Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Living and 'The Dead'

On the recent stormy nights, I often think of my father trudging down the farm yard to look at an animal that was sick or a cow that was calving.  I would have worried about him on those nights -  The fear of galvanised sheeting coming loose and falling on him.  The fear that he would call out for help and his voice lost in the wind and the creaking trees lining the boundary of the yard.  You could say that there is no danger now, that he is at peace.  But I take no comfort in that.  None at all.      

I can’t bear the thought of him lying in a cold, wet grave in Kingscourt, also overlooked by creaking trees, giving a sense on foreboding.  When I tidied up his grave for his months’ memory mass, if felt like the loneliest place in the world.  My boy asking ‘is Grandad a skeleton now ? But his suit still looks like a suit ‘?  Too many questions.  I just want to fast forward to the part when his body turns to dust.
After the months’ memory mass, I went back into turbo-boost mode at work, to get through the last big projects of the year.  Preparations for Christmas are bombing along, as they do when you have small children.  But now it feels like I am in free fall, at a time when perhaps I should be getting myself together. 

I don’t get asked about my father’s death anymore and feel self-conscious bringing it up, even by way of explaining myself.  And yet here I am, writing about it again.  Why?  Because I want to.

When I see the ‘QUIT’ TV adverts, featuring Gerry Collins, I can’t but feel angry at my Dad for never really trying to give up cigarettes.   The adverts are very powerful, with Gerry, terminally ill with lung cancer, reflecting on his life and appeals to smokers ‘Don’t smoke, don’t start, and if you have, stop.’  As a non-smoker, I am taken with the adverts (as are my children), but I cant but feel that it’s only non-smokers who are absorbing this information - Sure, aren’t the smokers outside smoking when the ads are on anyway ?  Smokers don’t want to know – My Dad definitely didn’t want to know and right now, I’m really sad about that and, if I’m honest, a little bit angry. 

Ah !  That will be the ‘angry phase of the grief process’ then.  There I am, one big cliché again. Now I know what it looks and feels like.  I’m not comfortable with this at all.  It feels irrational.  With this feeling, comes guilt, for feeling like this.  Brilliant !  Just when I thought that I couldn’t feel any worse.  Sometimes it exhausts me and I go to bed in the clothes that I was wearing that day.  Who’s going to notice anyway ?

But Da, I’m only angry because we would have liked to have had you around for a while longer.  Another ten years maybe.  With Mam.  Long enough to have seen all of your grandchildren grow.  Even long enough to see what happens with the IFA, how the next government fairs out.   To travel some more.  Maybe see Meath back in Croke Park winning medals again. 

I went to see The Performance Corporation’s operatic adaptation of James Joyces ‘The Dead’ last Saturday in Project Arts Centre, a matinee.  It was what you would expect from TPC, witty, with a lovely understated aesthetic, pacey choreography, considered music, brilliant acting and strong dialogue.   I felt totally immersed in the experience, as did my children (although my boy later protested that he would have liked a bowl of jelly that was part of the performance). 

Our journey to Project was through congested traffic, via Jervis Street Shopping Centre.  We emerged from the car park into full-on two-Saturdays-before-Christmas-shopping.  The place was packed, the festive cheer was infectious and the decorations, ‘awesome’, according to the children.  But ten minutes was enough and we were all relieved to escape the super shiny experience, across a breezy Hal’penny Bridge.  My boy was troubled by the homeless man begging on the bridge and asked me about it later.  I ignored the man, making him invisible by looking away to avoid eye contact.  I was sorry that I didn’t give the man a few bob and just say ‘mind yourself, to make him feel for a short moment that someone gave a damn.

While ‘The Dead’ was humorous throughout, the closing dialogue was poignant, remembering a dead child and a lost love.

Yes, the news­pa­pers were right: snow was gen­eral all over Ire­land. It was falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, fur­ther west­wards, softly falling into the dark muti­nous Shan­non waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely church­yard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and head­stones, on the spears of the lit­tle gate, on the bar­ren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the uni­verse and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the liv­ing and the dead.

I had been doing so well, but that felt too close to the bone.  I felt like crawling on stage and climbing under the sheet, beside the actress who lay there. 

I gathered myself and I tried to recall another line from the performance

Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.

 And I thought of my father.  That was you Da, no fade and wither here.

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