It will be 40 years ago tonight that the man I expected to marry died from cancer. I was in my early twenties and he was older but very young in the overall scheme of things.
That death, more than any other, has been the hardest to cope with. It left me reeling in a vacuum of dreams that could never be fulfilled and in ways that reeling has never fully stopped.
He was the kindest, most thoughtful, generous, nature-loving, sporty, creative, tough yet soft-hearted bloke you could meet.
He left a huge imprint on my life and so many places, films, songs, activities are associated with him.
He was the person who taught me to drive. He loved cars and I associate him most with a white Volkswagen Beetle.
I wasn’t the easiest to teach to drive as I don’t automatically know my left from my right and could get a bit carried away when I saw a long straight stretch of road opening up ahead. How he stuck the fluctuations in my driving is more than I will ever know.
He was a stickler for parking properly and being able to park on a sixpence. We spent hours perfecting my parallel parking, especially on hills and every single time I confidently ease into the tiniest space, I see him in my mind’s eye, smile to myself and say: You taught me well.
Time moves on but so does a love so deep in its own parallel way.
I guess everyone has days in the year, like my January 4th/5th, that have the mark of grief on them no matter how much time passes.
I’d like to thank everyone who listened to my words about Seeking Solace yesterday and a special word of gratitude to those who wrote such empathetic comments.
I don’t believe that time, in itself, is the great healer that we hear so much about. Rather, it’s a combination of how that time unfolds and how we ourselves shape it, that is hugely significant.
And, there is no doubt that everyone is different in how they deal with loss and the same person may deal with different losses in very diverse ways. You just can’t generalise when it comes to grief, it seems.
Ever since J died in 1981, I’ve woken in the middle of the night at the time he died. That morning, I stole out to a beach we loved, saw the most beautiful sunrise and got a sense of his mental strength pouring into me. It was one of those other worldly kind of experiences and I’m certainly not about ‘other worlds.’
So, it didn’t surprise me to wake in the very early hours this morning. I got up, took Stan for a good walk and then went off to watch the new day dawn over the sea.
It wasn’t a spectacular sunrise but every dawning has its drama.
There were lots of seagulls around and I couldn’t take my eyes off this pair:
The gulls were a delight to watch as they wheeled about in the unfolding light. The two pairs of gulls in this next shot; one pair away in the distance and the other much closer, made me think of the interplay between past and present and the importance of knowing that a new partner respects and understands the baggage that each brings to a relationship:
Sunset never meant a thing to me on the 5th of January until today. At some kind of subconscious level, I think I felt that the sun had set when J breathed his last and that January 5th couldn’t have two sunsets.
So, it was that I brought Stan out to Garrarus Beach this evening and wasn’t even aware that it was sunset time and didn’t have a camera with me. What greeted us there was one of the deepest, sweetest sunsets I’ve ever witnessed. There was a young woman on the beach, walking her dogs, and I noticed that she was taking photographs. We fell into chat about the magic we were part of and agreed that we’d never seen a sunset like this one before, even though we discovered that we’re both absolute regulars.
I was surprised when I heard myself asking her if she would email me a photograph of that special sunset. She very generously agreed and about an hour later, six photos arrived! Here’s the pair I like best.
And how about this for intensity?
So, January 5th now has a sunset again after 35 years and a new bond has been made with another Woman of the Sea here in Co. Waterford.
It just goes to show that grief days can evolve into days emblazoned with colour and new beginnings.
I’d be more than interested to hear about your ‘grief days’ and how they’ve evolved.
Swans glided into my life in the Autumn of 1980 ~ thirty-five years ago now.
That was the year that my sweetheart was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given just six or eight weeks to live. He died on January 5th, 1981.
We got the chance to walk by lakes, rivers and the sea where we talked very openly of life and love but only in a veiled way about shattered hopes and dreams.
Wherever we went, there were swans; elegant, white companions who seemed to understand all our bittersweetness and melancholy.
That was a time to live in the present and savour each precious moment. The sun shone for us as the leaves turned like setting suns and fell to create a crunchy carpet.
William Butler Yeats and Seamus Heaney have written about swans in ways that suggest they understood how these magnificent creatures can linger in the heart and memory forever and ever.
And some time make the time to drive out west Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore, In September or October, when the wind And the light are working off each other So that the ocean on one side is wild With foam and glitter, and inland among stones The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit By the earthed lightening of flock of swans, Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white, Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads Tucked or cresting or busy underwater. Useless to think you’ll park or capture it More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there, A hurry through which known and strange things pass As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways And catch the heart off guard and blow it open
Thirty-five years may be a long time but an Autumn has never passed without the arrival of the swans back into my world in late September. I glimpsed them the other evening as I drove over the little bridge at Annestown here in Co. Waterford and yesterday I spent a few happy hours just watching them as I soaked up the hazy sunshine.
These lines from W.B. Yeats’ Wild Swans at Coole kept floating into my mind:
Unwearied still, lover by lover, They paddle in the cold Companionable streams or climb the air; Their hearts have not grown old; Passion or conquest, wander where they will, Attend upon them still.
Time is a healer in many ways but there is something about lost love that simply isn’t about ‘healing.’ Rather, it’s about remembering, celebrating and incorporating into the tapestry of living, learning and continuing to love.