Look at you. You are 6 years old. Your head pressed against the car window humming “Shakira, Shakira, my hips don’t lie, Shakira, Shakira.” You’re looking at the countryside whizzing by. Are you comparing it to Ireland? Or, are you thinking of meeting your cousins? The excitement when the holiday was booked. Two weeks camping. Four families. The brochure promises fun for all. Swimming pools, minigolf, rodeo shows, trips to local beaches, shows for the kids every night.
Look at me taking a breather. You are 9 years old. I’m in a restaurant with my friends, and we turn our phones off with a collective sigh and raise our glasses to well-deserved break from family life. Meal over and it’s time to go home and we all turn our phones turned back on.
10 missed calls! Trembling fingers I dial Ciara.
‘What’s wrong, are you hurt?
‘No, I’m fine.’
‘Is somebody hurt?’
‘Then what’s wrong?’
‘There’s no pesto.’
‘There’s no pesto.’
‘What NO PESTO!’
‘Ciara, it’s midnight the shops are shut.’
Small person. Small voice, ‘There’s no pesto.’
Look at you, aged 12. You are smiling for the camera with flower in your hair. Full of excitement, it’s the start of a new chapter in your life. Blue skirt, grey jumper, the Loretto emblem, your new school. Your dyslexia made school a challenge, but academics was only a minor part of your school day. It was the friendship that pulled you to school every day – a social butterfly. You walked into a classroom and anyone you sat beside and by the end of the class, you source out their whole life story. You cherished everyone you met. You embraced their differences, and not only had you the courage to stand up for yourself, but you had the courage to stand up for others. You accepted everyone and found something positive in everyone.
Look at us. You are 14. We’re in the car singing A Thousand Miles. You say that’s our song and we turn up the radio full volume.
Look at us. You are 16. We’re on the train. We’re going to Dublin for your appointment, but it’s not really about that, it’s about spending the day together, shopping, going to lunch, telling me those runners are really lovely, of course they suit me. No.no you’re not too old, and you mutter under your breath, sure I might let you wear them the odd time. And then you smile at me. How could I refuse?
You are 17. You are still. Look at us, Me, Dad, your brothers. Crying. Numb with shock. Disbelief. Cold. This happens to other people, not us, not me. The priest speaks. Your friends go up to the altar, one by one with tears in their throats, trying to be strong, to honour you, say what a beautiful, funny, and best friend they have lost. You were a best friend to each one of them. The church is full. Kodalines appearance was kept a secret. They all came for you, all united in grief.
I am in your room. I am lost. Minimalism is not a word to describe you. There are piles of clothes, shoes, bags, shoe boxes, shopping bags. Jack Wills, Abercrombie & Fitch. Your first teddy. Notebooks, diaries, journals. I read them all. I read your dreams, your lists of shopping, your bucket lists. At first simple lists, innocent lists – sneak out and stay out all night, go to Dublin on the train, then to being a lifeguard on Bondi beach. Countries you want to see. There are sketches of clothes. You designed clothes. I never knew that. A dress with labels. White lace, a sweetheart neckline, a mermaid tail. It’s simple but elegant — your wedding dress.
Look at you in St Anne’s Park on two large screens, one on either side of the Kodaline stage. You are smiling, laughing, 15,000 people look at you. They are listening to Steve, he points to a screen says, ‘This is Ciara,’ and he sings, On a Wednesday morning in July we dried out tears and said goodbye, Another angel gone before her time. Your song. I can’t take my eyes off you, and our eyes meet for a second. The crowd cheer when Kodlaine finish. We dry our tears again.
I am in the car, “Sweet Dreams” by Heart is on the radio. I am pulled back to 1986, I London and I am plunged into a sense of loss. The song is a memory of a time when I was full of dreams and hope, a sense of excitement, my life was ahead of me, my dreams, my future. But I am in the Now, and push away the Then, as it brings with it a loss. The future I once had is gone. You’re gone.
I am in a coffee shop — my friend’s talking, laughing, talking about someone else’s pain. I am an outsider. Their grief has moved on. Someone else needs their attention. I didn’t know it until now, but I got comfort out of their grief for me, and when it moved on to someone’s else pain, I find that hard. That’s natural and is something I have to accept. Everyone moves on, but a part of me is suspended with you. Now I can grieve with other people, I want to tell them in time their grief will not be as raw, they will breathe again.
I am at home. The grief doesn’t hurt as much anymore. It’s true, time is a healer. But, your laughter still echoes in our house. Grief plays hide and seek with me, it jumps out of the shadows unexpectedly, and I crumble at your loss, no warning no reason. It just happens. Though not as often now. And funny that makes me sad. I am sad I don’t ache with grief as much. I feel I am losing you; the pain of grief is my connection to you.
Outside I often stand still and close my eyes in the breeze, and I feel your arms wrap around me, your voice in the breeze whispers my name. And when I walk in the sunshine, it’s your shadow that walks beside me. Grief is lonely but I try to carry it with a smile.
This is our 4th Christmas without you, our only daughter. Another Christmas, your brothers, have without their only sister. Our hearts may be heavier, our bones still ache with grief, but it is not as raw.
I am not sad because of the grandchildren I will never have, or sad I will never see you in a white dress.
I am sad that you never got to be a lifeguard on Bondi Beach, or you never got to travel, or you will never got to wear your wedding dress, or you never got to live your life, and I never got you the pesto.
Happy Christmas Ciara.