26 years ago today my Mam passed away. It was sudden and the event blighted my life for almost a decade. I wasn’t unexperienced in matters of loss, but that loss and the manner in which it struck, completely blindsided me. Looking back, I was completely unaware of all the ways my life changed. I couldn’t see beyond my grief and I didn’t pass through mourning until I dealt with my ghosts many years later.
Now I am a very different man. The chocking hand of grief no longer controls my ability to move through the world and there is a lightness about such freedom. That being said, today I am sad. It has been a long year for all of us and the natural sense of sadness that decends on such a memorial day, has been underlined by the challenge of these past months.
My daily me, the waking, walking, talking, happy me, has always hidden my natural melancholy state. When I watched death beckon to me 5 years ago, it was not the events of my life that passed before my eyes. All I felt was an enormous sadness for those I was leaving behind. It was overwhelming I have to say and It puts me in mind of my struggles with the loss of my mother, all those years ago.
I am but a little boy in her eyes. But today is a reminder that she is gone from me. Mam is somewhere beyond the life that I live, no longer there to chide me and point me to the right path. I miss her. I remember how my hand felt in her hand, I remember the smell of her skin cream, the colour of her hair, and the warmth of her love. When we lose someone, we fear that we will forget them. I remember thinking that I couldn’t remember her face, but it is all an illusion. The fear itself is what tricks our memory and love never truly fades.
Halloween has never been quite right for me since that night. Today, all the weight of her loss has for some reason, perhaps the ones I have already mentioned or maybe for some other undiscovered reason, caught hold of my soul again.
Souls are delicate things. The world has touched me in ways that have made me far from delicate, but the soft centre that rests within, leaves me vulnerable on some occasions. On days like this. So yes, I miss my Mam today. It sometimes feels like I have found the key to lock that sadness away, only to lose it again and my sorrow return. I will always miss her, that much I know. A forever boy in some ways, knowing that in being unprepared for her loss, perhaps never the man I want to be for her, and theirin lies the rub.
I know what she would say to me, and even writing those words has brought a tear to my eye. Tomorrow will be different. It has been a few years since her loss has hit me this way, but the memory of her is still more than a memory within me. Her name was Mary but people called her May. May would kill me for starting a sentence with ‘she’ for as Mam always reminded me “She is the cat’s mother.” Nonetheless I always liked to tease her so here goes. She lives within me. I am only who I am, because she held my little boy hand in hers, and taught me what she knew. I am only who I am because she loved me. I wrote this following piece 26 years ago and it is still relevant today…
If you’ve ever been to Ireland and somehow wound your way to the beautiful part of Ireland that is county Kerry, you may have wandered into the lovely little town of Dingle. If you did, then you will of course be familiar with Fungie. For the unfamiliar, Fungie is a dolphin that has been swimming around the waters of Dingle for the past thirty odd years and a whole tourist industry has, in typical rural Ireland fashion, been developed around him. He has it would appear, long outlived your average bottlenose dolphin.
You can go out in any number of boats to photograph Fungie as he swims alongside, or indeed if you are so inclined and lucky enough, you can get a chance to swim with him. This week, as if tourism isn’t already on its knees due to Covid-19, Fungie has disappeared! So important is he to the local economy, that I think the locals might be considering a stand-in.
Now as a writer I can’t help but be reminded of Douglas Adams. ‘So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish’ the fourth book of his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy and yes in case you are confused, it’s a trilogy in 5 parts. The title is the message left by the dolphins when they departed Planet Earth, just before it was demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Now our beloved Fungie has disappeared. Given the year we’ve had…I can’t help but wonder if we should be worried?
As I write this, I can confirm that this little island of ours, has today gone into full lockdown for the second time. Now I’ve never been overly careful about the rules that are placed on me in life, but in the case of Covid-19, I have been pretty much a stickler. I’ve listened to people bit*h and moan about not being able to go to a restaurant or pub, as though it were the end of the world and frankly, it’s nothing short of pathetic. The government here, like those in every other country affected, are trying to prevent things from getting worse. So, they’ll get it wrong, at least they try. It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t territory. I’m no apologist for government but I don’t care who you put in charge, no one is going to get this right. Don’t get me started on anti-maskers.
But I take comfort in typical Irish fashion, in knowing we’re not the worst. We don’t win a lot of big international contests, so knowing “well at least we weren’t the worst” allows us a chance to celebrate, even when we lose. “Hooray we were 9th, but we beat Burkina Faso at sailing… let’s party!” (look it up, we’re an island – they are landlocked). The Irish celebvrate better than most, especially when we lose. Celebrating the fact that less of us died here than in some other place, is hardly reassuring. It’s just not funny is it.
That being said, I only have look at the mess America has made of it and look at how badly Boris Johnson and friends have Fupped things up in the UK, to realise we could have done a whole lot worse. Unfortunately, the biggest lesson we’ve learned, is that it doesn’t matter how bad others are doing. We have learned the sad, uncomfortable truth about ourselves, that community is nothing more than a word for a large percentage of the population.
In the beginning we watched Italy being overwhelmed and struggle as people died in previously unimaginable numbers. Fear brought us to accept whatever we were asked to do. We stayed at home, washed our hands and did the right thing to quash the virus. We clapped ourselves on the back for the wonderful ‘community’ spirit that we all showed. Sure, aren’t we great. Let’s sing a song from a balcony. But that was then. That was fear.
Turns out, ‘community’ spirit fades after a bit. It becomes “well it’s not going to affect me” or “sure most people are grand with it – it’s only the old or sick that get killed.” Community it appears, the sense of caring for society as a whole is fine, so long as we don’t have to do very much, or at least not have to do it for very long. Community implies a shared social responsibility, but not just when it suits you.
Personally, I’m climbing the walls. The pair of us have barely got out alone together since the beginning of the year. We are tied to the house for a number of reasons. We haven’t as much as shopped together, nor will we for some time by the look of it. Nonetheless I will stick with it. Why? Well some might say I am looking at this from my own personal, selfish perspective. I do of course belong to a high risk category, but that’s not the reason I stick by the rules. We live with Jo’s 95-year-old mother and she is our chief concern. Perhaps I am my Darling Jo’s concern also, but really, we wouldn’t want to risk bringing Covid-19 in to our house with her mother straight in the firing line due to her age. But that’s not the whole reason either. I see beyond my front gate. I know it’s not just about me and I believe it extends beyond my hall door. Unfortunately for many people, that seems to be where it stops.
Is that as far as community should stretch? Should it be up to just a few people who care. Should old people, vulnerable or sick people and those caring for them, or those living alone perhaps, simply lock themselves away while the rest of the world goes about their business? Maybe those at most risk, should extend their isolation to perhaps another 12 months, in order that the majority of people can go about their business. But how hard is the odd 6 weeks? What if you were in that group of vulnerable people? Or should we just open up and decide such people are an acceptable collateral damage?
It would seem so. Old people are clearly expendable. People with serious long term conditions are expendable. What if this were a virus that just killed children under 5? Would those without children or those with older children act as irresponsibly as people currently in less risky categories are behaving in relation to those who are vulnerable now? Community that once stretched across the land in every direction as far as the eye could see, has been annexed by self-interest and a dispassionate, ‘couldn’t give a fup about others attitude.’ I only have to mask up and cross the threshold to see that all around me.
It is not without sacrifice and some have sacrificed more than others for sure. But there is a price to pay for true community. It is not easy. For those in the eye of the storm with unemployment, domestic violence or loneliness, we need to understand that they are victims too and address the needs of these victims in all walks of life. It is in this too that we need to rekindle true community.
Community means something. It is important. But now, its demise is clear. We have been most devastatingly found out for what we really are. It may sound cynical to say that people are basically selfish baxtards, but it ain’t cynical if it’s true. They say the truth will out and it truly is out. We lie to ourselves and anyone who will listen, a fake nod to someone else’s problem. I am not absolved of the crime either. No buts. We all need to step up in this time of need.
I listen to it and hear the excuses, watch the blatant hypocrisy of people pretending that they do all the right things – except when they actually don’t – but justify the trip or visit, dinner, party or socialising with scant regard for others. I no longer see people sanitise their hands as they enter a store and I suspect their handwashing regime has loosened at home if it’s like this in public. Social distance is apparently back to people apologising when they bump into you and sure the first chance people get, they’ll be down the local sculling pints again.
Not that there is anything wrong with any of the things we used to do, it’s just that we have all been asked to do something different, something relatively simple in the grand scheme of things, for a relatively short period of time. Of course we miss all those things that we once took for granted. We all want to get back to normal, but the fatigue factor has overtaken the desire to be truly community spirited. People have got tired of being community spirited. It shows few were really community spirited in the first place. It was all just lip service, a façade so we could look good in church or wherever we saw the eyes of the world waiting to judge.
I get it I really do. I’m pi**ed off too, but if this is what we are being asked to do, for others in most cases, as the majority of people have been untouched by the disease directly, then we either do it, or stop pretending to be a caring, compassionate member of the community in which you live. I believe that we must maintain our responsibility to our community. Not just to our family but to our neighbours, to the people we say hello to when we pass them on the street, and to strangers who depend on us to do the right thing.
I do have faith in many, but were once I believed that most people were kind and thoughtful, compassionate and caring, with just a small minority of naysayers, I now see that so many just pretend when someone is looking and as soon as they think they can get away with it, the mask is off if you pardon the analogy.
If I were to be unlucky enough to be struck down by this disease during this new lockdown, only 25 people could come to my funeral. 25. In fairness I don’t think I know 25 people who haven’t broke the rules or who care enough about me or people like me to take this seriously. So maybe that would save them the embarrassment of turning up with a big guilty head on them, offering platitudes when all they may have done, is add to the chances of me contracting the virus in the first place. I think I’d have the following on my headstone. ‘So long and thanks for all the insincerity.’ Too harsh? Maybe I’m just a grumpy old man after all. Have I just lost hope in humanity? Is it just me?… Stay safe everybody…