Since my wife Leeann died in August, life has been a little like that early morning pea-soup-thick fog that rolls into New England harbors in the early morning; I can’t see the shore, and the mist seems to go on forever.
I have drifted into impenetrable banks of endless sadness, steered by waves of what ifs and whys, only to end up isolated and lost in an ocean of depression.
Leeann was admitted to the hospital in early June complaining of stomach pain. Diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer a few weeks later, she died Aug. 26. I spent 10 days and nights at hospice with Leeann as she faded slowly away, a beautiful, highly successful medical consultant who months earlier had launched her own business, now bedridden and relying on morphine to ease the ravages of cancer that had spread through her body like wildfire. She passed peacefully in the night as I slept on a couch in her room. I’ll never forgive myself for not holding her hand that night as I had done every night, sleeping in a chair beside her bed.
“Patrick, mommy has gone to heaven,” I told my son that morning when he arrived at her bedside. A brave boy, he cried for a while and then said, “I better get ready for school.” There was no school for a week.
Staying with Leeann until she was taken from her bed, I gave her a final kiss and for the next two months went on autopilot. There were bills to pay, a new apartment to find — losing her six-figure salary meant a lifestyle change for my son and me — a memorial to arrange and a fistful of paperwork to deal with.
Some of those who wailed and cried the loudest as the light faded from Leeann’s eyes we never heard from. No knocks on the door. No phone calls. Nothing. Others were there immediately. Friends, colleagues and family. My brothers were on my doorstep within a week. Friends helped with a fundraising website while colleagues from this newspaper offered any help I needed.
Before she fell ill, Leeann had planned a Christmas trip to Ireland for us all. It seemed more important than ever this year. My dad and mom insisted it would be great for my sons, Patrick and Liam, to see their family in Ireland. The oldest of eight, I have no shortage of family. There are no small families in Ireland. And while I was looking forward to the trip, I wasn’t sure how the boys would react to Belfast.
Thirty years of war have left Ireland’s second largest city scarred physically and psychologically, wounds that will take generations to heal. But it has also left tight-knit communities, a residue of a time when random bombings and shootings were rife.
I shouldn’t have worried. Ever since we stepped across my mom and dad’s threshold, it’s been hugs, tea, jokes, more tea and a revolving door of aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins and family friends. And Irish candy. Lots of it.
There’s been no maudlin mourning — just heartfelt embraces. The sheer distances between relatives in the U.S. make this type of closeness impossible. There’s only so much one can say during a phone call to salve a broken heart.
Patrick now tells me he wants us to move back to Belfast.
“The family is always around here, and there’s always someone coming through the door,” he said between his third and fourth cups of tea Christmas week.
That decision we will leave for another day. For now, my family has helped lift the fog that lingered after Leeann’s passing. There’s a new light in my sons’ eyes today that I have not seen in more than a year, and I have gained some acceptance that Leeann is no longer with us physically. The fog has lifted a little.
Like many cultures, we Irish believe the dead are still around us and one day we will meet them again. Leeann, I am sure, is smiling today. Although she probably would prefer Patrick and Liam lay off the Irish candy.