I am one of the fortunate ones who has a caring, loving Valentine. He’s not into Valentine’s Day but that matters not as I am well used to it now and know that he has a heart of gold and cares more about me than I could ever fully know.
But, today my heart is breaking for all those people who, for whatever, reason are trying to scramble through this day in a world that feels empty and lonely because the love of their life is no longer with them.
I think especially of older couples who have been ripped apart by Covid19 after years of togetherness or young lovers whose imagined futures have been cut short by the death of one of them from Covid or some other illness or tragedy.
Days like this can be incredibly difficult when there is an assumption that love is in the air for all when, in fact, it feels like it has been replaced by an abyss of sadness.
I suspect most of us have known Valentine’s Days like that but they can be all too easy to cast into the background. However, we need to be especially cognisant that love can bring agony as well as ecstasy and much in between and none of us knows how the dice will fall.
I just hope that those who are feeling lonely today have a treasure trove of memories to draw upon that can sustain them and that they can see even a tiny glimmer of light for the the future.
Let none of us be complacent and let all of us be empathetic.
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.
This is one of my rollercoaster weeks as it includes son, Harry’s birthday (22), and my mother’s anniversary (1921-2009).
It has also been a week which has seen the horrific bombing in Manchester and a number of terrible tragedies here in Ireland.
I suppose it’s not surprising that I have found myself reflecting on all sorts of issues around life, love, loss and grief. The following are among the many thoughts that have been flitting around in my heart and mind:
#1. The fragility of life is mesmerising. While we need to be very aware of this fragility in order to make the most of every moment, it is something that dances around like sunlight playing with trees in a soft breeze.
#2. To love and be loved brings with it the risk/likelihood of having to deal with loss.
#3. Losses are not objectively categorisable in terms of their level of awfulness. To go down that road is to over-simplify what is a highly complex matter ~ and we need to be conscious that a whole host of factors come into play in terms of how losses are processed by different individuals and that one person may process losses in his/her life very differently.
#4. While there may be competitiveness in the cut and thrust of life ~ competitiveness has no place when it comes to grief and grieving.
#5. We need to recognise that there is no single best way to grieve or to deal with people who are grieving.
#6. We also need to be acutely aware that what may appear like the same loss in say a family context may well be dealt with very differently by the various members of the family. Remember that each family member is unique and has unique relationships with other members of the family.
#7. The extent to which we love someone does not necessarily equate with the grief we feel when they die. We may have a sense that a person has passed on a legacy of strength and that is something that can sustain us through what can appear on the outside to be an overwhelming loss.
#8. It is impossible to know how anyone will react to the death of a loved one, no matter how expected or unexpected that death is.
#9. Memories of loved ones who have died live on in a host of different ways and cling to all the senses, especially touch, smell, sight, sound and taste.
#10. Memories can be extremely vivid and key moments may remain etched in one’s being for years and years and years. Those key moments may well involve exchanges with people around the time of the death of a loved one as our senses may be very heightened as we seek to cope with what may seem like the overwhelming.
#11. Life is for living; life owes us nothing; we have no ‘entitlement’ to live to a great age.
#12. Love should be nurtured, treasured, celebrated and scattered to the winds as well as held close to the heart.
#13. The sharedness of life and love, lived to the full and with as few regrets as possible, are anchors that can sustain us through unthinkable losses and terrible tossings of grief.
Social media, and especially blogging, allows for the development of close bonds and friendships with people we may never have the pleasure of meeting in person. Such people can play a hugely important role in our lives and relationships are built around shared interests.
In some cases, people that we grow close to online can be enormously supportive in our lives. The very fact that they live thousands of miles away but are still there with words of kindness, fun, advice and friendship makes them all the more special. They don’t care how much money we have or don’t have; what we look like; how we’re dressed ….. they see straight into our minds and hearts through our words and photographs and they care about us, just as we care about them.
There’s no easy way to learn that any friend has died. The passing of online friends can sometimes happen without us ever hearing about it. They just go silent. In other cases, we learn the sad news via other online friends or acquaintances and there is a horrible sense of shock and helplessness. There’s nowhere to go with a plate of sandwiches or an address to which to send a sympathy card ~ there’s just a vacuum. That vacuum is when you are in the non-virtual’ world and occurs because one’s nearest and dearest are unlikely to have had any connection or possibly knowledge of the online friend who has died.
But, there can be great communities of support in some cases when a much loved online friend dies. This has been the case in recent days with the sad passing of Paul Curran, who was such a good blogging friend to some many of us here on WordPress.
I can’t remember when Paul first came into my life ~ I guess it was three or four years ago. He was one of those people who commented on my blog on a very regular basis and I loved to read the Sunday guest posts which he wrote on Willow’s and then Mark’s blogs.
Paul was a Canadian man with a huge heart. He had lived a life of adventure and ups and downs and was a true fighter when it came to the illnesses with which he had to grapple. Most of all he was a man who had a love of life ~ down to the simplest of things.
He was man enough to be able to laugh at himself and shed tears for those he felt were less fortunate than himself. He spread hope wherever he went in blogland with his wise and well-chosen words.
So, how do you cope when someone as significant as this dies? I wish Paul was around to give an answer to this question!
My sense is that, like any other death, you’ve got to give time a chance to let the reality of the situation sink in and also do what one can to remember the person as they have suggested they would like to be remembered.
What Paul’s comments always suggested to me was that he longed to be at the ocean ~ and he was soon to be there if he had just lived a little longer.
He would also want openness ~ yes, Paul, I have shed tears knowing that you are gone from us and I’ve given Puppy Stan, whom you loved, a special cuddle. I’ve also read back over some of your comments and smiled, pondered, wondered, smiled again.
One thing I DO know is that just because you were an online friend doesn’t make you any less a friend than a ‘real’ one. I know I will think of you when I’m by the sea or old places that you always thought were awesome. I’ll give a little wave to truck drivers as they pass me by and think of all your adventures.
You can be damn sure, I won’t ever forget you and I know that there are many, many others all around the world whose lives you touched who feel just like I do tonight.
Rest Peacefully, Paul, and know that you have made more of a difference than you could ever, ever know.
Tramore is in deep mourning today as the community tries to come to terms with a horrific car crash out along the Cliff Road last night.
A sixteen year old school girl lost her life and two other teenagers are seriously injured.
Our hearts go out to the family and friends of the girl who died and our thoughts are with the injured boy and girl and the driver who, though, not badly injured will clearly be scarred for life.
Every parent lives in dread of these awful accidents which can bring such drastic changes in a heartbeat.
The community is certainly drawing together to try and support those who have been beareved and injured. I guess we all know that this could just as easily be one of our own children and, in a small place like this, where people know each other, there is a sense that we have lost a child who was part of Tramore and its environs.
A sad, sad time here which will live on in the collective memory for a long, long time.
Rest in Peace, Beautiful Young Woman and know that you are held in the most loving arms imaginable.
A met a stranger recently who on hearing my name asked me if the Frank Tubridy who took photographs was any relation of mine.
I responded, with a smile, that he was my father and she said that she had always loved his work and then asked me if he was still alive. I told her that he had died in 2010 and she said that she was sorry to learn that.
I know that people can be feel very uneasy about mentioning someone who may have died, in case they upset the person they are asking or somehow remind them of the the fact that they have died ~ as if it would be something they might have forgotten about!
I am always chuffed when people talk to me about my late parents and say things like: I always think about your mother when I see the snowdrops blooming; or I have a photograph that your father took hanging in my sitting-room and every time I look at it, I remember how he loved a good joke.
It’s so good to know that people who mattered to us are remembered fondly, especially as the years pass since their deaths.
So, I give thanks to the stranger (now friendly acquaintance) who clearly knew that speaking kindly of those who have died can be extremely comforting. I guess she had learned this from personal experience.
I expect that there may be divided opinion on this topic but I also suspect that more people than we realise are warmed by hearing their loved ones being remembered with fondness.
The importance of being a good loser was something that was drilled into me as a child ~ whether it was playing tiddly winks, tennis or … and my parents were undoubtedly prouder of me if they saw me losing with a smile than winning with arrogance.
It’s something that has stayed with me all the years and I tend to look for it in sportsmen, women and children all the time. This weekend, I saw it in both Serena Williams and Andy Murray at the Australian Open Tennis Championships.
When you think about it, though, being a good loser, is a bit more complicated than might at first appear ~ especially when broadened out from sport.
The term loser is a very derogatory one, here in Ireland anyway, and tends to be applied to people who have fallen by the wayside. The stereotypical loser is a person who squandered opportunities and is now a homeless, friendless, drunken lout who shouts abuse at passers-by. Little attention is given to the stories behind the losing and generally speaking there are back stories that would break your heart.
At another level, there is the matter of viewing death as losing a battle against some illness or other. I squirm when I think of this because there was a time in the years after the death of my boyfriend from cancer in 1981 that I came to view people who had survived cancer as people I admired most and I remember thinking of the wonderful Bob Champion and Jonjo O’Neill from the world of horse-racing in this context. I can see clearly now that my boyfriend wasn’t a loser (good or bad) because he died.
It seems to me to be time that we moved away from talking about disease in war terms. Interestingly, we don’t hear about people fighting Alzheimer’s Disease or losing the battle with it. I guess that’s because we don’t see this as something that anyone can overcome. That in itself puts such diseases into a category where those who have them can be written off as hopeless cases, when, in fact, they are very much unique human beings who deserve our love and every effort at maintaining connection by whatever means ~ touch, music …..
I’m not sure what being a good loser in the world of work and business means. Imagine going to an interview and stating that being a good loser is among one’s positive attributes? Should we be measuring people by success all the time ~ even if that success comes at the expense of walking over others? I don’t think so.
And, finally, I have to examine my conscience about writing of ‘Losing’ Elderly Parents on this very blog. As I look at that whole issue now after the deaths of my parents in 2009 and 2010 respectively, I’m not sure that losing is the best word. It felt like that from the other side ~ when they were frail and dying ~ but now I realise how much they are still with me in my everyday life through memories and genes.
In grief terms, there are certainly perceptions of being a good loser and oftentimes, these are about ‘moving on’ and sparing other people from one’s sadness and upset. Such perceptions can put huge pressure on people who are grieving and are most unhelpful.
So, I suppose I would conclude that those urgings to be a good loser are really urgings to be a person who is humane.
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.
January 4th into January 5th has caught me every single year since my boyfriend died from cancer in the early hours of January 5th, 1981.
He was fourteen years older than me ~ a big enough gap ~ but still you don’t expect a fit, outdoorish, non-smoking, non-drinking thirty-seven year old to be swished away in the space of a couple of months.
I needed nature to be kind to me today as I went in search of a swan as I totally associate J with swans and always feel the need to be around swans during these days that left such deep imprints on my heart.
Garrarus was soft and soothing this morning:
I sensed that there would be at least one swan waiting for me out along the coast at Annestown. The River Anne is in flood and the reflections were enchantingly deep:
And a lone swan was gliding across the waters reaching down to touch the sadness that still lingers all these years on.
May 26th, 2009 was a lovely hot sunny day, just like today. The lilac tree in the garden was in full bloom and our huge rhododendron was a blaze of crimson, just like it is today. It was a Tuesday too.
In spite of the loveliness, it was the stuff that nightmares are made of. Mother in hospital for tests; Dad having a heart attack in the early hours of the morning and begging, begging, begging for something to ease his suffering.
Mad dash to the hospital with Dad; Mother then told that he was dying and having a stroke within the hour from which she never recovered consciousness and died 5 days later. Dad didn’t die ~ and went on to live for a further 16 months.
Six years on, it still feels incredibly raw and I suspect that it probably always will.
However, I’m getting better as the years pass at not trying to fight this day and know that there will always be reminders like lilac, the vanilla scent of Clematis Montana;the first rounds of the ice-cream van, lengthening days; deck chairs …..
Mother and Father were extremely close and it came as no surprise to me that she died from the shock of hearing that he was dying. It would have been so fitting for the two of them to go together.
More than anything, now, May 26th whispers words like Hope and Love at me. It also makes me remember that wonderful smile that father gave me when he came around and his words: I’m so glad to see you, Child.
Grown-up children never lose their childishness and parents are always parents.