Sunday 23 October 2016

The Good Father's advice a comfort amid lonely times

Published 05/10/2015 | 02:30

Billy Keane. Photo by Ann McNamee
Billy Keane. Photo by Ann McNamee

My friend's dad died about two years ago. He never had any training in psychology but he knew instinctively how to bring the best out of people, as Good Fathers do.

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My friend had been spending a lot of time on his own and was lonely for company. The Good Father was a farmer and he too spent time on his own as that's the nature of farm work. There was no money to bring in help and the family had left to make their own way.

The Good Father was never short of company. There were times when he would lie down on the fields and listen to the earth. The scent and touch of the land and his intimate relationship with the soil of his own place and his own people were company enough.

He took great comfort from the miracle of the growing. The sound of the growth, he said, was like paper slowly unfolding. The making of milk from the grass was another miracle. Like most farmers, he loved his cows and knew each of their quirks and habits. He knew which was a good milker and which was likely to topple the bucket over with a mad kick, back in the days when cows were milked by hand.

My friend had a good relationship with his father and he confided in him when he was worried. The Good Father was a kind man and was easy-going too but most of all he had great love for his son. The son lived in the city away from the rhythms and cadences of his own place and told The Good Father as much.

The son was lonely too for the company of people. It's a bit of a cliché, I know, but that doesn't make it any less true. There's nowhere as lonely as being in the midst of thousands or even millions who just pass on by without ever communicating or engaging in even so much as eye contact.

I know of one girl who lived alone and eased her pain every night by hugging her pillow. She imagined the pillow was the small girl she was when she was a child and that gave her some comfort in the dark of the night.

The Good Father thought for a while when the son told him his troubles and then he replied: "Sure son, you couldn't spend time with a nicer person."

I thought it was one of the most profound, beautiful and practical pieces of advice I had ever heard.

I've been spending a lot more time on my own in recent times, ever since my mother passed away about six weeks ago. Because she lived over our pub, I was the first to meet my mother every morning and the last one to say goodbye to her at night. For the first time ever, I can hear my own footsteps on the stairs up to our home over the pub. Strange the things that make you sad and lonely for a loved one.

I know my mother is with my dad. Their love story will have many chapters beyond the grave. I get the feeling that they're very happy together every time I visit the grave. I can't explain where or how and maybe it's a bit like the Good Father and the grass growing, you know it's happening but you can't see it.

The pain of the loss can be unbearable at times, so much so it's a struggle even to get out of bed, but otherwise words take over.

I was writing a piece for my sports column about the Dublin City Marathon. There was a board in the registration area and the runners wrote messages in marker. My favourite line was: "A marathon is but one step after another." So the way to get out of bed when you're feeling down is to put one foot on the floor and then the other. Works for me.

Spending so much time alone meant I had to get to know myself all over again. You'd be so busy sometimes there's no time to talk to yourself. It could be an Irish thing in that we seldom praise ourselves even in our own private thoughts.

Eamon Dunphy wrote about poor George Best who drank himself to death. The words he used were: "George was constantly in search of the buzz". The whole world was mad for George's company, but he couldn't stick his own. So it was that the words of The Good Father to his lonely son meant so much to me. "You couldn't be with a nicer person."

I was always very hard on myself.

Now I try to think of the good side of me and I try to think of the funny things that come in to my head and crack jokes for myself or I might just take it handy and think back on what I have loved in life rather than what I have lost. I am nearly paralysed with the pain of the loss at times.

But then you have to think Mam is happy now, where she is, and who she's with. And this week the news came through that our town won the tidiest small town in Ireland. The Listowel committee were so determined in their work.

And the judge's final visit was on the day of my mother's funeral. She would have been praying like mad for Listowel. And Listowel prayed for her. So I'm here all alone, tapping away on my laptop. I'm just thinking I must read a bit of this for my mother, just to see what she makes of it, and I do.

I'll be working hard from now on at hanging out with me.

Irish Independent

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