I vividly remember first reading this letter last December. It floored me then and it floors me now—so beautifully written, on a subject so unimaginably painful. On which note, if you’re feeling fragile, I’d give it a miss.
The letter was written by Kathleen Keyes, from Bray in County Wicklow, in December of 2019. It was sent to, and reprinted in, the Irish Times.
At this time of year, families are dreaming of seeing their loved ones. The loved ones coming back by sea, or touching down on tarmac, flowing through the arrivals lounge of airports, warm-cheeked and teary-eyed, breaking the barrier to the warm homely arms of childhood. Or coming by car, snapping the car doors shut for a while and walking in the front door of old familiarity – the family home. This is miracle-making…
Eighteen years ago this Christmas, my first child of three, my daughter was very ill and she died early in the New Year. It was a meteorite falling on a family that was already rocked by loss and absence. Since then, our family has been cruelly pared back to one, myself, the mother, living alone at home.
At night I sleep to the rattles of an empty house. Even the wind has a faraway cry when it rattles at the window. My three children, my daughter and two sons died from Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic disease of the lungs. They lived a full and spirited life together, their illness did not define them. They were witty, intelligent, and gifted with homegrown talents that filled this home with music and liveliness. They expressed their true selves to their world of friends, and gave of themselves freely and honestly.
Losing a child is like having your heart torn out and your stomach emptied. Grief gets in the way of daylight, not to mention the nocturnal dark.
Christmas is a black surround, without tinsel, while the masses are plumping up the shopping streets.
But grief can be another day on the wheel, when paradoxically a blue sky can unveil and a white egret appears in the branch. I have named him Doy after my youngest son, whose pet name was Doy. He will fly and land with me as I walk beside the river in the valley behind our home.
Before Doy died, his dark eyes looked ahead and he said, “Look for me in the trees. I will be there in the trees.”
Bray, Co Wicklow.
Note: Kathleen’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Gráinne, died in 2002, followed, ten years later, by Kathleen’s nineteen-year-old son, Darragh. The death of her third child, Fergal, occurred in 2018. All had lived with cystic fibrosis.
Heartfelt thanks to Kathleen for allowing her letter to feature in the forthcoming Letters of Note: Grief. If you haven’t already signed up for this newsletter, hit the button below, and please consider becoming a member for a few pounds a month so I can spend even more time sending you letters of note. Paying subscribers will gain access to a monthly ‘members-only’ email and my eternal love. Whichever option you pick, thanks for signing up x