'It's in the tough stuff that you learn the measure of who you are'
Mother-of-five Ruth Fitzmaurice, who tragically lost her film-director husband in October, pours out her heart in a deeply moving book
'Life doesn't make sense,'' says Ruth Fitzmaurice. And she should surely know. In October she buried her adored husband Simon. ''It's in the tough stuff that you learn the measure of who you are,'' remarks the composed, rangy 41-year-old as we drink coffee in hip Greystones hangout The Happy Pear. The last 10 weeks of Simon's life were spent in hospital. ''I was with him when he died,'' she tells me. ''I thought I had figured out how I would feel, but grief is a monster.''
Up to a decade ago, life was good for Ruth. Growing up in Ardee, she enjoyed happy chaos - ''it was always mental in our house'' - as one of six children. She dabbled in modelling and film; eventually, with a BA in Communications, working in radio. She met and married dashing film director and writer Simon Fitzmaurice and had three sons - Jack, Raife and Arden. ''We were smugly in love,'' she recalls.
But in 2008, Simon was unexpectedly given the devastating diagnosis of motor neurone disease and told he had about three years to live. That he not only survived for another nine years, but also wrote a memoir, It's Not Yet Dark (which was shortlisted for an Irish Book Award) and, using his eyes to communicate with a computer, made his first feature film My Name is Emily, is testament to his extraordinary spirit and strength of mind. He and Ruth had more children too; twins Sadie and Hunter were born in 2012.
Swimming in the sea at the cove near their Greystones home kept Ruth sane during these arduously stressful years, as did a diary of jottings done on the school run, which led to an article, a flurry of publishing interest, and ultimately, earlier this summer, her memoir. I Found My Tribe will be published in America next March - with a new chapter which poured out of her a couple of weeks after Simon's death. Element Pictures have optioned the film; she's written a treatment and starts work on the script in the new year.
Last Tuesday, at the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards, Ruth was named this newspaper's Newcomer of the Year for her deeply moving portrait of family, illness and the solace she gets from plunging into the icy Irish sea with her girlfriends, the tribe she calls The Tragic Wives' Swimming Club. Her voice is distinctive - sad, uplifting, musical and courageous: ''We are sorely alive to the beauty and sadness of this life.''
Her children (''my urchins, ducklings, truth detectives'') are coping with the loss of their father in that resilient way youngsters have - ''they're great at keeping it in the moment - you can learn a lot from them''. Were they impressed by her win? ''They said, 'Congrats, what's for breakfast?'''
Of far greater excitement was their attendance at the Late Late Toy Show rehearsal last Thursday - ''Ryan invited the kids just to cheer us up''. As for the advent of the festive season, Ruth remarks, ''we struggled with Christmas for years, we were both very into it, but navigating the logistics and the stresses, different nurses, made it very difficult''. This year, they'll head back to her home in Co Louth.
At her husband's funeral just before Halloween, this young widow recited Longfellow's The Day is Done.
And the night shall be filled with music/And the cares, that infest the day/Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs/And as silently steal away.
Ruth and your lovely ducklings - may your days and nights be filled with much music and few cares.
I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice (Chatto & Windus, €11.99)