One Year On

Daylights, sunsets, midnights, cups of coffee. That’s how you measure a year. It’s crazy to think about everything that’s happened in the last twelve months, both the positive and the not-so-happy-type-stuff. This is a long blog, but it says a lot about me.

And there have been so many positives this year. I met Sarah. I got into LIPA. I’ve travelled to Edinburgh, Leeds, Bournemouth, Cardiff, London, Cork, Waterford. I’ve moved to Liverpool. I’ve toured Ireland in a fleet of camper vans. I’ve photographed Bob Geldof and Rupert Grint, I’ve listened to Mark Ronson talk and experienced theatre in one of the largest cathedrals in the country.

Since Nan passed away, things haven’t been terrible – I’d certainly be playing a sympathy card if I were to make out they had. One year ago, today, my best friend died of cancer. She’d fought bravely for several years with the most terrible disease. She wasn’t ever scared or frightened – or at least, when she was, she had impeccable grace in not showing it to the people who would be most upset.

After much deliberation, I’ve decided to share today the words I spoke at her funeral. These words were written in her memory, so why shouldn’t I share them as we remember her one year on? I’d never intended this. I first typed this to share with Emily, who was a rock for me last November as I struggled through. But sharing it seems right, so it’s not hard for me.

My Nan was simply the kindest, most loving human being that has ever touched my life. She leaves behind her a community of grieving souls who are already missing the warmth of her effervescent presence.

My Nan has been my best friend for eighteen years. She was a constant in my life. Open. Reliable. Comforting. Everything a grandmother should be.

One of the oldest memories I have was the day she took me to London, we went see trouping the colour. I was only small, but I remember it as if it were yesterday. I remember too the first of countless trips to Ireland, maybe 12 years ago. We caught the train, travelled through the night. She took me to places I’d have never visited ordinarily, inspiring many of the interests that make me who I am today.

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I already mentioned the places that I’ve visited since last October. Many of them have been by train, at least for some part. Nan and Granddad used the train a lot, living not far from the station in Narborough, Leicestershire. Even now, many of my adventures start with, end with or involve that station. That trip, too, we stayed in Ballybunion in Co. Kerry. Thirteen years later, we’re after spending a bright, cold evening in September on the same beach – Sarah, Granddad and I being the only ones down there. Now you can walk all round the castle ruins, but for many of the trips when Nan had taken us to Ballybunion the castle was fenced off, crumbling onto the Atlantic beach below. I digress.

I remember the last thing that I bought for my Nan. It was a DVD, A Liam Neeson film titled “Michael Collins.” She spotted it as we were leaving a shop and I bought it for her, knowing in an instant the gesture meant more than the film ever would.

The film is essentially about Ireland and the Irish. I remember how Nan stood on this very spot, just two years ago at her own mother’s funeral and spoke of the passion for Ireland that Nanna instilled in all the people she knew. My Nan has done the same for me. With her I learned about music, art, literature, an entire culture.

The other week I met a fella called John Griffin. John is largely unremarkable, and he’d like you to think so. I met John at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, where I now study. He’s a lampie, like me, and we live quite close to each other in the shadow of the huge Anglican Cathedral. John has Irish roots too. He’s been taught the same songs I have, the same stories of the same great Irish people, and the same beliefs and passion for the country we’re from. And I think for me, along with being able to teach Sarah things about Ireland, and spend time with great Irish friends such as Louisa O’Callaghan, it’s highlighted all my Nan ever taught me. It’s people like John – who, if it hadn’t been for Nan, I probably wouldn’t be able to relate to – that make getting by without her easier.

Nan passed away of the most horrible illness. An illness that cares not who it takes, but never did she moan or gripe. She was a strong, brave, and lovably stubborn lady who finally lost her fight this October. Now, she is at peace.

When Nan went to sleep, a new dream began. An inspiration within me to be better, do better. Not for myself – although with LIPA I’m clearly blessed to be doing quite well. With Kimberley, I produced the Masquerade Ball, which I talked a bit about in a post last week regarding C4’s Stand Up To Cancer. We held an evening of music, dance, good food, great company, and learning about what it means to help be a part of funding the research into treating different cancers, raising money for the breadth of work done by Cancer Research UK, and the very specific care and research done by the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust.

Learning about Kim’s loss – see that post from last week – really contextualised what I’d been through. Sometimes, and often when you’re grieving, you feel very alone. I certainly did. But having Kimberley share such a precious part of her life with me made me realise that actually, I wasn’t alone at all. I wasn’t the only person to struggle to come to terms with somebody being taken by cancer. As well as the good work I was planning to do with Kimberley, I also was taken care of by Emily Tapp, who easily could relate to my feelings and offered the best advice and care anyone could have. I owe getting through November to Emily, and the few others who were unfailingly there for me.

One year on, I remember the beautiful lady that made me who I am today. I still find it hard to believe she’s not here anymore, that she is gone. She was far too young to be taken; I’m saddened that my own children will never know her. She’ll never be able to touch their lives like she has mine – well, certainly not in the first person.

In September, Granddad took Sarah and I to visit Nan’s final resting place in her mother’s home town of Waterford, in the east of Ireland. We laid a wreath of lilies and roses on the pretty grey stones she is beneath. She’s been at peace for a year now, a year of no pain and no uncomfort and no suffering. Lord, bless her. May she rest in peace eternally.

Nan influenced my life with seeds of goodwill that will continue to grow long after today. I don’t know if she ever got to watch that film, but I do know she’ll stay with me in my heart, forever.

HTTHM, Bridge. Erin go Bragh. God speed and God bless. x

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