I visited my brothers homeplace in July this summer, his family home up West, the place where he lived the largest portion of his life, with his wife M, raising and loving their three remarkable children. I love being there, I loved it more when he was there too. It feels like traces of him have soaked into walls and the fibres, the cups and the seats which weight bear his memory. I found myself touching objects that he once held, holding tightly to the back of chairs, palms pressed firmly against the wood grain, in the hope that some softly pulsing cells of his being, remain for me to grasp, to capture, to bring them home with me on my skin. This beautiful house and home will never feel quite full again as it did when he was there, his body resting against the door frames which were solid to his lean in, head tilting, fist pumping presence. A presence that is reflected from the wall mounted images that capture moments of the life he led. There was moments upon moments until there were no more.
There is a reckoning of the heart when I visit here, he was so long gone from our home on the Cork Road, that our house is no longer imbued with the sense of his presence. The memory of the minutiae of daily living being over-layed, overtaken with the joyous energy of his visits home. However, I can go into and lie down in what was his childhood bedroom and close my eyes and see the room as it was then and smell his smell, that piquant odour of a teenage boy that was so distinctive in a house dominated by feminine smells and Lifebuoy soap perpetually used to wash away a mechanic’s oil. I never visited him in Rue De Bruges when he was alive, a fact which I continue to sometimes ruminate on, keep coming back to as one of my big regrets that I struggle to make peace with, struggle to stop kicking myself about. After death – ‘not expecting him to die’ doesn’t quite make the grade as a reason, for the non doing, he was there for seven years. I visited twice in the year after his death.
I visit John’s grave, in the New Cemetery when I visit his homeplace and this visit is also an important part of my mourning rituals. Visiting John’s grave is at most, a once or twice yearly occurrence. I think these visits, bring me back to his funeral, the horrendous shock and trauma of those very early days and months, the rituals of death but not to him. I know that the coffin, his coffin lies out of sight under the shale and the stones and as I sit, I have one leg thrown up in disrespectful pose on the kerb of his grave. Leaning into ‘McSharry’ but facing him with a side on gaze at his headstone which clearly bears his full name. Four years on the ‘wrongness’ of his untimely death does more than linger on. Four years is no time at all and an eternity to a grieving heart, in grief there is a fracturing of time and reality that is beyond all measure and is hard to see in the midst of it. It is only with looking back that you can even begin to see the fullness of that splitting atom of your life and regard with a certain disbelief and amazement that you continued to function at any level, at all. The aftermath of death – it certainly is not done with, within the perimeters set by the outdated populist grief theories of Freud and the hijacked Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s Stages of Dying* or in some arbitrary prescribed timed deadline of six months or a year, take your pick. Our bond with our deceased loved ones shouldn’t and doesn’t end within a prescribed timeframe, to expect it to do so has made us the grief illiterate society that we are. Our grief illiterate western world can strip us of our compassion in spite of ourselves. Their death and absence from our lives doesn’t come with an end date, and grief does not have an expiry date. “Are you not done with it yet”? “Fuck Off” I reply politely.
On this recent visit, rain was threatening but held no threat on the back of a short lived Irish heatwave, diluted by the climate of the West. I could feel the individuality of each sporadic drop, cool and fully formed as it reached my skin from a clear intense blue sky that was brewing a summer squall. I find there is room to unravel here, in the quiet space of the dead. To unravel in the certainty of his death. Missing John, the live breathing John, I do elsewhere in the places of his living and with the people of his life and the living on of my own life. However, this is one of the few places where I talk to John out loud, I’m not quite sure why. Talk in full voice having a one sided conversation, he would probably call it a monologue, posing as an existential dialogue; about my living on in my world without him. (The living on, which it is important to note includes the rejection of the concept of the ‘hero’s journey’. That in someway John’s death was going to be a catalyst for some wild transformation of my being and life, that his death was going to teach me life lessons that I needed to learn or that I was going to come to a better knowing of myself or indeed become a better version of myself through some ‘Road of Damascus’ moments or that his death was going to provide me with a commensurate and compensatory opportunity for personal growth or opportunities in life as some payback for the nobility of suffering. I was grand as I was.)
I tell him how I think we are all doing given the fact I am sat graveside.
I tell him how I am doing in my day to day acts of living on.
I tell him I miss him and I wish he was here.
I tell him how gIad I am that I had him for my big brother.
I tell him that his support and love for me filled up the parts of me that became some of the best of my parts.
I tell him how sad I am for him and his missing of all these days.
I tell him I know he would enjoy the regular sea dipping and I’m doing my best to swim for two.
I tell him I was looking forward to so much more with him and I know he was too.
I tell him that I can’t believe its been four years of graveside chats.
I tell him that I will love him for my own forever.
I cry big fully formed, warm individual salty tear droplets of love that chase each other down my neck.
I cry as my nose alternately blocks and drips, playing catch up with my tears and I have to laugh at my own discomfort.
I gently run my fingers over the carved inscription and kiss his headstone and I never say Goodbye.
I don’t think as I leave his graveside that there are any huge barriers of grieving that I have broken through or climbed over knowing that I will never have to face them again. For me, it has just been the living on, with the hours becoming days and the days morphing into weeks, and the weeks turning into months and the months inevitably adding up to years. Somewhere in that living on, pain seeped into the numbness of disbelief and moments of joy seeped slowly into the pain at what seemed like an unbearable slow rate and those moments build and reoccur always co-existing with my grief. I am so glad of them. I have my version of John’s life-story and where it blends with mine is mine and my pain will happen as it happens , at will, at its own ease and on its’ own timetable with its’ own sense of frequency and at whatever irregular intervals its’ sharpened or soft presence demands attention. All there is for me to do is to feel it and honour it, in the best way I can in any given day.
So, it has become important for me to visit my living people and welcome those who visit me and not let too much time slip by without actual physical connection( Covid kept us apart for long enough) and there is such joy and feelings in these connections. I try and fail and try again to seize the love in the day and be present with the people who are here when they are here. There is such great love in the leading of ordinary lives, in cups of tea made, strolls taken, advice given, beds slept in, take-away and drinks, food prepared and shared, outdoor events, hugs given and received and swims swum. There is such an unspoken language of love underscoring the everydayness of our ordinary lives. It should come as no surprise how much we miss the natural cadence of what was once our life script when its gone.
* For those interested in exploring Grief Theories check out ” William Worden’s Four tasks of mourning -on the internet or his book ” Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy: A handbook for the Mental Health Practioner.
For more understanding of The Continuing Bonds Grief Theory – Klass Silverman and Nickman:Continuing Bonds: New Understandings of Grief published in 1996.
For an excellent informative website I recommend : http://whatsyourgrief.com