my grief to myself. I have discovered it is better for me if my grief is not limited to the confines of my headspace. It is also better for those that I love.

My grief as a reflection of my continuing love for my big brother has become a sacred entity in its own right. To paraphrase C.S Lewis ” His absence is like the sky, spread over everything” as is the grieving of his absence. There is a frequency to John’s presence in my thought space that he never occupied in life. Living breaths, create room around us, to come and go, dip in and out, secure in the knowledge of each other’s existence somewhere in this small world.

How my grief outwardly and inwardly manifests itself is fluid and differs from time lined points of reference that I can see with hindsight and from where I’m at in my life at any given time. My grief is varied in how it conjures itself. The shock of John’s death and his absence from this world is being integrated into my being. I have taken out and looked at that moment and the immediate aftermath when word of John’s death first reached my ears. I have revisited and sat with the abject despair and pain that the answer to my questioning “Who?” delivered, with full body blows, as I stood just at the bottom of my stairs, inside my front door. I have recently brought myself to write on it for the first time, that cataclysmic moment of the utterance of his death.

Another season encroaches,
I'll turn to the wearing
of  your geansaí
that reminds me of your warmth.
I no longer need it
as a badge of tribute 
to my remembering 
that you are dead 
nor as a reminder to others   
that I am remembering you. 
Your death I knew 
as a complete and awful truth, 
mere hours into your absence 
from our lives. 
With the pulling of a car 
unannounced into my driveway, 
holding what was to become 
the  living remains 
of my first family. 
How foolishly I rushed 
to meet the bad news, 
half dressed 
cylinders of fear misfiring, 
misdirecting me with haste 
not once expecting 
the vowels and consonants 
would offer up your name.  
On opening the door, 
before entry was requested 
"WHO?" 
was the only syllable 
my mouth relinquished. 
" Accident -  Fall - Dead"
"John" 
Your name fell from lips. 
I sank to the floor. 
Part of me remains there still. 

The impact of John’s death on my day to day life has changed since then, in part because I just have had more time to become accustomed to shape and form my own grief takes. How it finds its own route in and out of my body, mind and heart. In part because living in the world demands it. Grieving John’s death, mourning his absence and remembering his being, doesn’t happen in isolation to the rest of my life. It doesn’t happen separate to the act of being me, a complicated fifty two year old woman, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, an acquaintance or a person you pass in the gym or in the biscuit aisle of the supermarket. It doesn’t just occur in the sleepless glitches of dark nights, when I need to take it out, feel the lurching emptiness of it, examine it, poke at it and acknowledge it, or when the rabbit hole yawns open, proffering an invitation to a non wonderland and trying to make an Alice of me.

It doesn’t just happen when it is actively acknowledged by my writing, tears or cold water swims. It doesn’t just happen in the planting and tending to of rose bushes and rosemary plants. It doesn’t restrict its movements to the perimeters of the room in which I have been visiting an counsellor for over the last eighteen months.

It doesn’t wait for a polite invitation to come join my day, it doesn’t hang around on the doorstep of my pending hours waiting to see if I’m at home for a visit. “Please enter” is not required, why would it be? It is already permanently in residence. There are times when it demands to be let out from behind the curtains where it has been obscured; just staying out of the view of others but hiding in my plain sight.

There are times when it feels deeply unpleasant and unmanageable. There are times grief’s presence is a light as gossamer or as heavy as the richest brocade. Both weights of presence as interchangeable as the summer and winter duvets that dress my bed but not in the slightest bit season bound.

If grief and mourning has been continuously sidelined by my going about the daily acts of living or by my forcing it away, refusing to acknowledge it to myself there is no , “Have you got a moment ?”

Nope, somedays it barges right up, elbowing all and sundry out of its way. Demanding an attention that I feel the timeline of my day doesn’t permit me to give. Somedays it resorts to what I call unattended grief leakage .Grief doesn’t mind that I’m undressed not yet fully awake, it doesn’t mind if I’m driving the car or cooking what seems like the twentieth meal of the day. It is there some mornings when I harangue one of my half dressed, wet haired boys into the car so we won’t miss the school bus. My head doesn’t have the space to deal with the prospect of missing a bus. My headspace that at times alternates between feeling overcrowded with half formed thoughts and unwritten to do lists or cavern like, dark and devoid of conscious thought awaiting replicated realisations of his absence.

It is there when joy and sadness are sparked in my life. It is here, back in the front seat as we approach his 3rd birthday away from us, and the world we live in. The birthday which would have seen him outlive my Dad by a mere crochet hook of a rounded year, sixty two years to Dad’s sixty one and three months and six days. It is there in the love and the loss of the pair of them. It has created a sacred space within me, a small world of my own design, that love and grief inhabit.

" I'm weaving your absence
into the living fibre
of my days.
Not with any
High brow  list
of accomplishments 
nor any road to 
Damascus moments
but in my waking thoughts
sleep dream thoughts
and the mundane moments
in between.
Oct 13th 2020 - J.Quinn

The Ebb and Flow of Low Ebb.

I have had resistance to sitting down with the laptop and tapping away on the keyboard, which would have enabled the transition of the cacophony of thoughts from my head to the screen. I am a creature of habit; these blog posts are always typed straight from my head to the virtual page and then edited, spell checked, etc. My scribblings and poems and musings are done by hand & pen and often speedily with no filter into my increasing collection of notebooks.

I never second-guess my scribblings but will also engage in a self-inflicted battle between the urge and my resistance to write. I have yet to consistently remember to keep a notebook by my bed to jot down the words that capture the snatches of thoughts that ride on my sleep drifts. I rarely remember them in the morning time despite my misguided certainty that I will. It is in the words of Samuel Johnson “The continuing triumph of hope over experience.”

July 13th 2020 was the date that Low Ebb first got noted in a notebook after a trip to the Guillamenes, when the tide was very low with the gnarly rocks and kelp revealed. On that day I wished it to be other. The beauty of my favoured swimming spot is that there is always enough water to swim in to be out of one’s depth, to feel the vastness that surrounds you no matter what tide you happen upon.

I can’t seem to keep track of the tides, although the mathematical requirements for doing so are not that taxing. I am somewhat allergic to looking them up and likewise with the weather forecast. So I travel in hope that the tidal waters will be enough and that the sea will be full and that the seascape will match my mood on any given day at my irregular appointed swimming hours. Unsurprisingly this often is not so, but my delight when it is is worth it and any brief disappointment experienced on my first visual encounter (on the days it is not) is usually quickly dispelled.

The sea has rarely failed me in her deliverance of herself to me. I can just sometimes be slow to catch the gift of the moment. Even on those wild days in the middle of winter or a typical Irish summer when swimming is not an option, the sea and our beautiful coastline is a balm for my spirit.

Since I got back to the sea on June 8th there have been many swimming days, and occasionally multiple swims a day and there also have been beach days which provide a different kind of succour. The ocean’s power of healing appears infinite. But on that swim day of July 13th the sea level was as low as it can be, and access meant a long climb down the ladder and an inelegant flinging of myself backwards into the water. I felt cross. That’s a bit sedate, I felt angry cross. I wanted the sea at least to be right for me when everything else was off-kilter.

I didn’t want the water to reflect back my state of being, I didn’t want my low ebb confirmed by the tide. I didn’t want to see the gnarly lacklustre rocks with their static limpets and barnacles. I didn’t want to feel bound to keep my being on the surface so as not to have fleeting leggy tangles with the not-so-underwater forest of kelp. I didn’t want to have to swim through twenty yards of this marine melee of seaweed red and brown to reach the real open water. I didn’t want to search the horizon for sighting of a cormorant, I didn’t want this to be a means of my connection with my brother John. I didn’t want continuing bonds with the dead; I didn’t want to be sea-dancing for two on the stage of my memory, with the stage setting all wrong. I didn’t want any of this and I most certainly didn’t want a bloody calm low tide that I couldn’t pummell into submission.

I wanted my brother John swimming beside me and I wanted a high tide. I wanted an immediate depth of water that gives comfort when my spirit and heart are in a low place. Neither was forthcoming. I had become acclimatised to the water temperature, (and the temperature was up) so I couldn’t be shocked into emptying my head. I waited for some sort of sea swell to release me from my mood. I had to swim out farther than my comfort zone of lazy swimming dictates to be alone enough to shout to the sky and seek the hope that my mind would be silenced by my eye’s gaze.

Some days, even the view between the sea and the sky are not enough and the space it normally creates for my grief and my yearning just doesn’t manifest itself. This was one of those days and they are not strange days. I am familiar, if still uncomfortable with these feelings. Full of gripes, I swam back and sat on the concrete, squinting a scowling glare down between the rails, from under my hoody towel, at the rocks and the tide that had caused such offense to me. Just sitting there feeling tired, feeling frustrated that I was not open to the reprieve that a swim normally grants me.

With the sun’s heat drying me and having been unable to run down & discharge my battery of grief feelings and deposit them for a while in the ocean, I had no choice but to sit. Sit with the chatter of happy swimmers and squeals of cold excitement providing the backing track to my presence. I had to acknowledge that I was tired: tired of grief, grieving, missing, yearning, longing and some.

Some days (usual, everyday days) are harder than others. Grief has a rhythm of its own and is not as predictable as the tide. This day required from me that I sit with what felt like futile anger. It required me to bat away the sunbeams carrying heat and light. It required me to ignore the iridescent beauty of those calmly stoic rocks. It required me to wait for my quiet tide of love to carry me along in the ebb and flow again.

So I did and I tried not to scowl at any friendly faces and when I came home, I began the writing of this.

"When will the tide come in?"

Sea dancing for two
on the stage of my memories
against the backdrop
of desolate rocks
no longer awash
with silken tidal waves,
draped in seaweed red and brown
and a dark shade of green
not often found on land.

Stripped back of
their watery cloth,
bare
essentials still gathered
in the crags and crannies,
fissures wide
open to seeing eyes.
Submerged
in sea tendrils and salt water.
Wanting hopeful insulation
from daily reactions 
to less fluid movement
in my life on land.

Small, urchin like
movements,
spine like emotions
clinging, limpet like
to an immovable force.
Stuck or holding fast
dependent on the vagaries
of my mind.
Undecided awaiting
the big reveal on another day.

Submerged, rocks appear
to house more life.
Successors to 
Godswana, Laurentia and Lapetus
a trinity of 
ancestral lands and oceans
spanning
just shy of half an aeon
they are ever present
in a landscape formed by
fire and ice.

Hidden,beautiful 
and cutting sharp,
re-paying in kind
my unkindly disturbance
of their watery veils.
Majestic in their grounding
I know of only
the ones close to shore.
I circle swim around them
at low tide
and swoop over them when full
 of
Longing for the days
when low ebb
still carries me
to where I need to go.
So I can be Queen of
Underwater castles again.


Somewhere beyond the moment of now.

After two months and one week of absence (yes, I was counting) I returned to the sea on the morning of June 8th 2020. Oh the joy and what joy! The longing had been building over the previous months. I was like an impatient and increasingly fractious child awaiting Christmas. There is something about being buoyed up by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, immersed in the cold collective depths that settles me. There was quite a lot of ‘settling’ to be done. Settling on so many scores.

John’s anniversary (a day which saw me being able to be gentle with myself) found me sitting under a scorching hot sun and a clear blue sky, drinking copious amounts of tea and thinking many, many thoughts about him and the people he loved. My family (and especially my husband) doing that inconspicuous caring that can be easy to take for granted. I had a delivery of brownies to my garden from my good friend Mary. I think John would have approved, his sweet tooth would have found them hard to resist and he would have relished the good weather. A continued spell of warm dry weather in Ireland, always something worthy of a conversation or four. A socially-distanced walk up the laneway with two small people whose lifeforce is a joy to engage with and their Mammy Michelle. I planted a climbing rose which another friend Pat had bought for me in remembrance of John. It had taken me nigh on two years to find the perfect spot for it. My criteria for the perfect spot were nebulous. I was so reluctant to put it in the ground, unable to make a decision and worried that I’d plant it wrong and it would die. I wanted to plant it on a significant date with some quiet ceremony so I would remember the planting, but I had missed planting it on John’s last birthday in October, for reasons I can no longer remember. The kernel being though that I wasn’t ready.

During Covid 19, I have fallen more in love with our mountain space, our wilderness of a garden, our two and five kilometer wider surroundings; our wild flowers, gates for opening, unfurling ferns, stony sculptures, falling down houses, hidden water spots and lush carpets of moss which have been sources of daily joy.

Our ancestral family are of this place going back three or four generations. My own Dad being born maybe eight miles from where I now live. My brother John’s love of the outdoors has its roots here, passed down by our Dad in the same way our love of the sea was. I have so many happy memories of John being actually here, in what has become my children’s home place. I can close my eyes and wish him strolling in my gates. Sitting in my garden, the space was big enough to hold my grief. My sea dancing for two would come.

I have previously written in my cream hard back that

 "the clean crisp Atlantic Waters
 scorch my skin with cold,
 injecting beats into
 the heart of my days,
 grounding me
 while I'm all at sea 
in the daily machinations
 of my life"

I do also like the sea when it’s not freezing, but maybe not as much. Let’s be honest; there no maybe about it. Warm water is a much rarer occurrence around the Irish coast and I’m not sure what I’d do with the experience. I missed the warmer swimming conditions in May and the first week of June due to Covid 19 travel restrictions. “It was like bath water”, I have been reliably informed, maybe as high as 15 degrees. The return to cooler weather and much cooler seas means I have the joy and the work of getting acclimatised again. On the bright side it doesn’t feel as if I’ve missed out on over two full swimming months and water temperatures will rise again as the summer passes.

Being encapsulated in the ocean is like grasping and holding onto a moonbeam of time condensed into a viscous velvety sphere of peace. Past, present and somewhere beyond the moment of now all collide and co-exist in its refracted drops. Breaking the surface tension of the water, the ripples dance and weave all around me. There are hidden depths to us all.

My breathing is audible but yet small in the symphony of sea sounds. There is a soft sea silence, a stillness that comes with being immersed in the water. A continuum of small droplets with an abundance of invisible ions, whose vastness is immense and indefinable. It can feel beyond my ‘ken’ and yet some of that indefatigable vastness remains visible on my skin in the form of perfect and minute glistening sea beads. They cling to my exterior, the benefits being absorbed by osmosis beyond surface levels, journeying to my interior thus continuing the ocean’s restorative work well after I emerge. Exhilarated by my encounter and with my salty veneer of protection I can venture on.

Sometimes, it feels as if the sea just cleanses me of the parts of the day or parts of the previous days, weeks or more recently corona months that need leaving behind. In a way I cannot fathom, they are released stroke by stroke, or they are washed away with no effort on my part to be carried even further out to sea as I barely tread water. All I have to do is be brave enough to keep getting in.

More often than not the sea opens my mind to what is of the moment and promises something for somewhere beyond the moment of now. I think in the sea. I speed think without thinking at all. It is like a great knowing. The sea, the cold and the touch of it, not just on my skin but also in my being compels a loosening of the reckoning of my wants and an increased awareness and focused understanding of my needs. An unconscious re-ordering occurs on the most subliminal of levels. A clarity abounds about the achievable and the impossible. I make peace with my yearnings.

The sea’s complete indifference to my state of being grants a generous freedom to just be. Submerged in the water, there is no pressure to be other. It is an intimate relationship, complex but not complicated. It encompasses so much more than my physical interaction with the water. I would like to point out that I am a slow swimmer with one stroke and a glide in my repertoire, with no technical expertise in the water. It’s a beautiful and involved relationship that connects with my heart and mind and spirit.

The sea takes no notice of my inadequacies at all. In the water, I am more than the sum of my parts. The vagaries of the sea and the ever-changing palette of light and colour mimic my many moods. The wide-open seascape spaces around me in the Waterford coastline (but in particular the Guillamenes) consistently seem to deliver what I need on any given visit, even on those days when permission to enter the water is denied.

When I re-read much of my earlier writings after John’s death, my attempts to describe the actuality of my grief rely on so many sea references. “Waves of grief, bracing against a tide of grief, feeling all at sea” are words that flowed from me to the page. I remember being panic-stricken in those early sleep-deprived months. I couldn’t bring John to mind as I couldn’t picture him or hold a sense of him or his being anywhere except at the sea.

"My salt water tears
 bring me back to the ocean
 I can see you there." 

That panic has subsided. But still without doubt my connection and thalassic love affair is bound with my love for my brother and my Dad. It is good to be back. Sea dancing for two. Keeping my head above water.

IDIR

Since going on a walk, the week before last, in my 2km from home zone, in the beautiful landscape and soundscape that I’m lucky enough to inhabit, the Irish word ‘Idir’ meaning ‘Between‘ remade my acquaintance. On a walk, at the foot of the Comeragh Mountains under a clear blue sky filled with glorious birdsong and the distinctive call of the cuckoo, among unfurling ferns, soft moss and ethereal lichen, the word landed on my tongue. It surprised me with its presence. Ever since, it has being travelling from mind to mouth, like a one word refrain of a song or a monastic chant. So much so, that I feel the need to honour its call for attention.

For the first time in a long while, I thought in Irish (brief phrases I may add) rather than translating from English to Irish. There is a lyricism to our native language that is part of its inherent beauty; “Idir mo chroí agus mo cheann”- Between my heart and my head; ” Idir an spéir agus an talamh Between the sky and the ground; Idir an farriage agus an spéir- Between the sea and the sky; Idir an solas agus an dorchaBetween light and dark.” “Idir an sean agus an nua”- Between the old and the new“, ” Idir sin agus anois- Between then and now” and so it went on until I needed my daughters ‘Focloir’ to look up words I could no longer bring to mind.

There is a sense of being ‘between something’ in these days of COVID 19, with normal life being suspended and no definitive dates for resumption of the old and increasing doubts as to whether that will be truly possible. In truth it is familiar territory, like a remake of an old classic film and it doesn’t feel that strange to me. Normal life ended abruptly on May 12th 2018 and there is no going back. There will forever be life before and life after. Life has been lived between then and now. Having to deal with the new normal of Covid 19, doesn’t seem as bad. These ‘Corona Days‘ have changed the outwardly way in which grief is incorporated into my life and how I mourn for John, no access to the sea at the moment for me and I so miss the connection and peace that the sea brings. The slower pace means I sit and am more present to the loss of John from my life, as I’m stripped of the daily busyness of required activity. This is not a bad thing for me, I am writing in my cream coloured hardback book more frequently which is good for me. Two years on, I am no longer numb with shock and disbelief. I find myself, for the most part, strangely at ease with the slow rhythm of these days. No pressure to play catch up with life, I’m trying to be more present to the people in my life.

The early days of the increased social restrictions were how I expected the world to be in the immediate aftermath of John’s death. It was in a way like a delayed unambiguous granting of permission to retreat. I clearly remember being so frustrated and angry that the world would just keep on turning and expect me to participate in its daily cycle after John’s death. The quieting down of the world , the empty shops and streets, the bunkering down by people, it was like the rest of the world caught up with me nearly two years late.

Covid 19 is a terrible thing, the death of so many people in such a short space of time is immense. It is hard to comprehend on a collective level the magnitude of loss , grief and heartache caused by each death. A multitude of futures cut short. Behind each statistic lies a real person, whose death will tear the fabric of so many peoples lives apart. I stopped reading the daily tallies of death and the heart breaking stories of lives lived and lonely dying. Two years along in my own grief landscape and some sort of emotional self preservation kicked in.

I allowed myself one or two nights of unchecked catastrophic thinking. Catastrophic thinking for me during this pandemic equals another death of someone I love. When the unthinkable has already happened, you’re not so sure that it won’t happen again. Measured against this barometer of death, all other concerns, however legitimate and distressing fall short in the ranking wars and fail to trump death in the competitive vying for one’s undivided mental and emotional energy. Even the lack of physical connection with those I’m used to seeing, especially my Mam, (as time with her, feels finitely precious,) which although is very difficult, can be managed and rationalised by its temporality and the real option to engage in some civil disobedience if necessary.

” In the grand scheme of things” seems to be my preface to all answers on how we are coping with the Corona Virus’s new order of days. Often my preface doesn’t just reference my acknowledgement that other people are having an exponentially more difficult time during the virus than us but the fact that by mid April, I had in earnest begun the intense mental math of mourning in the lead in to John’s second anniversary.

My body clock started remembering that four o’ clock was the waking hour in the early days when shocked grief used to startle me awake. ‘In the early days ?- it still feels like early days. Two years seems like nothing, the elasticity of time after death baffles me, so quick, so long, so slow.

Disbelief, so different from denial still keeps me company, and occasionally draws involuntary breath from me. I still find it hard to fathom that he’s not here, that he is dead. I feel I have more of a grasp of him, a sense of him, the substance and the form of his entire being sometimes coming back to me, returning into my sphere of knowing, available for recall. Solid recollection of his flesh and blood, his body, the physicality that was him that clothed his generous spirit that accompanied me so far in my life. That sense of ineffable knowing; that was just not possible for me until recently. I see him, all of him in photographs, not just the image of him. I can now nearly imagine the warmth of his hugs. Does this make John’s absence easier, NO but it does give me some degree of bittersweet comfort.

For as long as I live, I will wish that my brother John was not dead. I will mourn his absence and miss him. I see a life time of ‘grief equations’ ahead of me. My grief, I understand. His death, well, for me, there is no sense to make of it. No rhyme or reason. No greater purpose; a tragic, accidental, premature, untimely death. John had so much more living to do. Was my life perfect before John died? Absolutely not but those mundane daily trials and tribulations, waning hormones, parenthood, relationships were all on a continuum that would evolve. Even my grief evolves but death does not evolve, it just is.

As I now countdown in hours to the second unwanted marker of his death, the late night completion of my grief equations means I can tell you the span passed in nearly any currency of time. I’m still unclear as to how I will pass the day of his anniversary. Physical distancing rules means the traditional coming together of those left behind is not on offer. The Guillamenes being too far outside my 5km zone, my sea dancing for two will have to wait. I know the twenty four hours of the day will come and go and I will hold firm that ‘Idir an fharraige agus an spéir tá grá mór ann. Idir mé-féin agus tusa beidh grá ann i gcónaí.

CORONA FLARES

High Sun in Blue sky
Photo by J.Quinn
Corona Flares
Decluttering within the four walls
To make room for high levels
of human habitation.
There is a contained wildness,
embedded in our measured
shuffling as we keep our distance.
A chasm grows.

Unfettered by routine
With self-imposed cleaning rotas,
It has become permissible
to be trapped.
Our rear-view windows,
Swapped out for a front facing screen.

Becoming prisoners of the screen,
Chewed up data never touching
The side of our thumbs.
Akin to foraged food,
Never touching the side of our mouths.
We wear a path from fridge to mouth
And back again.
Grazing, gazing in absent view –
Close down your background apps;
“Oh my God; I’m lagging.”
Lagging  behind with my children’s
erstwhile climb to the top of that
devalued, academic pile.
The spoils of a make-believe war
bathe our television in light.
Lagging behind, hiding
From real Covid Corona news.
The corpse filled statistics
Leaving a trail, 
of destructive desolation,
Waiting to implode.
Like invading marauders,
In our living rooms.
Here’s to lagging behind
The others who are us,
who mourn the death
of their dead,
Bereft of goodbyes.
The unthinkable has already happened.
Death, vultures overhead.
It is not a good day,
to die.
Though the sun may be high and
the skies are scrub blue.
The gates of grieving are shut.
Do not pass go,
Stay in, Stay home.
Cataclysmic rifts in the here and now.
With no bridging loan,
to the hereafter.
There is no one to see you weep.
There is no one to hear
you keen, in your
Solitary confinement.
Solitude,
Is no place at all,
for sundered hearts.
Trying to bear silent witness,
to the unknown you,
I can’t carry your grief as my own.
Casting you adrift,
With gentle self forgiveness,
I acknowledge my limitations.
My own grief, steering
my compass of compassion.
I know you’re there.
I will keep you company engaging,
in my daily rituals of monotony,
Be they what they are.
My tears finding yours in 
A mop bucket,
full of love, one step
removed
from the lineage of your grief.

My well-worn reflection,
in the morning,
mirrors, those reaching for
A distilled solace,
Through the prism of a glass.

J.Quinn

The Beauty Of Movement Part II

” You would want us to find you in presence, Beside us when beauty brightens..” John O’ Donohue
Photos: J.Quinn

The Beauty of Movement

Whether it be the cloud

that drifts white across

the blue sky or

sea foam breaking

from its watery belt,

clear clean droplets carried

on the breeze.

There is a beauty in movement

that moves me.

Whether it be thistledown

floating on thin air or

trees, shadow dancing

on a wintery eve.

There is a beauty in movement

that moves me.

Whether it be tear salted lake waters

lapping stony silent, gravelly shores

or the flights of dandelion

fed bumble bees.

There is a beauty in movement

that moves me.

Whether it be a bow riding

quickly over the strings

or aged, worn fingers

fumbling in a button box.

There is a beauty in movement

that moves me.

Whether it be the nodding heads

of gentle agreement or

the sound of free footfall

on a mountain road.

There is a beauty in movement

that moves me.

Whether it be a cold clean breath

expelled on a frosty morning or

a bird on the wing in the midday sky.

There is a beauty in movement

that moves me.

Whether it be the peals

of childish delight

landing at my feet or

the sighs of love lost.

There is a beauty in movement

that moves me.

Whether it be the hidden rustles

in the undergrowth or

sounds of a different distant engine,

There is a beauty in movement

that moves me.

As the long day moves,

once again into night with stars

glimmering in the dark sky

aligned with the searching of my soul.

As the house is quietening down

to a unruffled stillness.

I hear our stream,

moving swiftly along.

There is a beauty in movement that moves me.

My Gurgling Stream: Photo by J. Quinn

The Beauty of Movement.

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

The 32nd anniversary of my Dad’s death is not long past. The second anniversary where old grief meets new grief. Thirty two years ago and still, I miss him and wonder about the many might have been moments. With Covid 19 on something of a rampage, this was the first year that my Mam, didn’t get to attend his anniversary mass. Social distancing and cocooning of our vulnerable has meant that this mass was said behind closed doors. To be honest, she was very sanguine about it, even though this mass signifies so much more for her in her mourning than it does for me.

Thirty two years, a lifetime. Thirty two years worth of time to get accustomed to absence as opposed to twenty two months. The permanence of death is hard to process whatever the number. Let no one tell me, that twenty two months is sufficient timespace for my world to recalibrate, for my life axis to be re-aligned with the living world or for my broken heart to heal. Twenty two months of grieving and mourning allows me to function, with some degree of outward normalcy, on some days or at least with whatever degree of normalcy depleting hormones allow.

Twenty two months, has provided me with time to develop some self preservation skills to ramble around my own landscape of grief, at my own pace and in my own time. Twenty two months has made me fiercely and defiantly protective of my right to grieve and mourn John’s death. Twenty two months has engendered a huge feeling of comfort around using the word “NO and more freedom to say “Yes”. Twenty two months has instilled in me, a huge compassion for others bereaved by other permanent deaths. Twenty two months in which to realise that death is not competitive, the right to grieve doesn’t have to be earned, death just hands you an unwanted, all access pass.

Twenty two months to accept that John’s death will never ever make any sense to me but my response to his death makes perfect sense. Twenty two months to accept that my recurring feelings of disbelief are not the same as denial. Twenty two months in which to become more familiar and comfortable with naming and feeling the gambit of emotions which dance their way in and out of my being, with grief, longing and loss at the epicentre. An epicentre that can shift shape and size with prodigious haste. Twenty two months to reconcile, joy, beauty and love within the vast landscape of loss.

Twenty two months to fully understand that your death brought me to a place beyond sad, John, I am lonely with the loss of you.

Twenty two months to become attuned to the physical surges that these emotions generate in my body. Sometimes, like a defiant firework impatient to explode. Other times like molten lead swirling softly in a man made mold of memory. Sometimes, like a great sea swell and other times like ripples from a cast out fishing line forming near perfect concentric circles that are somewhat soothing just under my gaze.

There is beauty in the movement of both.

This year, 32 years after my Dad’s death at the age of 61, my loss of him and his absence is like a wistful presence. I remember him well. There is no longer anything defiant about my grief at my Dad’s death, the years have softened it and the memory of the pain has been obscured by decades of living. I’m never quite sure if I ever really allowed myself feel all of that pain, at all or I may have just forgot, the substance and the detail of the pain, that is not the man.

Since John’s death I remember more, I have glimpses of an internal life that I lived way back when I was 19 and a twenty something. Smote like particles of recall readily attach to this current life. This current life proffers an insight that was beyond the ken of my nineteen year old self. My present unveils in segments, skeins of my past. John & I mourned our Dad. Quietly over the years and spectacularly and splendidly one night around a kitchen table in the Turlough Rd, many many years ago. It has been one of my most treasured memories. A surge of connection and love in mourning together, that felt special even in the moments of the night.

My favourite place, the Guillamenes, was one of my Dad’s favourite places and one of my brother’s favourite places. It is imbued with memory, love, knowledge and intimacy. It has been the place that connected us with Dad, in our own private way. It is ever changing in its daily presentation of its inherent beauty but faithfully constant in its existence. I am so comfortable there. It is akin to home, it is as familiar as the house and the road that I grew up in. It has rocks and crevices, eddies and flows, pooling places and hideaways that I know like the back of my hand. Quietly, privately, instinctively, regularly, alone or in company and for many years unknowingly , it is there that I mourn my Dad. The nod to Dad’s rock, three fingers aloft, three more casts at the end of the day. I still miss you.

There, for moments in the sea breeze or buoyed by the swell, there is no need to forget. From my first visit after and in the subsequent twenty two months, it is there that I mourn for John with some degree of ease. Comfortable in my grieving skin. Sea dancing in crisp cold Atlantic waters that ground me while I am everywhere else. There was never any doubt, was there John?…………….That there’d be space for you there .

“There is a beauty in movement that moves me” – Photo J.Quinn

Shooting Stars on a Timeline.

Photo by Juskteez Vu on Unsplash

A New Year, a new decade has dawned and I still spend a significant part of my waking hours searching the night skies for some hope of an understanding of everything or even something. I have the same degree of eagerness when I survey the seascape at the Guillamenes, viewing the immenseness of ocean before I lumber into the cold water that will bring all sorts of peace to my being. Viewing the skyline and the rocks, quietly desparate to have a sighting of one the comorant birds who fish just off shore from where I swim. My rational and sometimes logical mind has resisted the significance with which I imbue sightings of the comorant at ease in the winter sea or a shooting star in a clear night sky. Shooting stars are not regular occurences where I live, but I know enough of the annual calendar of meteor showers to know when to pay special attention. I have yielded, I have stopped resisting. I accept that sightings of both, lift my spirit and provide me with moments of comfort and peace. Moments where I can indulge in a willing suspension of all my disbeliefs and feel an elusive but definite connection with John.

Our second new calendar year without the physical presence of John and our first new calendar decade. Our second Christmas. My mental maths of mourning continues. Dates, times & numbers are very significant to the fabric of my grieving. My life before and my life after. My internal clock tick tocks along keeping company with a persistent timeline that spans all possible tenses. A timeline that has kept running in my head since May 12th 2018 and keeps track of his absence while simultaneously remembering dates of our lives.

I was struck one sleepless night how similar the tracking process of the absence caused by death is with recording our time from birth. With each of my childrens arrival, their time present with us from the moment of birth was initially counted in hours, days then weeks. It gradually shifted to months and then years and no longer neccessitated an exactitude in measurement. It has been similar from the moment of John’s death, but the passing into the year mark brought no simplicity of counting. My heart will never allow for rounding up or down; there can be no celebration of time passing.

At time of writing this, I have lived two years and nine days since I last saw John alive on New Year’s Day 2018. Living that encompasses happy times,dull times, worrying times, fun times, exhausting times, sad times, quiet times and busy times. Times of an ordinary life, days of everyday living. It seems such a vast amount of time -two years and nine days. Some of those days and nights were very long indeed. Of many of those days or seasons, I have no real memory at all. Little or no recall of the details of life contained within or the substance of my being. I feel I occupied a flimsy space of presence in my own life. Drifting in and out of conscious connections with my day, my actions and the people in it.

A vast amount of time that seems to have passed all too quickly now that it has passed. Moments of connection have increased. Life and my roles in it, demands it of me. I can look back, review and regard the shape and form of my grief that occupied the days already passed and my being in it with a certain overview now. As disquieting as I find it, I can compare and contrast the beginning and the now. I am grateful for the gentler days where I can carry the loss of John and my resulting grief more lightly. I am grateful for the connections, the love, the continuing life but there will always be a BUT. That unwanted ever present BUT. How can there not be?

My grief although caused by John’s untimely death seems separate from his death. His death will never make any sense to me. My reaction to his death makes perfect sense. Time passing has ensured that the permanence of his death is made more real. His death is not some temporary exile from our living breathing selves. There are no possible permutations to this permanence and that is so hard to sit with.

My grief feels like an entity now in its own right. I am more accustomed to its presence. Sometimes I think of it as yet another invisible blanket that I wear, sometimes tightly and heavily enveloping my being and other times more loosely draped but everpresent nonetheless. An inticate blanket, woven with memories and in part from my tattered cloak of protection and stitched together with love. I am more accepting of its continous presence, more adept at honouring it. It is fluid and variable, it can be unpredictable, overwhelming or managable and it is mine.

I said goodbye to last year, our 1st full calendar year without John with a cold water winter swim. I stayed up this New Year’s Eve to mark the midnight passing of time. I sang ” Auld Langs Syne” outside of our house, directing my off key singing to the midnight sky. I made the 12 youngsters, whose companionship I shared, link arms and sing along with me. I introduced them under a cold night sky to the artform of the Noble call. We managed a sing song with a guitar missing a string although that wasn’t without its difficulties. The cold air eventually drove us inside and me to my bed. Sleep did not come easy.

On the 1st day of this New Year 2020 as I remembered last year and the year before and other years long past, I returned again to The Guillamenes and let the ocean keep all of me afloat. In my heart, I am always swimming for two and I think that the comorants know.

Comorant at the Guillamenes. Photo by Jillian Quinn

FootSteps

Photo by Will Bolding on Unsplash
  The Foxglove and The Fern.
 
It took me by surprise
the familiar foliage on my left.
Not belonging in
my previous imaginings
of this place at all.
I walked,
where I had never
walked before,
Following in your footsteps.
 
I knew where I was headed.
With leaden feet,
a dizzy head
and a dulled
quickening heart,
I picked my steps.
Brokering the tangled
knotted wood underfoot.
My tempo and my gait
as uneasy as my mind.
 
Just before the bend
which was sharp,
the foxglove and the fern
popped brightly into view.
Their familiarity
catching me offguard,
Evoking thoughts of home.
Thoughts caught in my throat
Catching my breath.
Breaking the watery
rhythm of my gaze.
    
I had been furiously
surveying the landscape.
Trying to memorise
my surroundings,
your last surroundings.
Imprinting them forever
in my addled brain.
Trying desperately to keep
a back dated
company with you.
To be there with you
To catch you as you fall.
 
Their presence and
their leafy clothing
added an everyday essence
to the taste of the air.
The cooling shade
of the mountain’s trees
Providing relief from the
high bright continental sun
while reducing
my aperture of the scene.

My depth of field
plumbed along my soul lines
bridging the distance
between then and now.
Giving focus to my mind and
refuge from those many
late night calculations.
Shrouding my
uncertain disbelief,
that I could not,
still,
undo that day.
 
The foxglove and the fern,
ensured that we,
were never mere tourists
You & I.
I could see you at home there,
Striding towards
the outcrop
of gray granite rock.
 A Guillimene of a rock.
You, as at home there,
as the lone fir tree.
Jutting out, oddly angled,
Its roots embedded
in its' scant
rocky source of life.
 
All the close up
commonplace groundlings
mixed with
my uncertainty
of the everything;
The closeness of the sky
the metric,
orderly ridges of the trees.
The barren and the lush playing
counterpoint to
my erratic breath.
 
The foxglove and the fern.
Did you notice them again?
Did they bring you home?
Transport you unknowingly
South East and West?
 
The Foxglove and the Fern,
I know not if they brought me
heedless comfort but
they will forever
be my mental waymarks,
To the path that made me pilgrim.
 
 
 
 
Jillian Quinn/  July -Nov 12 th 2019

Connections

Two Quinn Fiddles: Photo: Darragh Quinn

The bow rides the fiddle with the speed of an incoming tide echoing the sounds of the ocean. The ocean and its shoreline speaks to me of my brother. Music and sea-sounds briefly bring him back to me, causing ripples in my grief; allowing clearer thoughts to penetrate the fog. There is music that I asscociate with him in his life and there are distinct musical pieces providing a score to my saying ‘Goodbye’.

John’s eclectic album collection was my first music library. Although back in the day (some day in the late 1970s), we were forbidden from entering his room and playing those venerated records in case we scratched them. But play them I did! Carefully holding the vinyl velour at the sides and sometimes just thumbing through the album covers. Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Rory Gallagher, Dylan, Scullion, Ry Cooder, Pink Floyd,Planxty, Arlo Guthrie and The Horslips to recall just a few. Along with the Beatle albums that Mam had bought and some Top of the Pops LPs & Makem & Clancy records: these were the main soundtrack to the first decade and half of my life.

I was more than happy with this music, so enthralled by the magnificent talent encompassed in John’s collection that I never really got into collecting records myself in my teenage years, bar a few. John continued to build his collection over the years after he left home. I can still see myself sitting on the floor of his flat above a pub in Castlebar when I fell in love with one of my all time favourite songs Tom Wait’s ‘Martha’ at the age of 14. He offered up ‘Closing Time’ to me with all its due cermony (which was akin at the time to the presenation of a musical holy grail). I had the lyrics learned off by heart by the time my short holiday stay was over. It remains one of the most beautiful love songs I have ever heard. I have of course, as my disposable income improved over the years bought records and CDs of my own, often replicating some of the record stash that was homed on the floor in the backroom bedroom but also finding my own musical must-haves but never with quite the same dedication as John.

I am a music lover. It moves me the same way beautiful prose does, somewhere in the core of my being. My favourite songs are stories exquisitly told, casting emotions out with each note and harmony; blurring the lines of life with lyrical poetry. Bringing me to places and bringing places to me, cocooning me there and then sometimes just setting me adrift. My approach to music appreciation is the same as my approach to books, art and wine: one can’t be wrong, they are one of life’s few personal liberties. The choice is yours.

Music makers have been part of our family for generations. Fiddle, fife, flute, guitar, uilleann pipes, accordian, drums, ukulele, Jews harp or Geegaw players and singers have unfurled on our family tree for generations. making connections that are timeless and span entire life histories.

From the sing-songs to the story telling, much of my party piece repetoire relies heavily on songs my brother sang and encouraged me to learn. His undeniable influence on my answering of a ‘noble call’ is pretty well documented in my memory bank. A lot of them funny and ranging from slightly risque to downright bawdy. I think a kick might have been got, to hear them coming out of his then, young little sister’s mouth. In truth they have served me well. I grew into them. I’ve collected some of my own over the years, not all of them bawdy either and forgotten the lyrics of as many as I remember.

There is something lovely about life’s connections. Music connects. The two fiddles pictured above span three generations, the unstrung fiddle hasn’t been played in well over thirty years, its last owner being my Dad’s first cousin, Mary Quinn. Its provenace before that has been lost. It lived and was played here in the old house called the Gullet down the lane from where I now live.

Played in a small house with a half door and deeply splayed, small windows with brightly painted internal wooden shutters, nestled at the foot of the Comeragh Mountains. Played beside an open hearth with a wheel bellows which I used to pretend was a spinning wheel as I hummed and sang Irish poet John Francis Waller’s “The Spinning Wheel” ballad. As a child obvious connections can work best! An open hearth, where tea as dark as porter would be brewed on the crank over the open fire. A dwelling adorned with foxglove and fern and old cottage roses. Played while the hammer struck the anvil in the adjacent forge. Played at the crossroads. Played under paraffin lit lamps that dispelled the gloom and the smoke from the hearth and pipes. Its notes adding sweetness to the smell of woodbines. Played on high days and low days for family & friends known and unknown to me. I have never heard it being played but have heard tales of its playing.

I know not if it was played by and passed on to Mary by other older Quinns but it is now in the safe and kind hands of my nephew Darragh. A gifted musician and player of the other fiddle pictured above; who will, I hope, bring it on his travels and make music with it once more. It’s been silent for his entire lifetime and has long awaited an adventure and an incoming tide.

There is no doubt, that music at its best speaks to our souls or the substance of our being. It has been one of my most stalwart and compassionate companions as my life sketchily redesigns itself around John’s absence.

Three short months after John died, a friend of mine from my NIHE/DCU days, also sadly died. My first conversation with this chap from Leitrim, Richie Flynn, was about music. He bounced into the seat beside me thirty three years ago, for the first lecture in a course whose title I cannot remember, with a confident vibrant energy that is fair to say, imbued me with no small amount of envy. That energy and passion was applied with skill and fierceness to many facets of Richie’s life and led to many a robust discussion over the years but was tempered by his big good kind heart. Richie’s passion for music was wired in his DNA and leaked out of every pore. Richie used it as one of his litmus tests of people I think.

My knowledge had broadenned slightly from my previous year spent in UCC, thanks in no small part to a lovely chap called Arthur from Wicklow and I just about passed that test I think, as we talked about the merits of ” The Grateful Dead” Kevin Rowland & Dexy’s Midnight Runners among others. It was the same boy who charmed my Mam, with his chat and banter, a couple of years later and by giving a exemplary rendition of “Leitrim is a very funny place Sir” as a horde of us descended on her and our small, telephonless, corporation house, unannounced after a 21st party in Waterford. She never forgot him, or Richie her. As was his want Richie, made a lasting impression, both asking after the welfare of the other, over the years .

I credit Richie with my discovery of two fantastic music blogs. Thom Hickeys’s The Immortal Jutebox http://wp.me/p4pE0N-fr and The Black Sentinel incorporating Voices of the Glen. I am slowly working my way through back posts from both blogs, which are beautifully and eloquently crafted. Each blog is storytelling at its best. Casting me on a musical tide of reminiscence while broadening my horizons. Thom’s blog brings me back in an instant to my younger self, rifling my way through John’s records. It reminds me of the music of a lifetime. It reminds me of John. John would have approved of the inherent love and knowledge of some of his favourite artists. The Black Sentinel makes me wish that I had taken my head out of books a bit more in the late 80s and 90s, hung around with Richie a bit more and delved head first into the wonderful Irish music scene of the day. I wish I had, had more confidence to explore that glorious musical soundscape and not be so imtimated by own perceived lack of knowledge.

Sadly both John and Richie’s record collections have had their final cataloguing. They have become the finite distillations of a lifetime of music loving but without a doubt both their melodies will linger on. I don’t need music to bring them to my mind but sometimes it just tethers a longed for connection in the moment.

I think it might be time to go and buy a record or two. Maybe something old and something new. Until I do, here’s an already loved one.

The Class of 2019.

June 21st 2019 was the last day of my third leaving certificate examination experience. I’ve only physically studied for it and sat it, the once; way back as a sixteen year old in 1985. Number 1 son, did the actual sitting of my 2nd experience of it, back in 2017. Number 1 daughter sat the dreaded thing this summer.

Each experience of it has been so different. My overriding vague memories of my own Leaving Cert, are of carrying a strong sense of wishing I had a done a bit more study, with me into each each exam. I realise that as a type, I straddled the profiles of both The Gambler and The Crammer.

It’s so long ago, that I belong to the generation where points were awarded in single digit form for A’S B’S C’s etc., and the grade bands were much wider than today. An ‘A’ being equal to 5 points and being awarded for anything scored between 85 -100%. My goal was to try get an ‘honour’ in each subject, which was a C grade 55%- 70% or higher. I cannot remember my results but there were no A’s and no E’s. I missed out on my first choice course at university by 1 point. I have no doubt, if teachers were writing on the Leaving Certificate Result sheet; their previous report entries would have been replicated, and comments like ” Could do better” would have featured a bit.

Doing the Leaving Certificate vicariously through my children has been infinitely harder than doing my own. No 1 son had to endure a seriously hormonal imbalanced Mammy in full blown panic mode. The ” not being in control” nearly drove me crazy. I blogged about it previously in a blog titled New Beginnings. I will attach link at the end of this blog

No 1 daughter’s Leaving Certificate was a very different experience. I did in fact make numerous cups of tea and suggest taking study breaks. I also had the knowledge that No 1 daughter had worked consistently over the past couple of years. Her notes and folders told me she had a far more effective and competent system of reference and method of study than I had ever devised. I also had learned that cajoling , nagging and threatening were not very effective tools.

I have a sneaking suspicion though that No.1 daughter may have taken the absence of these as a measure of a disinterest on my part. This was certainly not the case. I also have the sneaking suspicion that there may have been days when she would have welcomed a kick in the proverbial to get her going. But then again maybe not.

There is also no doubt that my grief altered my ability to deliver parental service as normal. It can be difficult to feel connected and maintain the connection to everyday life in spite of wanting that connection. Added to that is the fact that my perspective on the LC and my life view in general has changed significantly since my brother John died. Equally, third time around the LC block, it would be a sad indictment if I approached it the same every time. I’m acting on insights and knowledge gained that I like to think are leading to fine tuning and tweaking of the delivery my parental support role. I do know that when LC comes around for NO.2 son in 2021 which also just happens to be Junior Cert year for No.3 son, I like them will have most of my work done in the previous year!

So on June 21st 2019, No 1 daughter discarded her uniform onto the floor of her pit, I mean bedroom for the last time. Her AV8’s cast aside, though in fairness they owed her nothing; a shoe Granny would have been happy to buy. She was so delighted to be finished with a second level system which in her own words is just all about learning a huge volume of information and very little about understanding and education. It was over a week later when the friends gathered for the ” burning of the notes” bonfire and with glee banished subjects from their lives forever.

All we have to do now is wait on the results which will come next month. Then we will be thrown into a mad flurry of activity as points will be calculated, offers made and choices will be grappled with. Not to mention accommodation to be found which at this moment in time feels like a task of gladiatorial proportions. In truth though I will be as proud of NO 1 daughter the day before her results come out as the day they come out. I will fret and worry about her leaving home no matter where or what she chooses to study. I will without question make her clean her room before she goes.

https://abroadsthoughtsfromhome.wordpress.com/2017/09/25/new-beginnings/ Link to blog post New Beginnings Sept 2017.

525,600

Photo by Dan Musat on Unsplash

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’.

John

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…..

COUNTING DOWN
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

motionless existence.
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

The Old and The New.

My Dad; Nicky in Furleigh Co. Waterford.

March 13th 2019 saw the 31st anniversary of my Dad’s death. I spent the few days either side of his anniversary searching for the diary which I kept at the time. The diary which was a put in a “safe place” is still not located! However even without it I can still see my 19 year old self railing against the day as I looked out through the windows of St. Lukes on to a fairly bleak piece of hospital grass.

My Dad, lay dying as my adolescent brain scrambled to take stock of the portions of my life he would not share. Already grieving for my loss not his losses; that grieving came later. Thoughts came fast and furious if not fully formed. My 21st, my graduation, my maybe wedding day, my first car, the birth of any children I may have. Like a double sided film reel, images from my life to that date floated in my mind’s eye. His fishing gear in permanent residence just inside our front door and his rock in the Guillamene, lazy sun filled days with a picnic of cream crackers and cheese to sustain our fishing from that rock, walks up the Comeraghs, fairies under the table in the Cork Road. A selection of car registrations, the smell of oil soaked overalls on a rainy day , his chair aligned sideways with the old table and the english dictionary that he used to keep on said table to read.

I don’t know how many hours we sat at his bedside but I remember wishing we could sit there forever. The early morning final clasp of his hand already in the too distant past. He pulled my sister’s hand and mine together, binding us in an unspoken promise to look out for each other. We had some indeterminate fast food, KFC, I think picked at in the corner of his room or maybe in the corridor outside shortly before he died. I always wished that it had been fish and chips.

The opening of the door at some juncture and the arrival of the priest from NIHE, which led to praying that brought me no solace. It sparked a not so quiet fury in my head and heart and a strong desire to tell the priest where he could fuck off to, I didn’t need it being made real. If he had no miracle to perform I had no use for him.

The awareness of forever already etched on my heart and the pure awfulness of that awareness. I don’t remember leaving the hospital and saying goodbye and have only hazy recollections of returning to my student digs in Santry for the night and the comfort of my boyfriend at the time. The long drive home without him at the wheel, following the hearse on the old road from Dublin to Waterford. Stopping in a pub in Kilcullen for the obligatory soup and sandwiches and being appalled that we would leave him unattended outside. Crossing the Suir, a river he knew so well once more and only once and the crowd awaiting at the church gates, sombre in the defeat of life, saddened in the face of our grief.

I remember little of the next few days, and have only snatches of recollections; over hearing what I considered crass conversations between headscarved women as to what age he was, debating it as if it was a matter of some importance. Again I was the epitome of restraint whilst muttering colourful vibrant obscenities under my breath set loose in their general direction, some of my mutterings may have been more vocal than I think. My older self hopes they carried on the breeze.

Individuals in a sea of faces whose presence and words of condolences meant something to me. The burial, the funeral tea in my Uncle’s house, ours being too small to house the gathering, the eventual return to college life. The first visit home with him not there.

His physical absence from my life now far extends his physical presence, I don’t miss him everyday anymore, but I think of him often and more often since I have children of my own. There would have been a mutual admiration society between him and all of his grandchildren of that I’m sure; only one of whom he had the joy of welcoming into this world.

He was a simple man in the best possible way, who I think lived in the moment before it became fashionable and a much sought after ability. One of seventeen children reared a few miles from where I’m now living, he was grateful for a “roof over your head, a fire in the hearth and food in your belly”. He spent a lot of time here, where I now live serving his time with my Gran Uncle Maurice at his forge in the Gullet to be a blacksmith and farrier. He emigrated to London back in the 1950’s working with the dray horses in London. Less than a year there, he was returning home to marry my Mam who had travelled with him. Re-training as a mechanic he spent the earlier part of his married life working in Carrick on Suir and then with O’ Donovans in Waterford city. I still have memories of going to work with him on an occasional Saturday morning and getting to play on the C.I.E buses that he was servicing. Those double decker buses where you could hop on at the back and tug on the pulley while taking turns to be the bus conductor, driver or passenger were to my mind better than any adventure centre.

I was reminded by my cousin,that he had a great sense of fun, and he had an gentle irreverence towards authority and solemness or standing on ceremony. I think he may have been responsible for my belief that the sacristan of our church was actually the pope and of far more importance that any of the priests of the parish. I remember too, believing that his occasional foray into Davy Mac’s for a pint and a game of 25’s was in fact as he told me, his turn to ” lock up the church gates”.

His love of fishing & his mechanical dexterity are legendary but he had a love of songs, music, poetry and enjoyed a good hand of cards & get together’ s too. One of my all time favourite poems is one recited regularly by him to us as children; “Grasshopper green is a comical chap, he lives on the best of fayre”….. (Author Nancy Dingman Watson)

I see bits of him in myself and my extended family more and more, from the clasp of a hand, the texture of hair to the quirk of an eyebrow and more importantly I see him in the personalities of my family, the calmness, the strength, the generosity and kindness. To me he was a man who was extraordinary in his ordinariness.

I have one remaining fishing weight which was made by him, over the fire in the Cork Road. Molten lead which I thought was silver, poured into his hand made moulds and left to set, he was like an alchemist. It is housed in my kitchen, moving with the seasons to different spots, (sometimes getting lost in the chaos that reigns ) handled by me regularly like a talisman and admired by the lads. We used & lost all the rest, Dad, fishing at the Guillamenes…” Shur what else would you have done with them, I hope they caught you some fish” I hear him say.

I have thought of him far more frequently since my brothers death. I don’t know how I tended to my grief after my Dad died. I’m not sure that I did. Though upon reflection, his death and my grief played some part in making up the substance of ‘my wilderness years’, though that may make them sound more exciting than they actually were. I wore his death like an unseen mantle believing at some core subliminal childlike level that his death gave us a promise of protection and security. An invisible shield to travel our lives with, until old age would gather us in.

I felt that I may have drawn on a bit more than my fair share of its magical powers of protection in what I call my wilderness years which spanned the early part of my twenties. I didn’t realise how central this belief was to my life until my brother John died in May 2018. In a span of a few minutes a cloak that I had forgotten I was wearing disappeared. My cloak of certainty gone with my brother.

So this year’s anniversary was harder than most for so many reasons. There is something about new raw grief finding and excavating an old grief. They intermingle spinning out a maelstrom in one’s head and waves of longing in one’s heart. With the passage of time, I know all the wonderful life events my dad has missed and know too, all the joy and everydayness that my brother has yet to miss out on. I know too how much I miss my brother and continue to miss my Dad. The axis that supported the life I once knew has moved more than a few degrees off course. There are no more certainties to count on, only that my lifeview and indeed my life will never be same.

We caught some Dad..Tight Lines

The Mother of all Mothers.

I first wrote this blog post just over three years ago in 2017. With Mother’s day here on today’s sun cycle , I thought it was worth revisiting. I have made small amendments and some additions as our lives have changed.

There was a time when the expression ” mother of all mothers” would have only be uttered in relation to a hangover I endured or a row I had engaged in.  However with the upcoming celebration of Mothers Day, I got thinking of my own Mam and my own mothering experience thus far.

Between us, my Mam and I have approximately 79 years experience in the business of mothering and that is just cumulative. If you take each child as an individual in their own right requiring their own specially tailored skill set  we have a combined total of just over 300 years experience….find me a CEO or management team with that kind of  record. OK she has accumulated the lions share of that, but I like to think she taught me well and as you know I’m entirely comfortable with the concept of piggy backing and/ or hanging onto someone else’s coat tails. She is not the cats mother.

I can remember her vividly on numerable occasions saying “Just wait until you’re “A MOTHER”.  It came across sometimes as a thinly veiled threat  and at other times as an overt warning. One which I now get, but obviously a bit too late  as I am mother to five children. I also  remember with some clarity (actually I think I made many the list over the years in the back room of the Cork Road) the indignities , the rules and utterances that I promised myself I would never ever ever ever visit on any future offspring I may have. I have to confess epic fail on that one. If memory serves me right some of these may have  included :

  • Any forced interaction with relations that involved any possibility of song, dance or recital of any kind.(Fail)
  • Any unnegotiated  bedtime…. actually bedtime in general really. My children were going to follow their own body clocks(Fail)
  • Any interference in the choosing of a hairstyle (haven’t done too bad on that, shame about school rules.)
  • The saving of the really nice food for the guests and feeding your children the LEFTOVERS. (Different times….we’re talking about when a tin of Heinz Vegetable Salad was the height of luxury)
  • The lack of Christmas decorations until Christmas Eve. ( not guilty of that)
  • The denial of freedom of movement outside the house . (HA  ha  … Fail)
  • The repeated overuse of  outdated cliches…..(mmm yep Fail).
  • Having to wear a hat when the wind came from any of the four directions bearing in mind that according to my mother the east wind had super powers when it came to my re-occurring ear infections and it merited the donning of nuclear level hat defences. (Bar the provision of a hat box and a odd roar in my children’s  general direction, I’m grateful if they’re wearing matching shoes)
  • Being in a state of fear going within 3 feet of the hot press door. The hot press was situated in our living room. I swear my Mam could hear that door opening from down the road by the grotto. The military precision like folding of its contents meant it was guarded like Fort Knox. There was absolutely no need for CCTV footage..she knew if so much as a facecloth which would have been ironed had been moved, (Bar the odd whinge about the state my children leave it in , they have full access.)

I have no doubt that my beloved children have and will screenshot  probably not such tame lists regarding the vagaries of my mothering style.  My mothering style is sometimes not even in the same library or book, let alone on the same page as my mothers. My Mam, was of her time, as I am of mine and we were reared in an Ireland that will soon only be known about in history books given the seismic changes in Irish society.

My Mam, whose womanly lifeforce has been a constant in my life, is very much a woman’s woman; not holding on a conceptual level the male of the species  in very high regard. Individual men whom she loves, likes or admires, of which there are quite a few, enjoy her warmth and friendship.

A woman who, reduced, reused and recycled way before the word ‘green’ entered our lexicon. A woman whose ninja like ability to reduce rooms of domestic detritus into neat manageable piles to this day leaves me in awe. My Mam, who wrote to me at least once a fortnight for the seven years I  lived in London and who pulled me up when she thought I was getting an English accent after only being there a couple of weeks.

My Mam who was happy to make her own bed and lie in it. Rejecting her fathers preferred match (” some very old farmer”) in favour of my lovely dad. A woman whose favourite time is around Spring and Easter with all it’s rebirth and new beginnings. A woman who could knit from her head and re calibrate  a pattern with the exactitude  of an engineer. A woman whose shin beef stew and apple cake would set a high enough bar for the celebrity slow cookers of today’s world. My Mam, a woman who instilled in me a love of reading & letter writing, an interest in politics,  and the thrill of a good bargain.

My Mam, who through her relationship with and how she talks about all of her grandchildren has shown me the love and pride she undoubtedly must have felt about me & my siblings. There is a softness there, that I think Mam didn’t have the luxury of, when she was rearing us. The fact that, I think she never has had to wait up for any of her grandchildren wondering when the hell they were actually going to arrive home probably helps too. Though she probably didn’t have to do that for all of my siblings either.

Mam sat every exam with us and given that she got all four of us through third level that amounts to a fair load of exams. One of her two contradicting ‘cliches’ was “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, the other being “Work hard in school/college, whatever else they take from you they can’t take your education away from you”. Given that we knew nobody, more emphasis was given to the latter pronouncement and I have never figured out who ‘they’ were.

I would love to report that all due diligence was given to these utterances and that I was a dedicated and hard working model student but if I said that, my Mam, who has editorial control over this blog post would make me stick out my tongue and then she’d find that black mark that ‘fibs’ leave.

My Mam who in my own mothering career, has and continues to provide equal measures of sympathy and practical advice. She has provided hours of housework, the continued mothering of me, hours of baby holding and associated winding, soothing etc. and the proverbial kick up the backside and calling out on my sometimes bullshit whinging. As my children have grown older, she has been quite quick to point out that many of the traits that I sometimes find annoying in my children are ones that they didn’t pick up off the floor.

My Mam comes from a generation that had a much harder existence than mine or my children. It beholds me to remember that. It took me years to cotton on to the soundness of her”spend a little, save a little” advice. It took me an equally long time to realise the merits of having at least one or two clothing items of “Sunday Best” status in my wardrobe not to mention the importance of good clean underwear just in case the Doctor might be needed . Mam would say of me, “if you had something new you’d wear it to a “cat fight down the road” and “if your sister had something new you’d wear that too”.

Even as I as I hit middle age and had matured somewhat, she still had the ability to deliver invaluable life lessons.   When she turned eighty about eleven years ago now and I hit my fun filled forties, she came to stay for a few days. I discovered during her stay whilst doing the laundry that completely of my own volition, I was buying and wearing the same knickers as my eighty year old mother. Knickers that even Bridget Jones would think twice about wearing on a bad day!  Enough said, even after five children, my pelvic floor muscles didn’t need that amount of support, so into a bin bag they went. Subliminal sartorial advice at skin level.

It goes without saying (but I’m going to say it anyway) that my Mam’s mothering achievements amount to much more than just being the catalyst for my underwear drawer overhaul. I am certain each and everyday that she has my back, that she will always be in my corner. I will never be too old to be beyond a gentle rebuke verbal or otherwise. “The look” never lost its’ effectiveness.  I will always be her child and even though we still sometimes don’t see eye to eye, have different world views and ideals, we have forged a good, indeed a great relationship. A relationship  like one,  which I hope to enjoy  with my children both today and for all of the tomorrows.

This coming Mother’s day will be the first one for Mam, where my brothers signature will be missing from the annual card that was sent. At 91 it is fair to say that she did not expect outlive any of her children..what parent does? I know if she could have a struck a bargain with’ whatever powers that might be’ she would have done so in an instantaneous heartbeat. Age, wisdom and accumulated life experience do not lessen the burden of grief or reduce the feelings of loneliness and longing that underpin her days. I cannot lessen her burden either. We talk about our irrevocably sense of disbelief, the void in all our lives and our sadness. The changes wrought by John’s death are far from imperceptible in the essence of my Mam’s being and still she mothers me.

Beyond Kǘbler -Ross; My grief doesn’t look like that.

( An article I wrote which was used as the basis for a piece published by limerickmentalhealth.ie)

In the months since my brother’s heartbreaking and tragic death in May 2018, as a result of a fall while out with his hiking group, I have learned that only I can be an expert on my own grief. Nobody else can be ‘my expert’ and just because I have experienced my loss caused by the out of order death of my brother, does not make me an expert on anyone else’s grief.

I have found myself researching grief, bereavement, and ‘coping’ with grief online,  in the hope I would find something or some way of ‘managing my grief better’ and some way of reducing the immense pain and sense of loss caused by his death.

I don’t think this is actually possible. There is no roadmap, no prescriptive text that will reduce the quotient of grief or the pain that ensues after the death of a loved one. The best we can hope for is finding a way to honour our love and grief and carry it with us and tend to it in our own individual way.

Grief is the price we pay for love- and one’s grief is exactly that.  Grief is as individual as love. It is as unique as the person experiencing it and the person whose loss they grieve. We may share our loss with many; but we have to navigate our own way within our own landscape of grief.  We have to tend to our grief in our own way which may look similar or very dissimilar to others.

I will be the first to admit that initially my online research was far from in-depth. Fuelled by insomnia, an inability to focus or concentrate for any extended period of time, my cursory online interaction with Dr. Google kept throwing up bite-size pieces of variable quality and benefit.

To be blunt, there is a lot of horse shit written about  death and grief. From pious platitudes and clichés to over-simplified theories further reduced to lazy cut and paste jobs. I found some postings on social media to be very unhelpful… I could not identify with what I consider the tyranny of false positivity.

Time and time again, my late night ventures into the online world of grief would throw up ‘The five stages of grief’. How I started to loathe Elizabeth Kübler Ross (and I mean really loathe)! The pervasiveness of this grief theory that bore little or no resemblance to my grieving reality really infuriated me.

I also started thinking that I wasn’t getting this ‘grieving process’ right. My grief was not allowing itself to move in an ordered timeline capable of fitting into neat sanitised blocks that could be ticked off  like a ‘to-do’ list.

I could not understand why a grief theory dating back to the late 1960’s appears to have so much currency today. Has no research on grief been  carried out since?

Well, there has been plenty!  However, much of it does not appear to have trickled down into the public consciousness quite like the stage theory model has.

 I also discovered that my loathing of Elizabeth Kübler Ross was somewhat misplaced. So let me deal with that first.

Elizabeth Kübler Ross was born on July 8th 1926 and died on August 24th 2004, a Swiss-American psychiatrist.

Her book ‘On Death and Dying’ (published in 1969) was never a study on grief and bereavement. It was based on her work with terminally-ill patients at the University of Chicago Medical School. Neither was it a research study: it is a book based of description, observation and reflection based on Elizabeth’s conversations with people who were dying.  Its central tenet was to communicate how important it is to listen to what the dying have to tell us about their needs.

The  so-called stage theory is openly described in the book as merely a set of common categories or themes which emerged from her interviews with people who received a terminal diagnosis over a two and half year period. The categories were artificially isolated and separately described so that Elizabeth could discuss these experiences more clearly and simply. Her five stage model was really an examination of the emotional states experienced by people after receiving a terminal diagnosis.  She is reported to have regretted writing them in a way that was misunderstood. She also didn’t believe that they happened in a neat linear order for a prescribed period of time.

In her 2004 book on Grief and Grieving (published posthumously in 2004), Kubler states: “They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages”.

Now ‘messy’ is a word I can relate to.

So back to the theories of grief. My search started with entering ‘Beyond Kubler’ in the search engine. It transpires that ‘grief’ is a huge field of study that  has continued to develop and evolve since the days of  Freud.  I am not going to even attempt to go down the reductive route of providing basic summaries as I truly believe that this would be a disservice.

 I am unwilling to do this as grieving is complex and one size of theory does most definitely not fit all. There were bits of some writings I could relate to my own ongoing grieving experience and identify with and some not at all.  I’m still only skimming the surface of the amount of material out there on grief after 9 months of it being my daily landscape. Truth be told it is only in the last couple months or so that I have been able to resume reading anything longer than the back of a cereal box.

 The secondary reason is due to the fact that as these theories come in and out of vogue, an unintended consequence has been that they , are taken up by society and its’ commentators as the norms. They become in effect rules of grieving that attempt to specify who, when, where, how, how long and for whom people should grieve.

 It is hard enough live your life after the death of a loved without feeling judged and wanting too. There is no going back, no restoration of a previous normal.  Ultimately grief is a very personal experience which belongs to the person experiencing it.

 If you find yourself reading this and experiencing grief..I wish you strength to find your own path within grief and one that you feel supported on. Try not worry about other people discomfort with your pain and sadness..it is your time to grieve without the artificial constraints of other people’s ‘expertise’ or expectations.

For anyone who wishes to do their own research, I found Christopher Hall’s,  (MAPS Director, Australian Centre for Grief & Bereavement) publication titled ‘Beyond Kubler-Ross: Recent Developments in our understanding of Grief & Bereavement’;  InPsych 2011, Vol 33, Dec.Issue 6 an excellent starting point.

https://www.psychology.org.au/for-members/publications/inpsych/2011/dec/Beyond-Kubler-Ross-Recent-developments-in-our-und

For anyone wishing to support a friend or family member who is grieving I recommend you read (at the very least) the Appendix ‘How to help a Grieving Friend’  in Megan Devine’s Book  ‘It’s OK that you’re not OK- Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That  Doesn’t  Understand’. I found the entire book helpful for myself. 

On a personal note  I found writing about my feelings, my brother, my loss and grief one of my most helpful ways of tending to my life of  living with my grief. Winter swimming in the cold Atlantic Ocean also provides me with moments of solace and connection.

It is about catching what activities give me even fleeting moments of what I call ‘sad peace’.   Even in the early days of shock and grief,  writing was something that required no effort from me. It was instinctive. It was what helped me and continues to help me live through the various  days of overwhelm, survival/existence days and sad peace hours and days.

  I hope, if needed, you find yours.

My Lady in Silver

The Lady in Silver

I was one of the first patrons of my daughters artwork. She named her price for the original drawing of “The Lady in Silver” and I willingly coughed up the asking price. It is good to know the value of one’s labour. It is one of my most prized possessions. I fell in love with her from the moment I first saw her as I did my daughter. The lady herself I mean, not just the glorious artwork. As in awe as I am of my daughters talent, not being inclined to even attempt to draw a straight line with a ruler; my love for “The Lady in Silver” surpasses art appreciation. I have always believed she has a story to tell.

Doesn’t she look like she has a story?

A timeless and an universal woman’s story of love,life, loss, joy and pleasure. Battles won and lost.

Is she indulging in a moment of quiet reflection and introspection ? Is she gathering herself after feeling defeated by her day? Is she as serene as she is beautiful? Is she greeting the dawn or bidding farewell to the day? Is she of the present or some bygone era or a world yet to come?

Sitting on my sofa since she first came to live with us, adorning our sitting room wall, I have spent minutes that have gathered themselves into hours wondering about her origins. Since childhood I have possessed a penchant for daydreaming. What is happening beyond her portrait, what’s just out of view?

That is the magical thing about a fictitious character, she can be anyone I like. That is beauty of art. Depending on my mood, her face resonates with different parts of my being. Her story can be woven with the same subtle delicate eye to detail as her kimono or broadstroked like the elegance of the colours in her picture. Simple and exquisite her possibilities are endless.

Vignettes of her backstory float with ease in my quieter unoccupied moments. I have imagined her earlier self and one yet to come. I have named and unnamed her. I am happy to be undecided about her substance, to let her come and go in various guises while she graces our wall space with her beautiful presence, defying any attempts to pin her down to a single narrative. I have resisted the urge to commit pen to paper until now. In truth as I type I don’t know what road she will bring me down today or how long this journey today together will be. It is just one of many and it doesn’t define her. It is but one of her many moments in time.

My Lady in Silver

………..with her make up nearly complete she sat at her grandmother’s old elegant dressing table, idly toying with intricate glass jars that still carried the scent of bygone days. The scent of a woman she loved. In truth her grandmother had been more of a Ponds Cold Cream user. The fancy unguents enclosed in their glass shrines kept for good wear only. They had lasted a lifetime. The cut glass pots kept as things of beauty and being too good to be thrown away. A small veneer of dust rested evenly atop decorating each individual one, muting the coloured lids as if the sun had gone behind a cloud. She unscrewed the lid of one, inhaled and with the edge of her dressing gown she carefully caressed the dust away and with perfect symmetry of movement replaced it to its resting place.

Through the open window, the bird song drifted upwards to her ears and the stream replenished with the previous night’s rain was loud enough in its dance to draw her glance to the source of the fresh watery soundings. A lone butterfly, caught momentarily in her field of vision took brief respite from its flight on the blossom of a rosemary bush completely at ease with its surroundings. Confident of its place in the world, its days as a caterpillar long behind and probably forgotten, it quickly stretched out and took flight on the breeze again.

Resting her chin on her hand, she closed her eyes with the remnants of the butterfly’s image still imprinted on her retina. She was glad she came, the others would be arriving soon……….

I hope that you too have an object of beauty that fills your glance with pleasure and joy.

 

A year and a day.

For the first time in my living memory or at least since I was a very young child, I did not stay up on New Year’s Eve to ring in the New Year. Previous New Year’s Eves have seen me sitting on the stairs in the Cork Road, whilst the neighbours squished into our house for the out with the old and in with the new celebrations. Dark haired men would bring a lump of coal in the back door to help the household have good luck and ‘enough’ in the coming year. Auld Lang Syne would be sang out on the road, big circles of neighbours, arms linked with voices competing with the loud horn blowing boats on the quay. My Dad would sing Sweet Sixteen. I think my love of house parties started at very young age. I have always been sentimental about New Years Eve and like to mark the dawning of a fresh year while already being nostalgic about the one just passed.

This year I found myself in bed between 10pm and 10.30pm on New Years Eve. I drifted off to sleep to the sounds of my daughter and her friends joyously celebrating her 18th birthday. This was the first time that said daughter ( who daily makes my world a better place) celebrated her birthday with her friends on the actual day of her birthday. It’s also been the first time in a long time that an alcohol fuelled gathering took place in our house.

I wasn’t just in bed because I was surplus to the requirements of the party shenanigans. I had made my plans to be in bed and not ring in The New Year as far back as June. New Year’s Day 2019 would mark a year to the day since I last had seen my brother. He had been in Waterford to partake in an early celebration of our Mam’s 90th birthday on Jan 1st 2018, as a return trip for her actual birthday on the 20th wasn’t feasible so soon after the Christmas holidays.

That was the last time I got to speak to him in person, lay eyes on him and get a big brotherly bear hug as we said Goodbye outside the Majestic Hotel in Tramore. A casual “See you later in the year” kind of goodbye. I missed his visit home in April as I was away. Disappointed, as I was that our trips clashed at the time, I was full of bitter regret after his death to have missed his last visit home.

It also was the first new calendar year that he would not be alive to enjoy. There is something bleak about time bringing you further away. Below is an excerpt from something I wrote in my cream hardback in early June. It still holds true.

There is no bargaining with death,
No honed negotiation skills to be brought to bear,
No squaring of this circle in my life.
I feel that each days passing
takes me further away from you.
Each breath drawn is one without you."

Add to this that, one of my closest friends and her family were embarking on their own rough unhewn and raw grief path with the sudden and tragic death of a much loved family member. It had been a tough few days and I dreaded the road ahead of them.
The funeral service had taken place that morning…… Bed was really the only place for me.

Before I took myself off, I sat in my party ready, re-arranged kitchen and listened to the strumming of a guitar and the magical playing of an accompanying ukulele and some very sweet clear voices. I sat where John & I had sat a year before to the day, his last time at my well worn kitchen table. We’ve had some good times around our table.

My heart was gladdened by the euphonious melodies and for the first time in a long time I felt a ripple of simple joy enter my being. A fleeting few moments of peace on dry land.. Sad peace. The singing and the music was beautiful and John would have loved it, not just the music but the gathering. Gatherings have long been a respected tradition in our family and John Quinn was a gatherer of people.

I was also very impressed by the notion that the current crop of 18 year olds would sit together in such wonderful harmony engaged in an activity that I could relate to. I sat in with them for a rendition of ” Winter Song” , sang as a duet and made a discreet exit again before I was completely undone. Sleep came easily with wisps of their music making, drifting upwards and soothing me like a well worn blanket.

I slept through till pre dawn, about five o’ clock and awoke with with a sense of urgency, startled from my sleep by the knowledge of his death.. After a quick tidy up, I then made good on the territorial advantage that early rising had given me and laid claim to the sofa for the day. I slept for large parts of the day too, on the sofa, actually most of it, tiredness providing a numbing respite from the significance of the date.

And so it was, the 2nd day of the New Year, a year and a day since last we met that I was able to let John come unbidden to my mind and let my love and grief intertwine. It was a day of sadness but not of overwhelm. I went to one of our favourite places and found that space between the sea & the sky where I feel connected.

The Guillamenes is where I experience my fleeting moments of equilibrium. Where I can just be, the entirety of everything buoyed up by the ocean. It is where the beauty of the setting puts manners on me, the lure of the sea overcomes my fear of the cold. I yield my resistance and submerge. Immersion in the cold water reminds me of my physical being.

So on the year and the day there was nothing for it but to have the first swim of 2019 as well. In my heart I’m swimming for two.

Writers Block

The sandbags are in situ in preparation for the skies overnight promised delivery of rain which is meant to be biblical in its volume. It is day 5 without our heating working, long story but awaiting a repair man for my much loved and used Stanley cooker which is also our boiler. My children now know the real purpose of hoodies, hot water bottles and blankets.

These are the first words that I have written since late November, it’s mid December now. There have been no scribblings or jottings in my cream coloured hardback book. No transfer of my stream of consciousness onto paper. It wasn’t a conscious decision to stop writing and writers block is not really an accurate depiction either as it implies that I tried to and was unable to write; or was prevented from writing by some internal or external force; like my muse called grief going on a short sojourn elsewhere. No not the case, I just stopped. I let the jangling thoughts free reign in my head. Maybe being somewhat tired of freeing up space for others to take immediate occupancy I thought they could all just squeeze in there together, get on with it and eventually I’d be at full capacity.

That is not really what happened…there was no slowing down in the production of those jingling jangling thoughts. It turns out I have a tardis of a brain which is happy to accommodate as many grief laden thoughts as I can produce and well able to vie for elbow room with thoughts automatically produced by daily life.

So what if I was unwilling to process them through writing? There’s room for them all! Yes there is but I started to feel that I was unraveling, in an abyss like rabbit hole, with only a knot of loss to keep me company. This coincided with some unexpected free time over the course of a week. Free time that for the life of me I could not utilise let alone optimise to my satisfaction in order to reduce the annual long to do list of Christmas preparations. Surprise surprise I need structure. I may resent it but I need it.

Then my heart kicked in and let the overwhelm out and it was not pretty. It was scary, suffocating, lying in a ball on the floor kind of hysterical crying. A keening, crying that makes your stomach retch and cares not about requisite bodily functions. A crying that drags your breath raggedly away from your body, away from any natural rhythm. A crying that makes you ring your sister in her workplace because somehow you know that it is important that you now stop but you can’t until it is heard. A crying that doesn’t have the manners to give your sister room to speak. A crying that doesn’t care if it’s on speakerphone.

My sister murmured softly and let me wail until I and it was spent. There is no real coherent conversation that can follow that type of call, just me saying sorry sorry for ringing her at work, sorry for forcing her to bear witness to my journey down the rabbit hole.

I would love to pretend that that day was cathartic, a turning point but it was not. I know, I will have more days like this and I will have days not like this at all. Do not dare to judge me or my grief. I am ‘coping’ as I should or not at all depending on the day, the week, the hour. I do not have the energy for pretense or the manners to observe that the polite phase for public grieving has now passed.

In the couple of days that followed I wondered why the rabbit hole had beckoned? I knew it wasn’t just fueled by my dread of our first Christmas without my brother John. I knew that although my visit to Strasbourg the previous month had left me hollowed out with longing to see his face, it has also been healing and precious and gave to me as much if not more than it had took from me. But I believe I stopped writing after my visit to Strasbourg because I felt I needed to feel, feel deeply. I think subconsciously that I felt my scribblings were a way of expunging my feelings of grief, subverting them and that by my writings I was somehow diminishing them and casting those feelings aside. Cheating them even. That’s the problem with travelling even a little way down the rabbit hole; it’s hard to see, let alone clearly, in the dark.

So my favored cream hard back with its’ elastic band has been back in use. I’m still choosy about what pen I use. I have re read through it since I reclaimed it from where it laid on the dusty underneath bed floor. Not one single vowel or consonant has lessened the pain and the sense of loss caused by the death of my beloved brother but they have honoured that pain as validly as any day of overwhelm does.

I read somewhere that grief is the price we pay for love, so my book of writings honours my grief and my love.

Tidal Wave

I feel the swell, 
still gathering momentum in my lower gut.
My body is awash with
what were once unfamiliar sensations.
They have somewhat gentled in their approach
but cause the same sharp,
startling inhalation of breath.
Like when the cold crisp ocean
first encounters my feet.
Holding breath,
I let the first fleeting wave of grief
roll through my innards.
It has become unwanted deaths internal caress of my body.
It moves like tumbleweed,
randomly directionless inside my cells.
I hold the feeling in my belly for now.
Letting it roll around,
like sounds roll from my tongue.
Speechless I keep driving,
swallow it back down and breathe.
My head finds itself
involuntarily shaking in disbelief.
My salt water tears bring me back to the ocean.

I can see you there.

July 2018 J.Quinn

Half Way To One Hundred

As I sit and type, Storm Callum is doing his best to live up to his hype, buffeting around the house with the odd violent lash of rain against the windows. The sort of night that makes you put the heating on and be oh so glad to be indoors.  Though I’m persevering with the wearing of shorts even as I type despite or maybe because of my mother’s advice to pay heed to the autumnal weather. Fifty and still rebellious.  I feel a bit like the swimmer I had a lovely exchange with at the Guillamenes. I was there to mark the last day of my forties ” I keep coming out and getting into the water in case this will be the final swim of the season”, he said as we made our congratulatory exchanges, about how great we felt, post a mid October sea swim. I feel the same about the shorts as the swims, I’ll throw them on again today; tomorrow might be just too cold.

Actually I kind of  like the idea that the first night of my new decade has been ushered in by a storm while I’m  still wearing my summer shorts… it seems fitting somehow, I think. I marked the first morning of my fifties the same way I marked the last day of my forties with a swim at the Guillamenes. I love the vagaries of the ocean and the sky overhead, an ever changing palette of colours, light and energy.  Accompanied by a symphony of sea sounds, the vast expanse of water and sky just grounds me in the smallness of my being in a good way.  I am at home there. Structurally the Guillamenes is the same place every time I visit but on another level, it possesses so many alter egos it is always a  bit of a magical mystery tour.

At this time of year, it’s like a reliable friend. One who you know will be there but you’re not quite sure if they’re up for visitors. It’s hard to explain to non sea swimmers but the sea is more than the sum of its parts.  Yes it’s always wet and sploshy and inevitable not warm off any part of the Irish coast, with various degrees of roughness or calmness on display but it so much more. It has texture and taste, which you can only experience when fully immersed in its buoyant delights.

It can be bright and revealing of its depths or grey and murky offering up surface viewing only and  prompting mental strains of “Jaws” to play on repeat inside your head.  Smooth and listless or energetic with a swell. Predictable or erratic, it can be a playground or a fight ring. The sea is well capable of  sweet whisperings as you are enveloped in a silky smooth denseness or it can just as easily spit you out and tell you to fuck off. The wonderful thing for me is either way I feel great. Once my feet have gone numb the rest of my body seems to be able to cope. As one might expect, I do have a grading system.. a one dip, two dip and on the very rare occasions a three dip swim. Yep, sometimes I have to get in and get out very quickly and get in again to acclimatise and catch my breath.

These two last swims have been one dippers, being able to swim on two consecutive days probably helps. Like many things in life, the more you do it, the easier it gets. The Guillamenes has been my sanctuary,  a watery place of refuge these past few months. The ocean gives me brief respite from my grief in ways I find hard to describe.  It is well able to absorb and  provide camouflage for my own salt water offerings.  Submerging yourself in cold water brings mindfulness to a whole new level. The sea demands my attention even when on its best behaviour.  I’ve shared so many swims with so many people I love at the Guillamenes, my brother John included, that I like to think the sea and the rocks share back little nuggets of their love and courage when I most need them. That post swim coating of salty sea residue is like a veneer of protection better than any armour. The camaraderie amongst the swimmers softens my soul.

My birthday on the other hand brought all tangible manifestations of my grief into sharp focus. Turning fifty was not something that phased me at all, turning fifty without my brother alive was something else.

However, in spite of the dread that preceded this years birthday, the day came and went, with cake eaten and presents received and emotionally charged as it was, there were moments of joy too, intertwined  sometimes seamlessly, with the moments of  acute sadness. A card missing a signature but full of love, a book of poems, a bouquet of flowers and gifts in the post. Telephone calls, whats app messages and facebook messages all brightened my day. The company of my family and the simple joy of a shared take away. The presence of love.

It’s not everyday either that your youngest child looks at you with their little face full of wonder and awe just at your continuing existence . As I boiled the kettle for my first cup of tea of the day,  she looked up at me and just for a few seconds I saw myself through her beautiful big brown eyes full of love  “Happy Birthday Mammy..you’re fifty” followed by a bit of a pause “Your half way to a hundred – WOW”. Be in no doubt, there was genuine admiration there.

Finding my Inner Cinderella…. but wearing flats!

I enjoyed fairytales as a child and over the years I’ve had a myriad of views on them. Young submissive girls sitting waiting for their princes to come, passively awaiting rescue…really?   Patience has never been my forte, so I couldn’t get this concept at all.  To be honest, I never questioned fairytales as a child. I didn’t possess a precocious ability to do a post modernist, feminist critique but I always knew them to be unbelievable fantasy. I mean, the only time I was allowed wear any kind of a  fancy dress, never mind flouncy ballgowns, was for mass on Sundays.  After the incident with the neighbours go cart which resulted in a big hole in said Sunday best as it got caught in a spoke,  the wearing of said best was restricted to mass times only. (That hand made go cart/wagon was the business though and could go at a fair speed).

go cart meme blog

 

If truth be told, I also felt that the male heroes were fairly insipid and stupid creatures too…….boring and dull. I didn’t think they’d be any good at bad eggs, knock a dolly or knucks. The boys I knew had an ingenuity, an underlying devilment to them and an ability to seek out both mischief and fun that was never reflected in the fairy tales.

I found the villains much more interesting. ( Yep, couldn’t buy into the waiting for the prince so went looking for the bad boys) The fact that the villains had all the superpowers and magic at their disposal, well  that was quite appealing .It was completely unbelievable in my mind that they were undone by weak heros. As for dragons, I just always had a soft spot for them. There was no doubt in my mind that they would breathe fire in the right direction at my request and I would soar in my dreams on the back of them. I could not find a role model in what passed for the heroines. I mean how stupid do you have to be to eat an apple from an old crone.  We were well warned about taking sweets from strangers when we were younger, but if some old biddy had tried to offer us an apple and not sweets we would have set her straight fairly pronto, given her, her marching orders and told her to do better next time. No point in bothering us unless you have a bag of fizzle sticks, some  fruit salads and black jacks and maybe a Big Time Bar.

There was a brief period where I found Rapunzel relatable as I had long hair down to my bum, and when banished to my bed every night before every other child on the road, I imagined that I would let out my hair and smuggle friends up into the room or better again use my own tresses as an escape route. Given the amount of pain I endured having the hair brushed and plaited very morning, I kind of knew this wasn’t a runner.  It did seem though that all the best games seemed to occur after my bedtime. Oh the shame to have children younger than you still out playing on the road having a whale of a time, with the sun still shining.

The fairytale of Snow -White ( absolutely no relation to your wan who poisoned herself on the aforementioned apple…not even distant cousins twice removed) and Red Rose , did appeal to me .This story of two sisters living in the woods who aided and befriended a talking bear was relatable, in so far as I had a sister close in age.  His killing of the mean old dwarf was just an incidental to me, as was the required marrying off of the two sisters to the bear who was really, wait for it…… a prince and his equally handsome brother. I was just delighted that they could appreciate a talking bear unlike that ridiculous girl who never realised her luck when a talking frog returned her ball.

And so the years passed. I got to an age (about 13 – Inter Cert year) where yes the idea of a villainous prince or even an handsome pauper( with a bit of get up and go) seemed quite a nice idea. More years passed and I read and studied and realised that the sanitisation of the old fairytales and myths and fables was a load of codswallop with a definite cultural and societal agenda that was not remotely pro girls or women. There may even have been vows spoken over copious amounts of alcohol that no child of mine would have their independent, brave and self sufficiency  aspirations insidiously watered down by misogynistic and patriarchal horse tripe.

Even more years passed too bloody quickly and there I was in my own little kingdom of motherhood. Like most neighbouring kingdoms at the time there were sometimes great wars fought but sometimes I, as the benign & wise queen occasionally managed to reign over at least ten minutes of peace & harmony. The adoption of the evil queen persona sometimes granted me 20 minutes. My rule was often in danger of being overthrown, evil forces in the shape of  terrible twos,  obstinate sixes and  fussy eights, threatened the very heart of my little kingdom. But it survived even when a plague of prolonged sibling rivalry threatened the benign queen’s sanity. I bought my children dress up princess costumes, knights costumes, cowboy ones and pirate ones. I read every fairy tale going, sanitised or not and stories from my own favourite book as a child ” Tales the Wind Told”. I discovered for the first time what has since become one of my favourite books ever Roald Dahls’ “Revolting Rhymes.” which if you have never read is worth a library trip for.

cinderella blog meme 6.

My journey through the first ten years of motherhood had me relating to those fairy tale characters somewhat more than I could have anticipated. I could identify with Snow White and actually now believe that she took a bite of that dratted apple just to get some uninterrupted sleep, so tired was she from cleaning up after the seven dwarves who hi hoed it in and out of the house everyday without so much as a by your leave. How I longed for a modern day equivalent of the magic porridge pot..one that didn’t cook porridge but maybe just something the children would eat that was vaguely nutritional..ok.ok..I didn’t care what the nutritional content was once it was ate and could be produced with no thought or effort from me. Not once but often did I feel like the little red hen  and as my waistline testifies, ” I too did eat it all all by myself ” in  that lovely late o ‘clock silence. My house was inhabited  by what seemed like a flock of Goldilocks for too many years to count. “Too hot, too cold, too lumpy, too white, too green,  too big, too small,too ticklish, too bright, too dark, too rough”; You name it from food to the fabrics on their bodies, there were days when I couldn’t do right for doing wrong. Every venture forth from our kingdom was like travelling in a scene from Shrek with more than one ‘donkey’ catcalling “Are we there Yet ?”  We bought the biggest one a t-shirt!!

The ground hog day of housework..well enough said below.

cinderella blog meme.

 

More years passed, I could now leave the house without having to do a Houdini act. I didn’t have to pump and dump if I had a few beverages. I had a reasonable chance of being allowed to poo in peace..not guaranteed though.  Uninterrupted telephone contact with the outside world was  and is still off limits though. There were signs that a social life with other grown up people might be becoming available again. Nights out, eating & drinking, chatting, getting dressed up and dancing as badly as ever. Even the odd dancing on the table moment. Happy days indeed and then she struck  with a vengeance, my inner Cinderella! I did try do battle but failed. No need for a fairy godmothers’ warning or anything. By 12.00 midnight  (shoes would be long off and if they were an inch off the ground I was doing well.) if I wasn’t at least on a promise to be homeward bound  I would find myself turning in a tired squiffy and somewhat irate pumpkin just longing for my bed. Motherhood, migraines and middle age had done their job. My Dancing Queen  had  being officially downgraded to a Sleeping Beauty and no amount of magic potions, alcoholic or otherwise were going to deter me from my pursuit of true happiness….at least eight hours sleep in my own bed and a pair of Birkenstocks!!

 

cinderella blog meme 8