This is probably my last newsletter until after Christmas, and it features a letter I inevitably find myself thinking about at the end of each year. The reading I’ve embedded, by Shazia Nicholls, is taken from the Letters of Note: Grief audiobook. Wishing you all well.
As Christmas approached in December of 2019, with no plans to celebrate the day, an Irish lady named Kathleen Keyes, from Bray in County Wicklow, wrote a beautiful letter to the Irish Times that would soon be reprinted and shared across the land. In it, she spoke of the difficulties posed by Christmas due to a tragic chain of events that began in 2002, with the death of her fifteen-year-old daughter, Gráinne, continued with the death of her nineteen-year-old son, Darragh, in 2012, and ended with the death of her last child, Fergal, in 2018. All had lived with cystic fibrosis.
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.
Heartfelt thanks to Kathleen for allowing her letter to feature in Letters of Note: Grief.
Truly remarkable, memorably poignant.
Well, that's me a sobbing wreck. Not least because my remaining parent is slowing dying of a brain tumour and I've no idea if she'll still be with us on Dec 25th.