Grief is an ex­quis­ite agony. The pain is so acute be­cause with­out great love there is no grief

Irish Daily Mail - YOU - - THIS LIFE - with Anna McPartlin

In ev­ery book I’ve ever writ­ten some­body has died, is dy­ing or is go­ing to die. I’m not a mor­bid per­son. I’ve got quite a sunny dis­po­si­tion re­ally. I love a laugh. I laugh a lot and at least once a day. I am also in­ti­mate with sad­ness. I’ve grieved many times and for many peo­ple. I lost my mother when I was 17 but I grieved her first aged 11 when she was too dis­abled and I was too young to stay to­gether.

She be­came a pa­tient in The Royal Hospi­tal, Don­ny­brook and I be­came one of a fam­ily of six when fos­tered by my aunt and un­cle in Kerry. I vis­ited her dur­ing school hol­i­days and spoke to her ev­ery Sun­day on the phone but I missed her ter­ri­bly and I wor­ried all the time.

Then one day just after break­fast she com­plained of feel­ing ill so the nurse put her to bed, rang her sis­ter and told her to come quickly. My aunt dropped ev­ery­thing and ran to my mum’s bed­side in time for her to say ‘Good­night Molly,’ and those were my mum’s last words.

The an­guish I ex­pe­ri­enced wasn’t just heart­break­ing it was breath­tak­ing. I wasn’t sure I’d sur­vive it. The phys­i­cal pain was so in­tense it was dif­fi­cult to breathe.

Men­tally I va­cated for a while. I dis­ap­peared to a place in my mind where I could just hang with her. I couldn’t be trusted to com­plete sim­ple tasks like go­ing to the shop to buy eggs, milk and a lotto ticket. I’d ar­rive back with bread, but­ter and a post­card. I was in turn numb, dumb, lost, lonely, an­gry, bit­ter and so ter­ri­bly sad.

I can tap into those feel­ings eas­ily. I don’t do it of­ten, ex­cept when I work. They say to write what you know and that’s what I know.

I also know love and joy. My mother was an ex­cep­tional wo­man, funny, smart, witty, she had un­told strength and she gave me the gift of all of those things. I’m lucky she was my mother. She walked out on a bad mar­riage in 1970s’ Ire­land. When other women stayed she gave the man who failed her and the sys­tem the two fin­gers. When di­ag­nosed with MS she fought for as long as she could and when she couldn’t fight any more she let me go to a fam­ily who saved me.

Grief is an ex­quis­ite agony. The pain is so acute be­cause with­out great love there is no grief; there is only good­bye.

My mother taught me many lessons in our short time to­gether, the best of which is to value kind­ness above any­thing else.

I fell in love with a kind man aged 21 and now we’ve been to­gether longer than I’ve ever been alone. The first time I met his mother I saw a re­flec­tion of my mom in her. Terry McPartlin was another strong wo­man who didn’t suf­fer fools, was the life and soul of any room she en­tered and armed with a wicked tongue and a mas­sive heart.

She knew some­thing about ev­ery­thing and even on the dark­est of days she al­ways made me laugh. She in­spired the char­ac­ter of Molly Hayes in The Last Days of Rab­bit Hayes, a story about a young wo­man called Rab­bit who is dy­ing and her fam­ily’s fight to save her.

With Terry’s per­mis­sion, the ma­tri­arch of the Hayes fam­ily, Molly Hayes, was born. She had some of my mother in her, two of my aunts but mostly she was a fic­tional ver­sion of Terry. She was thrilled and laughed at Molly’s an­tics. ‘

Am I as bad as her, love?’ she asked with a glint in her eye.

‘No, Terry, you’re bet­ter.’ I told her and she was. My mum, my aunts, my hus­band, my friends, my fam­ily both here and now in New Zealand are all bet­ter than any char­ac­ter I could con­ceive be­cause they are real.

When Terry died I grieved and I watched my fa­ther-in-law, my hus­band and her daugh­ters strug­gle to breathe. I watched them in turn be­come at times numb, dumb, lost, lonely, an­gry, bit­ter and so ter­ri­bly sad.

We also laughed at ev­ery gem that had rolled off her tongue. We cel­e­brated her achieve­ments and a life that gave so much joy to so many.

I wanted to hang with her in my head, like I used to hang with mum years be­fore but in­stead of go­ing to the shop with a list to buy eggs, milk and a lotto ticket and ar­riv­ing home with bread, but­ter and a post­card, I’d sit at my desk for hours on end bring­ing Molly Hayes and the Hayes fam­ily back to life so that they could grieve the loss of Rab­bit as we were griev­ing Terry. It was hard to end Be­low The Big Blue Sky, be­cause it meant say­ing good­bye again.

Covid-19 means we’re all griev­ing right now for the lives and life we’ve lost but that’s OK be­cause although a reser­voir of sad­ness will re­main, it’s only be­cause what we’ve lost was so great.

Be­low the Big Blue Sky by Anna McPartlin is pub­lished by Zaf­fre Books and avail­able now

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