Grief counselling by the frozen peas. A story about snowflakes

Are we there yet? My friend Aisling died, and I just tried to get on with things, as you do

A simple black and white sign pointing out to sea: The Happy Out Cafe on Dollymount Strand

A simple black and white sign pointing out to sea: The Happy Out Cafe on Dollymount Strand

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I know a wise woman who usually charges by the hour, but when things get really bad, she’ll will give me 10 emergency minutes for free. I stand in the Centra, beside the frozen goods, and take counsel on a mobile phone. My friend Aisling died and I tried to just get on with things – work, play, parenthood. I tried to push it all down. The way you do as a kid.

I first learned about loss as a child. But this adult grief floats closer to the surface and it clings. I remember Miss Roddy in her shop giving me free sweets because my Daddy had died. When you’re eight, that’s a powerful distraction.

It’s harder now. When I see the actor Cillian Murphy coming out of a shop in town I get all excited and go to ring Aisling. (She was indecently obsessed with Peaky Blinders.) I stare at my phone, at her number in my contacts list, and for a minute it’s difficult to breathe.

Under attack

I seem to be under attack lately, negativity and venom blasting at me from surprising quarters. And as I stand beside the frozen peas the wise woman says she’s discovered that after loss you get attacked more often. She says the more sudden and shocking the death, the worse and more frequent the attacks. It’s an actual phenomenon. The wise woman doesn’t know why this is and she can’t say when the attacks will abate, but at least, she says, you can be aware. You can keep your head down.

I try. The weekend arrives like a blessing and by some miracle we persuade our daughters and ourselves to cycle up to St Anne’s Park. It snows briefly. Fat flakes decorating the muddy zipline hill. The brief flurry in the park prompts my daughters to recite a poem. Snowflakes by Clive Samson. They still teach poetry in schools, and sometimes children stop sliding down wires long enough to recite it.

On the way home we take a detour because my head is turned by a simple black-and-white sign pointing out to sea: Happy Out Cafe. As we cycle across the wooden bridge, a murmuration of shapeshifting starlings reminds me of a lovely funeral I was at recently.

Deep well

Funerals can be lovely when the life was long and the love that’s left behind spills down into a deep well of gratitude. Fintan O’Toole’s dad Sam died and his family celebrated and mourned him with fun and feeling, poetry and song. They painted such a vivid picture of Sam, I left feeling connected to him, to his spirit. In the eulogy for his dad, who was an avid birdwatcher, Fintan recalled meeting Brendan Kennelly one time and the poet saying it must have been great to have a birdwatcher as a dad because he paid attention. Paying attention. A great thing in a parent. In anyone.

How do we know if we are paying enough attention as parents? As people? As sisters? As friends? I thought of Sam O’Toole as we watched the swooping starlings on the Bull Wall. I thought of Clive Samson and his Snowflakes:

And yet . . . each one
Melts when its flight is done;
Holds frozen loveliness
A moment, even less;
Suspends itself in time –
And passes like a rhyme.

It’s a month since Aisling died. I will try to keep my head down and at the same time I will try to pay more attention. I'll try.

A murmuration of starlings. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
A murmuration of starlings. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Here are some things to do with children this weekend

The Happy Out Cafe

I don’t know what to tell you about this place except that I believe it’s enough to tempt the most committed southsider over to the northside. Cross the wooden bridge at Dollymount, by bike or foot or by car, and you’ll come to a recycled shipping container on the Bull Wall that has been turned into a cafe. Queue at one hatch to order and a different hatch to collect your refreshments. I’m recommending the toasted Asparagorgeous sandwich because I love a great made-up word and because it’s the most delicious vegetarian creation I’ve eaten in a long time. (They use incredible Tartine sourdough bread). The kids got hot chocolate, heavy on the marshmallows, and we sheltered from a biting wind while gathering the strength for the return cycle. We were, as it says on the corrugated tin, happy out.

Where: The Bull Wall, Dollymount Strand

When: 9am-5pm, seven days a week

Cost: Toasted sandwiches from €6

Contact: 086-1547053

Punch Lion Kids Comedy Club

Do you have a budding Maeve Higgins at home? A miniature David O’Doherty? Might be worth checking this out. Reuben, Kevin Gildea and Sharon Mannion preside over the Punch Lion Kids Comedy club, a stand-up comedy club experience for all the family aimed at children aged six and over. Time to break out one of my legendary cheese jokes: How did the cheesemaker paint his wife? He double Gloucester. (Try the beef. I’m here all week.)

Where: Esplanade Hotel, Bray, Co Wicklow

When: Saturday, February 17th, 3pm

Cost: €8

Contact: 087-6442991; 01-2760158

Bosco Meets Hansel and Gretel

This is an interesting mash-up. Bosco and Hansel and Gretel meet up for an interactive theatre experience from the always-brilliant Paula Lambert Theatre Company. Very handy if want to teach the children in your life about what constituted entertainment when you were a kid: “Bosco is Bosco, not a boy, not a girl, just a Bosco, a cheeky, lovely, funny, slightly cracked five-year-old who lives in a box and who loves nothing more than to just be Bosco and meet all the boys and girls.” Winner.

Where: Glór, Ennis, Co Clare

When: Saturday February 17th, 1.30pm

Cost: €10

Contact: 065-6843103

Paula and Michael Lambert with Bosco and other puppets. Photograph: Alan Betson
Paula and Michael Lambert with Bosco and other puppets. Photograph: Alan Betson

Chinese New Year Food Extravanganza

This Friday the Chinese New Year celebrations start in Dublin – it’s the year of the dog is the first thing you need to know. There are loads of family-friendly events to choose from, but this two-day food and drinks tasting extravaganza is free for all the family and a great opportunity to experience the full flavour of an authentic Chinese market, the Asia Market in Drury Street, Dublin. Visitors will be treated to exotic fruits, dumplings, flavoured oils, drinks, sweet treats, snacks and more during this two-day event. Special guests will be invited to tell stories on what Chinese New Year means to them, for everyone to experience.

Where: Asia Market, Drury Street, Dublin 2

When: From 10am Saturday February 17th and Sunday 18th (but the Chinese New Year Festival runs until March 4th)

Cost: Free

Contact: asiamarket.iefor more info or dublinchinesenewyear.com for more events

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