Belfast Telegraph

Mike's special birthday that we'll never get to celebrate

By Nuala McKeever

It was six months yesterday since M died and today would have been his 60th birthday. Some of his family were flying in from the other side of the world as a surprise, to celebrate this milestone with us. It's still a milestone, just a very different kind and there won't be any celebration.

Six months. Not sure why these half-year and yearly markers seem important, but they do. In reality, it's just another day. And at the same time it's not. It's swollen with some sort of dread. It's been looming for the past few weeks and you don't know whether you want it to be over or you don't want it to come at all.

It comes anyway.

When it's over maybe you can find some relief. Time is a great healer.

But when it's over, it means his living presence is further away and getting further away every day and that feels like losing him over and over and over again. Time isn't healing that wound at all, it's actually picking at the scab.

Every time a milestone approaches, a little silly hope appears, like a tiny candle in a corner of the dark. The totally irrational thought that maybe he'll come back for the big day. You don't actually acknowledge it, but you feel a little nervous excitement. It's like getting ready for a big important event, a night out, a wedding, something good, but big and a little daunting.

And then the day arrives and happens and passes away and he doesn't appear and you're left with the empty sadness, the hollow disappointment and of course, the all too familiar self-criticism for being so stupid as to harbour such obviously ridiculous expectations. From "Boo hoo" to "Poor me" to "Wise up!" Yep, the gang's all here.

Every morning now I meditate. It puts you in touch with something deeper and more still than the activity that never stops on the surface of life – the thoughts and feelings that are constantly churning and checking and assessing and judging everything that happens. Below the surface there's a quiet place that everyone has and anyone can get to, by dropping down. It's a bit like letting your body sink down and lie on the floor of a swimming pool. It takes a bit of practice.

Today at the bottom of the pool I saw myself over there, in that life that would have been being lived if M hadn't died.

Getting ready for the party, getting the spare room sorted for guests staying, most probably arguing with M because of the strain of keeping the secret of his family's surprise arrival. Over there he's alive and we're caught up in flight times and arrangements and worries over the weather and fitting in sight-seeing with the visitors around work commitments and getting in the shopping and fixing that sagging curtain and did you remember to order oil and, and, and...

Over here, in this version of how things turned out, there are no balloons to blow up and no candles to remember to buy. There's no rushing around and there's no arguing. There's no looks of amazement and pleasure on all our faces as the family re-unites at the airport. There's no giggling with delight at the sheer joy of it all. There's no hugging and kissing and no "Wow! When did youse arrange all this?!?!"

His bumper car will never bump into mine or theirs again. Not in this life.

Over here it's quiet. Something else is unfolding. Happy birthday, Mike. xxx

Belfast Telegraph

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