I had lots of plans for blog posts this January. It was to be the re-starting of my writing, there have been lots of changes and I wanted to tell everyone about them. I have more time for writing, time that isn’t sucked into academic writing and college work, and a job that was draining my soul. There are drafts that I started writing of recaps of our life over the last year so that we were all caught up to date. But January came and took my breath away a little, by taking a man I love so dearly and ending his story a bit sooner than any of us were ready for.
My grandfather, Muiris, died on the 11th of January, at the age of 83. We’ve been saying for the last few months that he was a man who got to be 81 years young, before cancer came along and got him into the “years old” part of his life. And he was just such a soul filled with vitality and life – doing long cycles into his early 80’s on a weekly basis, swimming several mornings a week, golfing every Wednesday. Nothing came between him and the golf on a Wednesday, nor him and the bike – they gave him life almost as much as his family did, and he was the epitome of what you would call a family man.
His passing was quick in the end, which in some ways comes as a relief even as my heart breaks at the fact that he’s no longer here. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer two years ago, and told that it was incurable but that he could live for ten years with it. It stayed steady for about a year, then started to spread, to the lymph nodes, then the liver, then the lung. He did chemotherapy after treating it with medication ceased to help. Treatment stopped before Christmas after a particularly vicious form of chemotherapy left him sicker than any of us were expecting. We were told a decision would be made after Christmas as to what would happen, to let him gain his strength back up before attacking the cancer again. We all got the flu jab as early as it was available so that we weren’t at risk of putting him at risk when we spent time with him. He spent his Christmas at home surrounded by loved ones, and just after New Year returned to hospital, an infection.
We learned it was weeks left, trying to get him home from hospital for the end. Just a few days later, it turned to days left, time is precious, he won’t be home. And two days after that, he was gone. Never the patient type, my grandad, he went on his own schedule.
There are things we have learned in the after, things we never needed to know before. We had always been a close family, but the power of pulling together as a tribe in the days that followed his passing really came to show in how we cared for each other and held each other up. So much hugging, and checking in, and the endless stashing of tissues. He was always the man planning the family get togethers and impressing on us the importance of family. I think he would be proud of how we came together to celebrate his life.
We also learned that he definitely, definitely, made up his own verses to The Bog Down in The Valley-o, or as he called it, The Bog Down in Kilbarry-o. We only found this out when talking about how he would sing the million verses of it while driving in the car, complete with the Kilbarry part as he was a Glass Factory man for decades, and it went on forever – then we found the real version online and found it was only three minutes long.
He was always trying to instil us with a love of education, and a love of the Irish language. He encouraged me to return to college after having Eliott, and told me he was proud when I got my new job working in research. Before even that, he was a fair man for doing Countdown, we’d get competitive about who would get the longer words or get the numbers faster. He encouraged a love of reading, and a love of Irish history in all of us – more successfully in some than others, I grant you, but he did it with us all.
He loved spending time with his great grandchildren, and I am so glad that my son got to spend years around him. Thankfully he had stopped telling us to go and play with the traffic after I got hit by a car – perhaps slightly too close to the bone after that. We’d often find him in the sitting room, watching the sport, whether it be the golf or the cycling. As long as you closed the door and remembered that just because your grandfather worked in the glass, that you weren’t made of it (and thus kept out of the way of the tv), all was well in the world.
Stories of a life well lived were passed around in the days after he passed away. Tales of his adventures with the Waterford Cycling Club, or his time in Waterford Crystal, or the many trips over to the relatives in New York. While many tears were shed, there were also a lot of laughs, remembering the good and the great times we shared with him. He was a storyteller himself his whole life, so it was nice to continue the tradition with tales of his life well-lived. We’re lucky enough to have video interviews available to us that he did with Waterford Youth Arts a few years back (and one within the last year which we have yet to see) so that even if his voice starts to leave our memories, it will never leave us.
The days since the funeral have been about trying to get back to normal. I went back to work on Wednesday, and it has been a good distraction. Thoughts aren’t far away for long though, we have photos and videos keeping him alive with us. As my aunt put it the other day when talking about the crying – it comes in waves, that’s how water works. Just taking it one day at a time.
RIP Muiris O Ceallaigh, Grandad, off winning the Rás in heaven.
28 September 1936 – 11 January 2020.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.