One Year On

This day last year we got the news that my younger brother, Finbar, had died suddenly.

I was at work when I got the phone call, and rushed home to see what had happened. Arriving at his home to find two guards and my sister in law waiting. Other family and friends arriving, in shock and in tears.

Finbar had died peacefully, though it took until June before the coroner’s report came back that it was a heart attack that killed him. At the time there was some comfort in that. There still is.

The rest of the day was a blur. Phoning the rest of our family to let them know. Gathering at the table to figure out what to do next. Food and lots of tea appearing by the magic and grace of wonderful neighbours and friends.

The next three days were more of a blur. Preparing for the dreaded funeral, whilst at the same time trying to make sure it would be a fitting tribute to the life and character of Finbar. Getting friends, family and neighbours involved in the mass. The ceremony itself went well, with a huge turnout, and lots of people gathered to celebrate the life of Fin.

But time passed, and we moved into the period after the funeral.

Following the Month Mind mass things changed. Now that the frenzy, the busyness of the funeral was over, we had to adjust to life without Fin.

I sometimes think that things were a bit easier in a different era. A time when there was an official period of mourning, and a person could visibly display or wear the uniform of grief.

There are times over the past year I could have done with that…
“How are you?”

The thing is, we often expect people to be fine. To be OK.
A friend of mine had a great phrase based on one of the self-help books from the 80’s. “I’m OK, You’re OK.”
His take on it? “I’m not OK, You’re not OK, but THAT’s OK.”
That’s an important message. It’s OK to not be OK sometimes.

There are definitely plenty of times over the past year that I’ve not been OK.
Times when the loss of Finbar has struck more than others.
Times when I’ve cried for no discernible reason.

But today.
The simple fact that it’s one year today that we found out.
Today is a day that will stand out for years to come.
Maybe today, and the anniversary next Sunday, will be the start of a greater healing.

As a post script, if you are ever in a position where you would like to help another, take into account a great bit of advice I received once.
We normally say something along the lines of “If there’s anything I can do, let me know”
In reality, a bereaved person often feels powerless, and is unable to ask for help, or unsure of what to ask.
A more powerful way to help is to offer something solid. “I’ll look after the kids for a day”, “I’ll cook dinner”, “Take the afternoon off, I’ll cover”
Something, anything.

Finbar on a fishing trip to Knockadoon.
I only realised later that this photo was taken on mam’s anniversary, 15th September.

Time heals

Time is a very strange thing.

It is now 19 years since my mother died.  Sometimes I have trouble remembering things that happened yesterday, or even this morning, yet I remember that morning in September 1995 with crystal clarity.

As I wrote before, my mam died of a brain tumor that was brutally, and, perhaps mercifully, quick.  But something that has been in my memory a lot recently is something that happened about a month into the illness.

After mam’s diagnosis our house was bedlam, as you might expect.  We were trying to deal with the physical needs of a person who was terminally ill.  At the same time, speaking for myself, I was denying the terminal part of that statement.  We sought cures everywhere.

We went to herbalists, we spend a wad of money on capsules containing shark cartilage, we called in every quack you could think of.  In short, we prayed for a miracle.

And then mam had a chance to go to Lourdes.

It was something that she had thought about for a long time before she got sick.  And such a pity that it was only in the midst of illness that she actually got to go.

Mam went to Lourdes with my dad and my sister.  Up to that point our house was a place of heightened emotions.  It was a place where we were trying to fight an illness. The word ‘fight’ brings with it certain overtones.  Words like ‘anger’, ‘aggression’ and ‘violence’ come to mind.  And yet it wasn’t that kind of fight.

Nevertheless, a certain atmosphere did pervade our house for that first month.

And them mam went to Lourdes.

Many of us associate Lourdes with healing.  People go there praying for miracles.  People go hoping for healing.  People go there hoping for a great many things.

Mam did not heal physically in Lourdes.  She travelled there in a wheelchair, she came home on a stretcher.

No physical cure then, but something did change.  And I didn’t spot it until much later.

After mam, dad and Monica came home, the atmosphere in our house was very different.  I have no memory of fighting the cancer at that point.  The focus now became one of making mam as comfortable as possible; of making our home a place of welcome for the very many visitors that we had.

Whatever people say about Lourdes, I believe that something happened there.  There was a cure, but not the one we hoped for.  The cure was within each of us.  We were given the strength, the grace, the courage to endure the next few months and years.

For that, I am grateful.