When nothing makes sense, nature will make sense.
Back in the days before top hats on the bridge of Ashford Castle, the locals (and I consider myself a local) could enjoy a walk around the grounds without having to hand over a tenner to do so. It was a therapeutic local gem and I would imagine the majority of people were very respectful of the property, because well, the land itself commanded respect.
For me, Ashford Castle will forever hold a special place in my heart. I remember Sunday, the 30th of April, 2000 specifically, it was exactly a week after Easter Sunday, and what a whirlwind of a week it had been! I went back to Ashford and walked and walked and walked and walked and walked the grounds. Those few hours of silence and walking was probably some of the most appreciated peace I’ve ever known. I can still see some of the wet leaves on the pathways and the woody flakes of debris that had washed up on the embankment beside one of the boathouses.
Yesterday, I buried daddy and nothing or no one could get into that tortured part of my soul that was in an exhausted muddle. I couldn’t even fathom what I needed, but I knew I couldn’t get what I needed from people. I knew I couldn’t talk anymore and I couldn’t people anymore. I somehow knew that the ancient old trees and the soothing sounds of the Corrib gently kissing the pier was what I needed. Even the pretty manicured grounds played their part by making sure that my eyes only fell on pleasantness, I really wasn’t able for anymore harshness. The deepest part of my soul was wounded and somehow these surroundings in unison were the only thing that could creep into that crevice and offer some comfort.
The adrenaline that had powered up last Wednesday was well and truly gone and I felt emptier than empty. Like I was walking around but my skin wasn’t holding me in, I was somehow scattered in bits just outside it. If I was a Massey Ferguson the fuel gauge would be well below zero and it wouldn’t mag if you tried to start it. I would catch myself with my mouth open as if I had planned to say something, but nothing was coming out and it seemed like a lot of effort to search for words to string together. I couldn’t be bothered.
After Mam died and it became clear that Dad wasn’t coping I moved home from Galway. I worked evenings and wasn’t home until the wee hours and wasn’t up until mid morning, but at least I was there for a few hours everyday. I was learning how to drive and in no time I’d be on the road and have some of the freedom back that I had enjoyed living in the city. Dad had great friends who called in most nights for company, but nothing could plaster over the grief-stricken widower. His health deteriorated and eventually he found himself on the heart transplant list at 57. In hindsight, it amazes me how the physical body caught up with the emotional body… his heart was broken metaphorically, as he pined for my mother and it manifested itself in his reality where his physical heart was giving up too.
While he was quiet ill, a stranger would be forgiven for thinking he was a man of health. He always had a youthful appearance and even at his sickest, he never lost his ability to chatter and always managed to find something to giggle about. Nurses were known to evict visitors because he’d work himself up into such hysterics! He spent stints in Galway Regional and stints in the Mater Hospital in Dublin, but for the most part he was home with me.
There was massive work in receiving a transplant and the whole house had to be revamped to make it anti-rejection ready and every time he went into hospital I’d spend my time renovating. The morning of the 26th of April was a Wednesday and Dad was in hospital for monitoring. For some reason all the telephone landlines were down in Shrule and so I decided to drive into Galway early to catch the doctors on rounds and get a progress update. I had just bought Granny O’Dea’s little blue fiesta (87-MO-72) and I had gotten quiet confident at the ole driving!
His senior consultant wasn’t on rounds this morning and the junior doctors weren’t authorized to give much information. I would have to talk to the main man, but to find him would be another day’s work as he was tending an emergency. I hung out with dad all morning, who was very chatty, but I started to get this eerie feeling that something was off. He looked good, he sounded good, but every now and again he would get this deep stare in his eyes…. I had seen that look before; I had seen it in Mam before she died. I couldn’t shake the ‘feeling’ that something was not quiet right. It made me more determined than ever to speak with Mr. Boss Man.
I eventually tracked him down to the doctors’ lounge and waited patiently outside for him to emerge after his lunch. He was surprised to be accosted in the corridor, but was gentlemanly none the less. I told him I was growing concerned about dad and he told me that the vitals were unchanged, but the reality was, that he needed a new heart… and sooner rather than later. He continued, that ‘for now Bill is stable, but that can always change. All we can do is monitor him and we are doing that’.
They were doing all they could with the situation as it was. Dad was in a large public ward and was keeping chat among his neighbours having sold one or two of them their first ever tractor – a feat worthy of several revisits to the conversation!! On the surface everything looked fine, but no matter how I tried to calm myself, I just had an itchiness in my tummy that wasn’t for soothing. I informed relatives of my concern, but there was no evidence to suggest yesterday was different from today and well Bill being Bill, he himself was full of the news and even I was convinced again that I was imagining things. I decided to go home for a few hours before my work shift that evening.
I sat in my car in the carpark and I couldn’t turn the ignition, I just wasn’t happy. I went back into the nurses’ station and explained to them that the phone lines were down in Shrule and that the phone number on the chart wouldn’t work. I gave her my new mobile number & insisted she write it on the chart and on the board even though she was looking at me like I was an obsessive pain in the rear. I knew I wasn’t being rational, but I also knew that something wasn’t sitting right & I was struggling to leave and do the thing that made sense. I prayed to Mam the whole way home asking her to put a sock in this anxiety that just would not go away.
When I got to Shrule I went into Mortimers to buy phone credit. In those days there was no “on-line” and the only way to make phone calls from this fire-brickette of a phone was to purchase Irish punt £5 or £10 or £20 from the local shop and type in a sixteen digit number and top up the phone credit manually. The shops had a maximum supply of credit too and guess what… they were sold out! The whole town of Shrule was sold out of Vodafone credit because all the landlines were still down and everyone was obviously using credit instead. I remember I had exactly 10p left in the phone and I used it to text my sibling “Ring Me”.
I asked them to phone my boss and tell him I wasn’t going to work, I was going back up to the hospital that evening just to settle my nerves (because now I couldn’t even ring the hospital myself). I remember getting into the house and I started cleaning. I scrubbed and cleaned, like I had a premonition that the house would be full of people later and there’d be no time.
I was just finished when my brother rang me and said that dad had taken a “bad turn”! My uncle just happened to go in to visit him and the doctors had his bed pulled out into the middle of the floor in the ward so that they could hook him up to all the machines and work on him. They proceeded to tell him that they had been trying to ring the house, but couldn’t get through!!! Luckily my uncle had my brother’s mobile number (mobiles were very new in those days).
I was furious! I went into full-blown panic mode. I had told them my number, I had even watched her write it down. Twice. I was angry with her, but I was more angry with me. I knew it. I knew it. I knew it. I ignored what I knew and I let everyone, including daddy convince me that I knew nothing.
I was muttering to myself and half crying and half seething as I got into my little blue feshty. I remember going up through the town of Shrule in an utter spin, shouting at cars that wouldn’t go faster. The adrenaline in my body had me feeling like I could probably run faster than I could drive! I remember getting to Padraig Murphy’s house in Mirehill and knowing that I needed to calm down or I was going to crash. There was a white car in front of me and I promised myself that I would let it guide me. I would stay behind it no matter what, if it drove ten or a hundred miles an hour I would stay behind it for as far as it would bring me. Ironically enough, it brought me (at a careful pace) to within a couple of yards of the hospital gates. It was almost as if someone had put it on my path and sent me the message to stick with it.
When the white car disappeared so did my composure and I couldn’t park the car fast enough. I ran in through the double doors and turned left up passed the lifts and tore down to the right, all the way to the end of St. Anthony’s ward on the ground floor. I could see my aunt and uncle and cousins gathering in the corridor. They nodded but knew I was in too much of a whirl to make any small talk. I can still feel the abrupt halt of my runners on the ground as I reached my siblings and the doctors.
“It looks like your father is going into heart failure, but we will know more once we get him into Coronary Care”. It was quiet the scene with his bed pulled out into the middle of this normally uneventful ward – there were lots of beeping monitors and nurses and doctors fidgeting at him. The man who hated attention was now the center of attention with the public maneuvering around his bed, he hated every second of it. He was wearing an oxygen mask which could not hide his distress of all eyes on him. I understood everything he said, although it took effort, as his voice had gone to a whisper.
I cannot reiterate how much my dad hated attention, even when he used to go to mass every weekend, he would be found in behind the door in the porch! He liked to go about his business without any eyes on him. This scenario at 5pm on a random Wednesday was his utter nightmare!
Finally he was moved into Coronary Care, which at that time was a small 5 bedded ward on the ground floor at least here he had some privacy and he relaxed. He was the very first bed on the left hand side as you went in the door and the staff were very strict on only letting us in in pairs for a few minutes at a time. In fairness, when we were there, dad still wanted to talk to us and he simply wasn’t able. Alarms were going off all sides when he tried and we would quickly be evicted.
The doctors said he was unstable, it looked like heart failure, but it really was hard to tell at this point. I had an inkling that this would not end well. I had all this energy in my body and I felt like I could run up the side of the wall. I felt like I should be doing something, but there was nothing I could do, so I prayed to my Mother. I talked to her and I explained that if he could recover and be happy then help him live, but if he will get a new heart and still be broken hearted then come and bring him home with you. I prayed and I prayed and I prayed.
The last thing I remember him saying was asking for a cup of coffee, and the nurse telling him he wouldn’t be allowed drink it. Dad gave her this side eye that wouldn’t be polite enough for me to translate here! 😂 We were evicted again to the family room across the corridor and the hospital was eerily quiet that time of night. I remember hearing running footsteps on the corridor and a few minutes later a nurse appeared in the room saying that the priest had been called and her words were “this is it”.
I stood there looking at her, just stood there frozen. I remember feeling like I jumped out of my skin and was standing beside myself. Just as my brain was re-merging back into my body, a priest and a doctor arrived behind her offering their condolences. My brain was beginning to work again and I was asking them to repeat themselves. The priest stepped forward saying “I’m very sorry for your trouble, I’ve gotten to know Bill over the years…. blah blah blah…”. I walked straight past him mid-sentence and I was questioning the fact that he was dead. It was 10 past 12, ten past twelve! Ten minutes ago he was being too polite to tell the nurse what she could do with her cup of coffee and now a priest is saying sorry… sorry for what…
Dad was the first bed inside the door and I walked straight in the door and he was lying there in front of me, but he was no more. This giant character in my life was lifeless. His beautiful face was still and I could feel gulps of air rumbling up my chest and bursting out my mouth in short little gasps. There were goosebumps on my cheeks and my forehead and it felt like my hairline was creeping back my head, all these weird sensations in my body and I couldn’t take all this in. I just kept looking at him lying there. How did we get here? At the same time, the uneasiness in my tummy had evaporated, only to be replaced by all this overwhelm and disbelief. I could sense my mother very close, but now I couldn’t feel my dad. He was gone.
I’m too old to be an orphan but I feel orphaned. How did I get here?
As the night went on I went over and over it in my head… “this is it”… this is it…. oHHHHH this is it, now I knew what she was talking about. “This is it” was code for “Your father is dying inside that door – do you want to say goodbye?! He will be dead in a couple of minutes – do you want to say goodbye? He is going to die alone if you do not put one leg in front of the other and walk inside that door and hold his hand, right now!!”
But I had not understood what “This is it” meant when I needed to and I don’t think anyone grabbed the meaning in that second because we just looked at her mouth moving, but not hearing or understanding what she was saying.
I was there… but not… right there.
I never told anyone, the pain and the suffering that that moment caused me for years afterwards. It has taunted and haunted me that I let him die alone. In that moment I needed that nurse to spell it out, to tell me what to do, because my brain clearly did not get it. (Years later I went to a medium, as a dare with a friend and I had no heed in the idea of messages from beyond at the time, until she turned to me and her first words to me were,
“Girleen, I came into this world alone and I was leaving alone and I could not have let go if you were there. I had your mother, you need to let that pain go now”.
She floored me! The only information I had given her was my name. Say what you like about mediumship, that lady gave me peace and if every medium does that with their clients, then it’s worth it, Whether you believe it to be codswallop or not)
That peace however would come years later, but for now those three words were like a loaded gun in my memories that had the ability to trigger feelings of absolute stupidity. How could I have been so stupid, I was all day feeling it and now that it was becoming reality, I couldn’t grasp what was unfolding… and then it was too late.
The experience has made me hyper vigilant in my explanations of things, often repeating myself until I am sure that people understand what I’m saying. It has made me a straight talker and made me despise beating around the bush and not getting straight to the point. I have a fear of not fully understanding what others are saying and can often ask tedious questions until I’m sure I have it exactly.
The whole day was truly incredible and it feels exhausting even thinking about the drama of the day so many years later. I carried so much anger for so long about that day, that even writing about it now makes me feel empathy for that young girl. I had such anger with myself for not listening to my gut when I knew I knew, but I rationalized it away. Now I can appreciate that while intuition is a blessing, on that occasion it was a burden and an uphill battle that I was ill equipped to handle.
I’ve learned so much about myself from these experiences and have grown to have so much sympathy and empathy for others. I remember wanting the funeral to be a carbon copy of Mammys, I wanted everything exactly the same, the prayers, the hymns, all of it. Then when he was put to rest, I would rest. Ashford Castle and it’s trees and it’s lake and it’s pretty flowers helped me when I didn’t know what I wanted and I didn’t know what else to do. Ashford reached in and hugged me and helped me and soothed me when I couldn’t help myself. When I return there now, I immediately feel embraced and reacquainted with a familiar energy that truly knows me and knows how to satiate me.
If one of you need a comforting space that can fill you up if you ever find yourself in a place where you do not know what you need. Always go to nature, it is your habitat and best friend. It has a deeper understanding of us and always knows how to help.
When nothing makes sense, nature will make sense.