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I grieved for my husband, not Seamus Heaney the poet, says widow Marie

Three years after husband's death, widow Marie says she is feeling like herself again

By Ann W Schmidt

Published 13/09/2016

Soul mates: Marie and Seamus Heaney
Soul mates: Marie and Seamus Heaney
Marie and Seamus Heaney with their son Christopher

The widow of Seamus Heaney has revealed how she is just starting to recover from the sudden death of her Nobel laureate husband.

Three years after the poet's death, Marie Heaney has spoken about her loss and the grieving process she has gone through.

"I will never get over it, but I'm now beginning to feel like myself again," she said.

Mrs Heaney added she was surprised by all the publicity her husband's death had received around the world.

"I was astonished because he was such an unassuming man and we really did live a quiet life," she said.

"You didn't hear about us. But I was astonished at the effect he had on people."

She attended events around the world to honour his death, in places like New York, Boston and Tokyo, but they took a toll.

"I had a very public grief, don't forget," she said.

"I closed down.

"You're numb for a while, on autopilot.

"I was able to get through. It was very public, and every time you turned on a television or opened a paper there was something. For a long, long time."

Heaney died in a Dublin clinic on August 30, 2013, aged 74, following a short illness.

His death caused an outpouring of grief that stretched far beyond his native Bellaghy in Co Londonderry, where he was buried.

Touchingly, he sent a text message to Marie 15 minutes before his death that read Noli Temere - don't be afraid.

"He used Latin all the time. He was saying, 'Don't be afraid, I'll be all right' - and he wasn't," said Marie.

"He just died on the way to theatre... just stopped talking. But what a way to go. Extraordinary."

But even after all the publicity and the memorials around the world, Mrs Heaney said she still had to separate the public and the private man.

"In an odd way I was used to the public Seamus, and so what upset me was suddenly finding the glasses that I knew he had lost and hadn't been able to find, and I find now, and he's gone.

"What I grieved was my husband, not Seamus Heaney the poet."

She also received about 800 letters and poems from people who were influenced by Mr Heaney and wanted to tell her all the things he did for them.

"I knew nothing of this, because he was an extraordinarily kind person who used to spend his life doing things for people," she said.

She said one of the nicest things ever said about her husband was in a letter to the Irish Times.

It was signed by a Co Kildare man, Frank Munnelly.

It read: "Sir, I am saddened. As a nation we are a man down."

Mrs Heaney said: "I thought that was a wonderful, wonderful testament to Seamus."

But even with all the praise in the letters and obituaries for his work, Mrs Heaney remembers her husband's human qualities.

"I wouldn't want to make a saint out of Seamus; he was a perfectly ordinary human being. But he was a good person, a genuinely thoughtful person."

Mrs Heaney explained that her family was together for his anniversary, but she didn't visit his grave.

"A lot of people go there then. But I go regularly, and I talk to Seamus all the time," she said.

Mrs Heaney also spoke about her new book, All Through the Night, a collection of lullabies and poems. She said part of the inspiration was Mr Heaney's request to have Brahms' Lullaby played at his funeral.

"It was one of the most moving parts of the funeral. He'd asked me many, many years ago, long before mortality was on any of our minds. He said that when he went to school as an infant and he heard the big boys sing Brahms' Lullaby, that was his first intimation of the beauty of art, music in that case, that he had as a small child," she said.

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