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.