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 dorcha– Between 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.