“All You Have to do in this Life is Die”

So here it goes, my first blog post. Since it’s Valentines here’s something about love and the loss that sadly is a part of life, enjoy…

When the person you love dies your world comes crashing down around you.

This is something Bridget knows all too well.

She stares into the crackling fire eyes full of happy memories but tinged with sadness.

“We were coming out from Ballylanders from pictures and we were all cycling, 4 or 5 of us and a friend of both of ours was in the group and said ‘there’s somebody here that wants to meet you’.”

“That’s how I met Tom” she smiles.

Married life had its ups and downs for Bridget and Tom. The drinking was the root cause for the down moments in the otherwise perfect marriage. She was happy despite his love of alcohol and cigarettes. It never made her love him any less.

Then Tom got sick.

Walking back from their daughter, Carmel’s house next door the pair in their 50’s decided to have a race. A relationship full of love and fun suddenly turned to heartbreak.

She beat him for the first time. She knew something was wrong. He was out of breath. He just couldn’t keep going.

But she didn’t expect it to be cancerous.

“It’s something you’ll never get over and you’ll never forget”.

Hospital visits. Sleepless nights. Questions unanswered. Tumbling deeper and deeper into illness. Lung cancer claimed her husband.

The loss of laughter. The loss of life. The loss of love.

This all happened in the space of one heart-breaking year for Bridget and her family. She glances back at the fire, “it was very hard to deal with”.

“You could still be in a crowded room and you’d feel alone” she confides. Family help, in particular her mother who had gone through this. But the one thing that gets Bridget through now is her belief that she will see her husband again.

“I think it’s your faith that keeps you going to tell you the truth” she reveals, looking up from the fire, already feeling the comfort of that faith.

Seeing couples together is something that still hits her hard to this day. 17 years after her husband’s death.

She confides that she could cry at times as tears well up in her eyes. She says this feeling will never go away. You have no choice but to keep going.

The black leather chair squeaks as she gets up to poke the red-hot coals and she says it does get better. It is inevitable that we all die, she continues, but it still hurts to know that Tom had so much life ahead of him when he died at the age of 56.

Grandchildren at their first funeral. Children saying goodbye to their dad. A wife left alone.

Tom was his family’s rock.

“He kept the whole family grounded partly due to respect and partly due to fear”, confides Carmel. All he wanted was for his children to do their best at school and in life.

Alcoholism was the cause of the fear. The angry outbursts. The words leaving a sting deep inside far longer than any slap of her mother’s flip-flop across her thighs could. Alcohol changed him in her childhood. She was too young to understand why he would be angry with his “Bungee” and spent many nights listening to gauge his mood from her room.

As she grew older she slowly learned of his illness and thankfully his time drinking wasn’t as prominent.

By adulthood the two had resumed their happy and loving relationship. She worshipped her dad. He loved his “Bungee”.

Tom was always there for his family and would sacrifice his own and Bridget’s needs and wants to make sure his children had everything.

He has helped each of his children become the people they are today.

Tom got what they thought was the flu at Christmas in 1999. It was rampant that year and so it came as no shock. Tom went for tests and Carmel took to the internet. She came to the conclusion that in the worst case scenario it must be emphysema, a disease which affects the lungs but can be treated.

The phone rings. Stomach churn. Head goes into over-drive.

Carmel left work and got to the hospital in Limerick as fast as she could.

Her focus was solely on her dad. She tried to read his face. He smiled at his Bungee.

But his eyes were lonely.

It was lung cancer.

“He spoke gently and without drama and even smiled when he told me the consultant reckoned that I had guessed well with emphysema.” Forever brave.

Tears prickling eyes. Heart sinking.

“This was the big C”.

“My poor Dad. My poor Mam. My poor brothers and sister and of course, poor me. How would I cope?”

But then she looked at her dad. And denial hit.

“After all my Dad was the strongest man I knew, he could and would fight off anyone or anything that would potentially hurt any of his family and he had age on his side being only 56 years old with a builders strength.”

Carmel soon had to face that this was happening. The cancer was sitting on the junction of both of Tom’s airways and the tumour was aggressive.

Not even a lung transplant could help.

The first question Tom asked the consultant was how much time he had left. This wasn’t for his own sake though. He was building a house for Carmel’s sister, Mary. He wanted to get that house done before his health deteriorated.

As soon as he was discharged he set back to work on the house alongside his brothers. They took time off their own building work to make this happen. Family united as always.

“It was such a pitiful yet beautiful scene to observe. Dad whistling with his brothers while they plastered walls as if they didn’t have a care sharing jokes. Dad taking time out to revive his oxygen levels on portable tank of oxygen and mask…the mask which was to slowly become the face of Tom.”

Life goes on as the saying goes and so Carmel had to go to work and pay the bills. She turned to prayer and all the while the family hoped for some sort of miracle.

And then the anger hit. Why was Coronation Street still on each evening? Tom watched it all his life and it was oblivious. How did people get so annoyed by the weather? How could people still laugh? How could God do this to them?

“The idea of a world without my Dad was too painful to envisage and my poor Mam. She adored my Dad.”

“They had this beautiful obvious love for each other that surely mustn’t end at this stage in life.”

The cancer claimed her father too quickly. She realised the power the disease held over its victim.

“Lung cancer is particularly nasty. It literally slowly suffocates to the point that Dad was confined fulltime to the couch on oxygen and still gasped for air.”

Acceptance finally came for Carmel.

“Watching my Dad suffer was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. If it had been one of my dogs suffering like this I would have asked the vet to do the humane thing and put an end to it’s pain. This was my Dad and there was nothing anyone could do.”

“Ironically my prayers were answered in the end. Not for a miracle. But that God would end his suffering and take him home to His loving arms.”

The image of Tom gasping for air will haunt Carmel forever.

Although Toms suffering was over, theirs continued.

Their family unit was shattered the day Tom died.

The sight of his slippers under the stool in the kitchen. His clothes still in the hot-press. His tools in the garage. The smell of his musky aftershave still lingering.

You are never the same person when someone you love dies, she confides, no matter how much time passes. You don’t laugh as carelessly. There is an emptiness.

You have to learn to live with that void and luckily Carmel is blessed with a family who are close and loving. They are always there for one another.

“I refuse to give cancer enough respect to dwell on Dad’s illness. That was not who he was.”

Carmel will always remember the man who called her Bungee and she believes that he is forever with her in spirit, to be reunited again some day.

Grandchildren at their first funeral. Children saying goodbye to their dad. A wife left alone.

Tommy shares his grandad’s name.

Although he was only 10 at the time he remembers it all as though it was yesterday.

He was too young to realise what drunk was but laughs recalling his grandad returning home from work covered in grey and a cheeky grin on his face as he stamped mortar all over his wife’s clean kitchen.

Him and his sister laughing at their grandads antics.

He admits that he didn’t really deal with the death of Tom for a long time. But as his nana always says, “all you have to do in this life is die.”

All he knows is he was angry. He was a small child who had just lost his best friend and he didn’t know why.

And no one could tell him because they were just as lost as he was.

Our first funeral.

Children saying goodbye to their dad.

A wife left alone.