By Yvonne Callery
Valediction from Paradise Pier
“But I cannot undo the past
to which myself is wed,
the woven figure cannot undo the thread.”
From Valediction, by Louis Mc Niece.
This part of my story begins with an ending.
Before the ending was to be the beginning, a new county, new home, new slate upon which to write our shared story.
But the ending came suddenly, unexpectedly and catastrophically in the form of a death, a death which felt like the amputation of a vital part of myself.
Bruckless was to become our lair, Bruckless from Old English leger meaning bed, couch, place of lying down.
We chose a place where we could live well, walk, read, have friends and family visit. We were a little intoxicated by the name of the pier a short stroll from the house, Paradise Pier, the image it conjured in our minds of a place of promise and peace.
The incomprehensible absence is there day and night, the act of living is different all through. To borrow from C.S. Lewis who wrote so poignantly about grief, Micky’s absence is like the sky spread over everything. I am surrounded by the artefacts of my life, but a restlessness has inhabited me, and I gain little comfort from having his beautiful paintings and my once treasured books near me.
I am consumed with an insatiable hunger for first hand experiences like my own. I search for and read through the literature of grief canon, but this hunger cannot be satisfied.
I feel more connected vicariously to writers, poets and songwriters who can eloquently speak the language of grief.
Nothing but complete immersion in the language will assuage my despair.
Immediately after the funeral the restlessness was at its most intense, exhausted but my body charged with adrenaline, I could not sleep for fear of nightmares, my waking moments I tried to revisit places where we had been happy, a fruitless quest to feel his presence, but I was left bereft realising that the absence was no less emphatic than anywhere else.
My impulsivity took me to a Buddhist centre for a few days, for peace and silence, maybe even the path to enlightenment.
But it was too soon, seven weeks after the day my life had changed irrevocably, in an instant.
Could I still my monkey mind here?
Buddhism teaches that all life is interconnected, and compassion is natural and normal. I wanted to explore the concept of compassion and self compassion. In the classical teachings of the Buddhist tradition compassion is defined as the heart that trembles in the face of suffering, acknowledging that all pain cannot be fixed or solved, but all suffering is made more approachable in a landscape of compassion.
But my monkey mind was put into overdrive with all the silence and meditation, and solitude, and the coldness that gripped me since the funeral, I climbed fully clothed into my sleeping bag, the sole occupant of the women’s cottage, armed with Buddhism sacred text.
Good intentions have their place, but in this instance the sacred text was cast aside in favour of Netflix on my phone, and yet another episode of a Scandi noir thriller. I had developed a dependency on nighttime subtitled police procedurals. I’m sure psychotherapists would have something to say about it.
Rabindranath Tagore wrote:
“What will you give?
What will you give
When death knocks at your door?
The fullness of my life-
The sweet wine of autumn days and summer nights,
My little hoard gleaned through the years, and hours rich with living.
These will be my gift when death knocks at my door.”
A letter four months after the day of days brought a truth bomb. My state of suspended animation was dealt a blow. A reality check, so to speak.
The letter had been painstakingly laboured over for weeks, its author stressed.
It began “Dear Loved One”…
even reading it today for the purpose of accuracy in relating this, I am reduced to tears for the person who addressed me in this deeply personal loving way.
An anonymous person had written to express profound gratitude for being a recipient of my beloved’s organs. The priceless gift of an organ which could potentially transform the recipients life, is how the letter described it.
Truth bomb! Micky was gone, he wasn’t coming back, his passing had given hope of continued life to another.
I cry for the one who lost his life too early, but gave generously.
I cry for myself who lost out on all I had imagined for us around Paradise pier.
A global pandemic six months later barely impacted on me at the outset. I was occupying a liminial space anyway, my jangled nerves and insomnia almost welcomed the enforced reduction in my world. I became accustomed to the lack of expectation, the days had their own rhythm, I had to invent ways to keep my benumbed brain from straying to the dark side.
The quotidian details of existence become central to survival when the anchor of relationships, work and routine are stripped away.
I walked and I wrote letters daily, the volume of output far exceeded the input but the activity of writing was its own reward. It was the thread that kept me bound to the past and present.
I keep the urn close, there never seemed to be an opportune time to scatter the ashes, and for many months I thought this place had no meaning or connection to Micky, for he died the night before the removal vans were to transport us to our new home in Bruckless.
So he didn’t get to share the walks, sea swims and seasonal changes with me. Yet through all this time he has been ever present. His nature, his belief in Epicurean philosophy of simple pleasure, friendship and a secluded life has fortified me. The ashes will be scattered here, for here I found sustenance in memory, in nature and in the peace that suspended time can bring.
“On the long hills of clifden
the green hills of clifden
I will lay down my grief.
to accept death it must be
that death changes into light
that light changes into sea
and sea into memory.”
Derek Mahon excerpt from The Clifden Road.
This journey, this story is unfinished, it began at the beginning of an ending, and it is ending at the beginning again with a valediction – a farewell….
“How often now I just sit,
with my elbows on the desk
and my hands holding my face bold and upright,
and stare into the past.”
Afternote by Mary Oliver.