The world you and I knew before you died has changed immeasurably.
We didn’t know it, of course, but Covid-19 was already creeping through humanity in our last few weeks together.
What followed – the cocooning, the absences, the denial of a hug – seems particularly surreal in light of your timing. All the rituals of death and mourning were scrambled and left many of us even further adrift. It made it harder to grieve, to find distractions, and so was all the more conducive to introspection.
Our old friends Patrick Farrelly and Kate O’Callaghan talked me into making a documentary on grief and loss, and it seemed appropriate for me to do it for all those faithful companions of yours, your listeners throughout your broadcasting years, rather than leave it to commentators from the sidelines.
My stumbling attempts to define grief seemed to resonate with viewers, although my efforts sounded feeble and futile to me. You of all people knew about a depth of grief so visceral it defies description. When I agreed to write this book about our time together, I thought I might focus on the joys, the travels, the companionship on the great adventure. I wanted to write about what brought us together, what kept us together, the pact of madness that drove us to explore the world and made it so exciting and interesting for us both.
As well as struggling to find order and a timeline of some kind, the process of delving into 86 years of a rackety, restless life and trying to make sense of it involves a reckoning. It’s been a painful process at times. And memory, as I also discovered in this process, is a terribly fickle friend for ageing and other reasons that will emerge.
You and I were a fairly disorganised, haphazard pair. Remembering dates and names has been a challenge, which won’t surprise you at all. Incidents I breezily ascribed to the 1960s turn out to have happened in the 1970s – I think. Important family events I had assigned to the 1980s actually happened in the 1990s. Some highly diverting stories had to be abandoned when, on closer examination, they turned out to lack any internal coherence due to geographical or timeline conflicts – and that’s being kind to myself.
Sometimes I look back at old RTÉ footage and I remember the kitchen conferences before a show, an interview, a discussion. I view clips from an old and modern Ireland that you had a hand in transforming, scenes from Africa where we did a lot of crying – and laughing – with Friends in Ireland stalwarts and did some good along the way.
The answer to the kind people’s questions about my life without you is that the earth continues to spin and so do I. I’ve moved on in the sense that I did not remain stranded in a cloud of mourning. But I never stop talking to you.
… As someone said, old age is not for wimps. But I can tell you straight, my love. It was a wonderful, wonderful life.