‘I’m not expecting a call from home. “She’s gone,” he says’

‘Ireland and Me’: Claire Mullins, Melbourne

Claire Mullins: ‘We’re both crying silently, a grief shared 17,000km apart. I long for a hug, the comfort of physical contact where words across oceans fail.’

Claire Mullins: ‘We’re both crying silently, a grief shared 17,000km apart. I long for a hug, the comfort of physical contact where words across oceans fail.’

 

“She’s gone,” he says.

It’s June 2008 and the chill of early winter forces me to shove my hands in my pockets as I stroll through Fitzroy Gardens on the outskirts of Melbourne city centre. It’s a clear, crisp day and the sun hangs happily in the sky on the brink of setting, earlier and earlier these days as we approach the shortest day of the year.

My mind drifts back to winter in Ireland; those endlessly dark days, the sun stubbornly refusing to cut through the low-hanging rain clouds. I think of how morning after morning, I longed for the sunnier climes of far-off countries as I pushed the limits of the snooze button before begrudgingly leaving the warmth of the bed to face the day.

I’m still a stranger in this city, not yet settled five months, and my senses are still adjusting to the unfamiliar sights and smells and sounds of my new surroundings. The grass is a peculiar brown-green and crunches slightly underfoot. The trees are large and colourful with branches that stick out from twisted trunks at awkward angles.

Birds trill oddly as they swoop low between trees, and squirrel-like creatures scurry along branches with scraps secretly snatched from nearby bins. The winter chill creeps in around my neck and I’m almost grateful for the familiar shiver that reminds me of winter back home.

I feel my phone buzzing next to my hand and I pull it out of my pocket. It’s the middle of the morning in Ireland and I’m not expecting a call. It takes me a second to register my brother’s face blinking on the screen.

“She’s gone,” he says, when I answer the phone.

It’s my granny. She’d been sick in the week leading up to this call but the news of her death is unexpected. I’m trying to find my bearings. My brother’s voice is familiar yet strangely unfamiliar in this place. He tries to fill me in on details and formalities but his voice breaks and there’s a knowing silence between us. We’re both crying silently, a grief shared 17,000km apart. I long for a hug, the comfort of physical contact where words across oceans fail.

The phone clicks off and he’s gone and I am alone in this strange park. I will fly home for the funeral. I want to be with my family and surrounded by familiar sights and smells and sounds as we bury our grandmother in the Irish summer.

That was seven years ago. I’m still in Melbourne and no longer a stranger in this city. I stroll through Fitzroy Gardens, the familiar crunch of the thick brown-green blades of grass underfoot. Lorikeets swoop low between the spotted gums and possums scurry along branches with their prized scraps.

I think about my granny and my connection to her now in this place. This place, once so unfamiliar, is now my strongest connection to her and to home.

For more ‘Ireland and Me’ stories written by readers abroad reflecting on their relationship with the country they left, click here. The Irish Times eBook of selected entries is available for download here.

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