Wednesday 7 December 2016

Brendan O'Connor: He took what life he had and made it matter

Donal Walsh's death carried a profound and life-affirming message for the nation, reawakening lost values, writes Brendan O'Connor

Published 19/05/2013 | 05:00

When I heard Donal Walsh had died, I couldn't help thinking of Spike Milligan's line: I told you I was sick. For those of us who didn't know Donal, who didn't live with his illness and see its progress, there was a strange sense of surprise that he had really died, that his young life was actually snuffed out in the end. Obviously everyone knew Donal was dying. His imminent death was central to the life-affirming message he brought to the nation. But somehow, when the inevitable came, it was a shock. I suppose this young man, whom none of us really knew but we all felt we knew, didn't seem like the type to die.

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We could be forgiven for not realising the truth. The first time I met Donal Walsh he talked about preparing for his death. I asked him what those preparations involved and it turned out I had misunderstood what he meant by preparing for death. Donal wasn't preparing himself for death. He was preparing other people, his friends and family, for his death. He was talking to them about after he was gone and, I guess, making sure he left his affairs in order, his affairs being not financial ones but those of friendship and familial love. He explained to me that he knew that a lot of his friends did not really realise fully that he was going to die. I guess they knew it but on some unconscious level they didn't believe it.

He explained that he looked fine and he still hung out with them and did stuff with them so it might have been hard for them to grasp the reality of what was going on. So it's understandable then that those of us who didn't know him well might not grasp the reality either. I even heard his mother Elma mention hope too. Obviously she knew her son was dying, but perhaps she had some precious hope of a miracle too. Or perhaps the hope she spoke of was just the hope that Donal expressed, for peace in his final days.

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