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.



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