Posted by: Louise | October 1, 2015

how long is it now?

How long is it now since Laura died?

Six years I replied. We were sitting around a table, paper, scissors, glue and pieces of card strewn between us. There was an air of industry as we traced and cut and traced and cut.

There is something very relaxing about the repetition.

I could have been sitting around a table with friends. There was an easiness in the air – hugs and kisses before we started work. But this place had no kitchen familiarity. There was a quietness outside the door I knew too well, a busy stillness.

I got a phone call a few weeks ago. We have all these messages, memorial cards written by families to their babies. We want to do something with them to keep them safe before the memorial service this year. She had thought of me. Had I any ideas? We explored ideas. Thought about asking other parents to help. And then I got a message to say the staff in the maternity hospital who care for the bereaved families would work with me.

And so a few weeks later I find myself driving up to the hospital, negotiating careful circuits of the overflowing car parks, walking past the swollen bellied women towards the lift and pressing 4. Nobody knows what that means until you wish you didn’t. 4 south is the silent ward. There are no baby cries here in the maternity hospital. It is all love and care and… silence.

How long is it now since Laura died?

Six years. It sounds too long as the words find their way into the room. Ages ago. A healing of time? Is that a measure?

Hours of  tracing, cutting, drawing and gluing later I am leaving, with a promise to return next week. The task must be completed. I wonder about the passing time that brought me back to here.

I hated time when Laura died. I hated how it moved. Each day was a day further away from Laura living. It was steady, unrelenting in its forward pace. Somehow, despite my best, heart-broken efforts, I moved with time. I was carried forward not just away from Laura living, but away from the blinding pain of Laura dying. Carried forward to this place – back to this hospital, back to this ward.

Somewhere in this meander of thoughts It occurs there is a different type of time at work these days. There is no ‘further away’ from Laura living anymore. There is just a fact. Laura was here and now she isn’t. No stretch of time will change that. There is just the time before and now.

How long is it now since Laura died?

It is now.

All my nows.

Posted by: Louise | January 28, 2015

the things we cannot say

Thank you for coming with me, he said as he took my hand.
Thank you for letting me come. He’s my friend too, you know.

K’s face tightened, contorted, as the tears welled up.

This is a blog about living, living with loss, but living all the same… but people just keep dying on us.

WOULD PEOPLE PLEASE STOP DYING?! My friend shouted to the darkness as we pounded the roads last night. I had needed to ground myself, to gather myself together after the emotional head-wrecker that is being published in Ireland’s main newspaper – talking about my dead daughter. Elation and devastation had collided inside me around 8.30am and left me useless for the day. There was only a brief window in the evening (minutes) before I had to pack up bags for each of the kids, drop them off at various houses around the city and then return to pack our own bags. We were booked on a morning flight to London, journeying to say good bye to K’s best friend who may lose his fight with cancer any day now.

I don’t know what to wish you for a trip like this, were the words that met me at each house I called to last night. Ever at a loss for words around matters of death and dying. Is it our curse?

I don’t want my last conversation with you to be an imaginary conversation, Leo cried down the phone last week. My life is full of imaginary conversations these days – the conversations I want to have. I had turned to K and told him I was coming on this trip with him.

photo-41

So, what of yesterday? My brother was published in another paper over Christmas, talking very poignantly of his experiences on PhiPhi island when the tsunami hit 10 years ago. I told him I was following his lead – Have a traumatic experience. Write about it. Get published in a national paper.

Self deprecating humour we can do.

I met my brother the other day. It’s strange he said. It’s written, published, all done now, but I’m still waiting for the phone to ring…

And so I approached yesterday with cautious anticipation. I want to write. I need to find the time to write. A writer read my writing and thought it was really good. Would that be for just one day or would it be the beginning of something bigger? They requested a biog to go with it. I did battle with the words. Even in my writing there has been a silence. There have been words I cannot say, words I cannot form around our loss. Words that might join all the pieces of me up.

But there is a silence around loss that strangles us. We, all of us – the bereaved, the friends of the bereaved, the colleagues, the wider community – are we all trying to mind each other with this silence?

Do not speak of it, the loss, it is too hard to name.

It is a whisper in my work, this loss, not avoided, but whispered. Some students from the college where I work were in the Irish Times yesterday too and a link was posted to their article on the college FB page. Not so with my article. I wrote about art and loss as a mother, but also as an artist, as an educator. The article came from all of who I am. I have become quite good (no self deprecation here) at being a bereaved mother and wife with a living family. Laura is a part of us and how we are. Allowing the bereaved artist and educator voice was yesterday’s challenge. But there is still silence there. Is loss too personal for work? Am I being minded…still

…or are people minding themselves?

The biog wasn’t used in the end, but this is what i said:

Louise is a wife and mother of four children (one who couldn’t stay). She works as an artist and educator within CIT Crawford College of Art & Design in the area of Arts and Health, training artists who are looking for group work skills, social workers looking for art skills and a whole spectrum of individuals in between. More recently, when she isn’t busy mothering or working, she writes.

And she will continue to write, trying to find words for the things we cannot say, exploring a balance between unbearable loss and living life to the fullest, but, for now, sleep. And tomorrow…

some very real conversations with a wonderful old friend.

I am in the paper today – the Irish Times no less.

Oh how I want to be published. Oh how I want to be racing from work right now to collect my 5 year old daughter from school.

Instead I am sitting at my desk at work, staring into space, feeling raw and unfocused, as the nation reads a string of words I have untangled from my heart.

I mentioned the Amulet project before. It is touring Ireland before it comes to rest in a museum (or two) in England. It is a strange thing – an art exhibition exploring infant loss – strange, poignant, uncomfortable, important… and the Irish Times have published me writing about it today.

Art from bereavement: ‘There are no words when your baby dies’.

Posted by: Louise | October 25, 2014

lifed in the back of the head

I think a lot.

I could stop there. Enough said really. Growing up I was told I think too much. It is who I am though.

I think a lot.

I had a great thought this morning. It made so much sense – about life and the ‘more than’ and presence and the presence of absence. I thought I was the right side of half sleep, as I lay there in bed with my thoughts. I thought the clarity of that thought was so crystalline that it would stay fully formed as I raised my head of the pillow… but it preferred to stay in bed when I got up. Instead of explaining the meaning of life to K over coffee, I found myself struggling to describe the nature of thoughts and how much bigger than mere words they seem to be sometimes. Lucky him.

We drove west out of the city yesterday evening. It was dark and we couldn’t see anything apart from what our headlights illuminated, but we know this road. Have we passed the mountains yet? asked the Boy Racer from the back. The silent Astro Boy’s nose was stuck in a book. Watch out for that turn we always miss. Everytime. Everytime. Even though we know this road. It has become part of our journey. Miss the turn. Take the next little lane way that will bring you back onto the correct road. Drive on through the mountain pass. Now the sea is on our left and we wind our way out the peninsula along the wild Atlantic Way – a determining presence, but invisible in this dark.

Faces pressed against their windows, the boys spotted constellations and shooting stars. The Giraffe Princess (our Lunar child) has her own life these days. She is busy elsewhere, juggling several engagements, and the absence of her extensive social commentary and teenage indignation is noticeable from the back of the car. We arrived at last, beneath the Milky Way, drank hot chocolate and wine, before falling asleep (all of us) on the sofa as Lewis navigated the details of another Oxford murder on the telly.

We are crawling out of recession here in Ireland – apparently. We are crawling, mostly, our resources spent after six years of recession – working to the same expected standards of the pre-recession days with less resources, less pay and an ever dwindling reserve of rainy day money in the bank. Rainy day money has brought us here to this place with love, away from it all, out West. We are here to catch our breath, to gulp down the fresh sea air, to pause, before putting our heads down again and racing straight through to Christmas.

And so I have the luxury of thinking space, relaxing with K over breakfast space, exploring ideas space.

I want to take stock. After a lifetime tangled in self-doubt, I find I am starting to believe in myself. No road to Damascus epiphany, but the path has cleared sufficiently for me to look around rather than down at the gnarled roots and weeds. So I want to look around, take stock: What experience, skills do I have? Who am I in this place? How can I bring additional money into our family? …Because we are certainly not feeling any of the benefits of this ending recession yet.

A friend texted the other day – an ambiguous ‘ask her about something in work the next day’ text. It was a great idea. We could do it together. It could lead onto more. We had done it in the past – co-facilitated training workshops. We could offer team-building days. We have all the skills between us.

All we need is a publicity brochure, she said. We’ll have to sit down together and work it out.

I am sure I have some of that done on my computer from years back, I said.

She was surprised, had forgotten.

As I chatted with K this morning, recounting this story to him, I suggested that maybe more of these ideas for which I was searching were already there, waiting to be rediscovered. For a while there I just got lifed.

Yep, he replied, Lifed in the back of the head.

Posted by: Louise | May 11, 2014

explaining me

I really love the main character in this book, Mum. He explains me.

Astro Boy had been reading ‘Boom’ by Mark Haddon and had loved it so K gave him “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time” to read when he finished. 

He doesn’t explain me. He explains my mind with all the questions I have and the fact I love places that other people don’t like, like when he’s in the 5m x 5m x 5m prison cell and he finds it calm…

The Giraffe Princess snorted. He has Aspergers, Astro Boy. You do not have special needs.

Astro Boy does not have Aspergers. She is right about that. But he is on the spectrum of interesting. In the world of diagnoses, he has sensory integration challenges, but how do they explain that other world he has always lived in? His questions? His grasp of deep philosophical issues?

And for all his incredibly normal running, jumping, mine craft obsessed boy-ness, how interesting that he notices his racing mind as different.

He explains me.

How freeing to have yourself explained at the age of eleven. I am still waiting for that revelatory book 30-odd years later.

Image

 

***

It is Laura’s birthday today.

K has been away all weekend visiting his unwell friend – a very difficult weekend for him. He is due back late tonight. The kids and I have pottered, carried on with life, because we can, because we must. Friends called for coffee this morning. The kids dispersed. Another friend called this afternoon for a walk.

We talked of grief, of coping, of being pulled apart, pulled down, of carrying on. Is there a magic grieving formula? For daughter loss? Or friend loss? A formula to help you carry on? These days I am carrying on. She is being pulled down.

Two things, I said, have helped me.

Friends. Allowing friends support me.

And dance. I danced at first for fun, but something shifted as I began to move. The dark and heavy weight of grief found movement in my body, untangled, travelled through me and rests now (a little) less heavily in my heart.

My friend left and I raced, late, to collect Giraffe Princess. Somewhere in the leaving and arriving that weight tangled up and crashed down through me and I sat …with GP in the car.

I need a moment. I am feeling sad.

My body felt like lead. My mind was at sea.

GP listened, gave me space. She is growing up. Growing understanding. Growing into quiet sensitivity.

Do you like my outfit? she said. I glanced across at her butterfly earrings, her butterfly tights under the teenage uniform of hoodie and denim shorts.

I have a butterfly theme for today.

xx

Posted by: Louise | May 5, 2014

hanging around on the edge

Image

Is there a safe path down the middle of life?

Paved and fenced. Protected from the elements. A covered walk way. Artificially lit, maybe. Not too much glare from the sun and plenty of light when everything seems dark. Would I take that path… if I had a choice?

If I did take it, where would it end? Could it avoid the inevitable? I think not. I would still die. We would all still die in the end.

I do not mean to sound morbid, real maybe, but not morbid.

It is, really, true.

We will all die in the end. And in that space between conception and death we live… How fully we live, that part we can choose.

There is a new family in town. We like them. Their boys are the same age as our boys and share many quirky characteristics between them. We speak the same language as the parents, a language that acknowledges the journey of life, the journey of loss, the wonder and challenges of parenting out-of-sync boys, a good recipe and the importance of a glass of wine on a Friday night. The Boy Racer’s new friend said to his Mum the other day, I wish we had an older sister and a younger sister because then we would be the exact same and we would all have someone to play with. His Mum speculated with me as to whether her (non-existent) younger daughter would have to die too. We agreed probably. But I thought how lovely it is that even our new friends get to play with Laura. That is a gift. An odd, but beautiful gift the elements have sent our way.

K’s friend, our friend, had a cough. He went to the doctor. A cold initially. Later, hayfever and an inhaler. But it isn’t. That diagnosis has mutated over the past few days into the unspeakable – inoperable, incurable. Last summer he visited and listened as we told him of our friend, Louise, in hospital then with breathing difficulties. We drank wine and chatted soberly.  His breathing was perfect then.

I have lost my coat this week. I am holding it together, but my edges are frayed. This part of the path is unstable and things are falling off. Not just my coat. Other things too. I have lost my temper, the iPad… and now my reading glasses. Everything is shifting in this place.

We went West over Easter to the land of long meandering coastline and big sky and great, life-giving gulps of fresh air. Ireland was battered by storms over Christmas, one on top of the other, a steady pounding of howling winds, thundering rain and heaving, surging seas – brief gasps of sunshine and then they would start all over again – ending finally in early February with a hurricane. We wandered the coastline, Laura’s walk. In parts the road had disappeared into the sea. Further along the sea had lifted entire beaches full of boulders and sent them back into the fields beyond. Some farmers had begun the process of claiming back their land, re-establishing their boundaries. We carried a steadying weight of heart-shaped stones between us, knowing that Laura’s spot might need replenishing if entire beaches had been washed away.

Everything is shifting in this place.

People are coming. And leaving. Others, whom we thought we would grow old with, laughing over shared adventures as we journeyed, are being told their journey will be different, much shorter, from here on.

This path doesn’t feel so very steady from where we stand.

No wisdom – only noticing.

The boys have taken up climbing. I am giving it a go. Giraffe Princess wants to start. K was resistant, but he will learn to belay us as we climb. You cannot climb without support, without the absolute certainty that you are not alone and someone is there to hold you when you slip.

Posted by: Louise | March 30, 2014

running… to this place

I ran for thirty minutes today… and some.

Wrong place. Wrong time. Right place. Right time. Who knows? There was a glass or two of wine involved and before I know it I am one part of a relay team training for a marathon. Couch potatoes. All of us, but Louise did it, with cancer, two years ago so we we can do this for her.

And so, since mid January I have ventured out – at night mostly – and run. The first night we ran one minute, walked one minute, ran one minute, walked one minute… K wore a pair of my track pants because he didn’t own any of his own. The ‘couch’ part of ‘couch to 5k’ was no joke. Bad knees and compromised lungs we carried on and today we thought we would do our last run together as we completed the programme.

It went a bit pear shaped at the end. There was heavy rain involved and one of us being ahead of the other and hiding from the torrents in a doorway and only one phone and one house key between us. The end result was me taking off at pace down the quays to meet the Giraffe Princess from her dance class… late, still unsure where K had got too, but I was running. I could run. I could run for 30 minutes and then take off at pace and not be out of breath… and it feels good.

Tonight we all met, our relay team, to register for the marathon. There was wine involved and new friends… and we ate and drank and laughed and cried and registered.

***

Last September I went out to the hospital to be with Louise. I was there early so I popped over to the shopping centre across the road and bought myself a keyring to replace my broken keyring. Shortly after I got to the hospital the ambulance arrived to transport Louise to the hospice and she and I, and life as we knew it, were catapulted to a different existence and somewhere in the catapulting my new keyring got lost, but, in the scheme of things, that didn’t matter.

Today I found myself back at that shopping centre for the first time since September. I bought myself a keyring.

***

My brother and his wife had a baby a few months ago. There had been a pause in baby making in our family. My nephew arrived, a month early, on Laura’s due date back in 2009, but it has been quiet since then. Now there is a new child, and she is a girl in a family where girls are rare. Tomorrow is her christening. I am to be her godmother. Today my sister-in-law asked if I would like to call early to the house to help them dress her. I cried – a caught off guard, throat constricted cry – my heart unbound by my level headed mind.

It will be an honour. Thank you.

***

And the Boy Racer races on, his vehicles a steady rolling comfort in his life. Astro Boy climbs these days. One day his head and his body will meet in the clouds. The Giraffe Princess, our Lunar child, is a teenager now. her first disco was last night. I am an overnight expert on the dress code and social etiquette of teen discos. K did the collecting. He said she looked like a nun compared to the other girls. To anyone who knows the phenomenon of girls lack of attire at teen discos in Ireland these days (and maybe further afield. My crash course only covered Ireland) ‘nun’ is exactly what you want for your daughter. Long may it continue.

***

And there is much more, but for now, that is enough…

Happy Mother’s Day to all Mum’s everywhere of those who grow, and those who never will. May you know love and peace and light and hope and life… xx

Posted by: Louise | September 28, 2013

this much I know…

For all of those she left behind.

*

When someone close to you dies, it hurts. It really hurts. There is a chasm (a void) in the middle of your life where that person is supposed to be. Everything frames their absence: the sunshine, the rain, a song, a laugh, an achievement in school, a book lying around the house, a smell…

The world feels like a different place. It all looks the same. People move about it as they always used to, but it is different. Someone is missing. People don’t collide with the absence left by that person, they walk right through it. Others cannot see it or feel it like you do and this is disorientating and frustrating and exhausting. How can they not know? How can they not see so much of her is still here?

Emotions feel raw, sensitive, bruised. You experience everything with intensity: anger, sadness, joy, loneliness, loss… Life hurts. You feel battered by it. Tired.

Others move on.
Time moves on.
Life moves on.

Dreams become a refuge and a torment. In your dreams she can live on, but at some point in the dream, or in the wakening, realisation hits all over again. She is gone. She is really gone. And another day awaits without her.

There are no words. There is no magic formula to take the pain away. There is no checklist to fast forward through. Loss can only be lived. It must be lived. There is no other way.

Absence isn’t black and white. It is not here then gone. There is so much presence in absence. In time this can bring comfort.

As the days go by and the pain shifts from a searing pain to a dull and steady ache, you will find your loved one is still here, just not sadly as you would want her to be. You will find her in the comforting hum of talk radio in the kitchen, in the smell of baking, in the delight of a beautifully written piece of prose or a well-constructed story. She is waiting to be found in the way the light changes the colour of the living room walls as it moves through the day and the heavy grey of rain laden clouds out the kitchen window.

You will find her in the value you put on good friends, in your determination to rise to a challenge and in the moments you realize you have driven everyone mad in your persistence to get something ‘just right’.

What will survive of us is love*

But, in loss, love takes on a colour and a texture, an intensity and a humdrum comfort we may never have noticed before.

For now, grieve, rage, cry in the shower, in the car, in the pantry with the flour. Curse the world. Talk. Sit in silence. Howl at the moon. There is someone missing and so sadly missed.

But know that void she has left behind is not empty. There is so much to be found when we explore that void.

* The Arundel Tomb – Philip Larkin

Posted by: Louise | September 21, 2013

breathless

My friend Louise died this week.

I’m going to miss her.

For many years she has lived with cancer. Living stoically. Hiding from us all when a brave face was too hard. Re-emerging when she had the strength to smile and protect us from the reality of her private world.

Towards the end of July, four of us had coffee sitting in her kitchen. The kids ran past us as we sat at the table, in and out of the garden, full of the excitement of sunshine and holidays and weeks of catching up to do. We chatted. The past few weeks had been difficult for two of my friends. There were tears amongst the words. I knew this place. The place where bad things happen – one after the other – the place where life feels really really hard. This time I was the listener.

My friend Louise was breathless.

That afternoon as we chatted words slipped out – disease, lungs, struggle, plans, can’t…

She asked for help.

Later as dragged ourselves from the table , always later than we had intended to leave, a trail of words falling behind us – with the sun still shining and our children tired and hungry – there were whispered conversations as the words echoed in our ears and their reality sank in.

That was the last afternoon we all sat together in her kitchen.

A few weeks ago, Louise appointed us her organising committee. She didn’t consult with us. We didn’t mind.

Life became a whirlwind. She had so much to talk about, so much to organise, so much that needed to get done. She was running out of time. She might not see Christmas. We were the very best organising committee we could be – three of us together forming the ultimate woman team – all of us together racing breathless through the valley of the shadow of death.

On Saturday Louise stopped organising. 

Someone turned the volume down. We spoke in whispers, all conversation framed by the less than steady breathing in the room.

On Monday Louise died.

Yesterday we bid her farewell.

There is one fantastic organising committee feeling at a bit of a loose end today…

 

Image

Posted by: Louise | July 1, 2013

snapshots

Occasionally I allow myself to imagine. It feels a bit like sneaking a chocolate on an enforced diet. Delicious and sweet and comforting…

I imagine the Giraffe Princess as she wanders along in front of me, long hair blowing in the breeze, with a four year old girl’s hand in hers. They are collecting wildflowers, allies in their floral pursuits, GP pointing out the different flowers and Laura inexpertly picking them with ‘too short’ stems and forming them in to a crumpled bunch.

In the real world I stumble on a slippy stone, plunging my foot inches deep in mud to balance myself. The Boy Racer takes my hand and Astro Boy deftly returns along the stepping-stones to guide Giraffe Princess and the rest of us to solid ground.

I imagine a four year old skipping along the road, chasing after the boys and whooping with delight when they let her catch them. The Boy Racer carries himself gracefully, the responsibility of big brotherhood resting easy in his body.

BR and I drop back from the others to search for Cowrie shells in the tiny little cove they secret themselves in. Let’s find two each and if I find four I’ll give you two of mine. We search and search, he distracted intermittently by the pull of splashing stones into the ocean. Maybe there is less of Laura in our lives now and that is why we cannot find the Cowries, I ponder. I retreat back up the tiny inlet, giving up, and spot one. The sea has washed them higher up than usual, but they are still here. The Boy Racer wanders up to me, admitting defeat, and I sneak two into his hand.

There is a steady drum to the wind as it blows past us on the coast. Waves crash and in the quiet moments we can hear the sea birds call – black backed gulls and lap wings. Swallows flying low. The Boy Racer sings to himself as he walks – Who do you think you are? Who do you think you are? We catch up to the others, a comforting weight of heart stones in my pocket.

We pass another rocky cove and Astro Boy, Giraffe Princess and I walk eyes fixed on the stones in search of hearts for Laura’s spot. You know it’s not the shape of them; it’s how you look at them that makes them a heart, the Boy philosopher remarks. Giraffe Princess and I wander on, she carrying a heavy weight of rock. Astro Boy staying back to carry out important earth works with his Dad and brother.

I imagine a four year old, short legs growing weary, and her Dad lifting her high over his head to rest her on his shoulders, her hands catching his and forming awkward wings.

Our friends are looking between coast and field wondering which way to go. This coast looks different every time…

photo-20

We arrive at Laura’s spot and stop. Giraffe Princess lays her stone among the heart stones we brought last year and in May. I think people take them, she speculates. It doesn’t matter, I think. If people take a heart stone, from a place of heart stones it is probably because it is important for them.

We picnic on water melon, apple slices, carrot sticks and chocolate biscuits staring out at the glinting sea, watching the rain fall across the bay, talking about the passing of time and remembering our visit four years ago when the sun split the stones, our lives were torn asunder and our hearts were burned and raw.

The boys arrive with K, all talk of earth works and dams. We gather ourselves back up to travel on. Astro Boy lingers and empties his pockets of heart stones, turning each one carefully in his hand to work out which is the best way to look at it, before resting it down amongst the others.

photo-29

Very occasionally I allow myself to imagine…

…rarely really.

photo-32

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 38 other followers