Thursday 17 October 2019

Comment: Dolores was turning her life around before tragic death, she was full of hope for the future

We all loved the vulnerable Cranberries singer - sometimes much more than she loved herself, writes Barry Egan

Singer Dolores O’Riordan was crushing her inner demons, just before her untimely death. Photo: David Conachy
Singer Dolores O’Riordan was crushing her inner demons, just before her untimely death. Photo: David Conachy
The order of service for the funeral of The Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan at Saint Ailbe’s Church in Ballybricken (Niall Carson/PA)
Dolores O'Riordan
Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan (Niall Carson/PA)
Cranberries star Dolores O’Riordan died suddenly in January while she was in London for a short recording session. REUTERS
Mourners carry Dolores O’Riordan's coffin following her funeral (Niall Carson/PA)
Dolores O'Riordan
Dolores O'Riordan on The Late Late Show
Band member Mike Hogan and his wife Siobhan arrive for the funeral (Niall Carson/PA)
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

On January 8 at 11.29am, Dolores O'Riordan sent me an email: "I'm just taking one day at a time now. Keep me in your prayers please."

I did; we all did. Maybe those prayers went unanswered, or cruel fate intervened, because a week later she was, unbelievably, dead - taken from us forever, this great Irish woman, this amazing artist who touched the lives of millions of people across the world with her music and her compassion and her truth.

U2 said in a statement, after Dolores died: "She had such strength of conviction, yet she could speak to the fragility in all of us." Whatever about us, the fragility in her own self was plain for the whole world to see for years. You could see the torment in her face if you looked closely enough.

You could hear it in her voice when she sang. Dolores O'Riordan knew why the caged bird sang because she was one herself. Dolores hadn't been in a good place for a long time.

It was heartbreaking to watch a woman - a friend of mine - we all loved go through a not-so-private hell. As soon as Dolores became known all over the world as a teenager with The Cranberries, she never knew a truly private moment again.

Her sense of fragility and vulnerability seemed to be only made bigger by the size of her, 5ft 3in, a petite pixie of a woman who appeared to carry her inner pain with her wherever she went. This small, slip of a girl, from Ballybricken had endured more than her fair share of suffering in life.

The sexual abuse she suffered as a child, from the ages of eight to 12, was only part of it. The bipolar disorder. The anorexia. The nervous breakdowns. She had her torments. The demonization of her after what happened on Flight EI110 from New York to Shannon in November, 2014, didn't help.

I am not condoning what Dolores did on that plane but she needed our support and our help. This mother-of-three, this frail human being, didn't need to be mocked and laughed at and derided as a freak show. Her 20-year-marriage to Don Burton had broken up. Her children were living in Canada on the other side of the world. This young woman, who gave so much of herself to Ireland, was in an awful moment of her life.

Thankfully, her great family gave Dolores the support she needed to help her through it ("My mom has been great. My brother PJ - he's my little angel," she once told me); as did her doctors and people like her long-term PR Lindsey Holmes and, of course, her band of brothers, Fergal Lawler, Noel Hogan and Mike Hogan from The Cranberries.

In the months before she died, for the first time in her life, maybe Dolores seemed to be walking down the right path to recovering her life, to reclaiming herself from the psychological wreckage of the past.

"I'm making real progress," she emailed on January 10. "I'm gonna go for a swim now and keeping up the exercise is important." She talked of meeting up for lunch. She was in good form. She was living with her mammy in her beloved county, Limerick having tugged once more at the heartstrings.

She was slowly overcoming the legacy of hurt of what had been done to her as a child. Dolores was, as she said, making progress. Life is under no obligation to give us what we want or expect. But Dolores dying seemed wrong after all she had been through, and all she was doing at that time to put her life back together for once and for all. She was full of hope for the future.

Dolores O’Riordan with Barry Egan. Photo: Kryan O’Brien
Dolores O’Riordan with Barry Egan. Photo: Kryan O’Brien

So, for me, the real tragedy of Dolores's death on January 15 was that Dolores was finally turning her life around when she died in a tragic accident in London. She drank too much (five miniature bottles of spirits from a hotel mini-bar and a half bottle of Champagne). It could have happened to some of us over the years.

There but for the grace of God go you and I.

"I am pretty good, but sometimes I hit the bottle," she told me in 2013. "Every thing is way worse the next morning. I chain smoke when I drink. I have a bad day when I have bad memories and I can't control them and I hit the bottle. I kind of binge drink. That is kind of my biggest flaw at the moment," she added.

We all loved Dolores -much more at times than Dolores ever loved herself - and many of us, especially her beloved family and her band, will never, ever, get over that she is no longer with us.

No one needs to be reminded of the details of her untimely passing, other than that her death was an accident, as a coroner ruled last Thursday on what would have been Dolores's 47th birthday.

Dolores's psychiatrist in Ireland, Dr Seamus O'Ceallaigh, who had seen her on January 9, said at the inquest that she was in "good spirits" and added that he believed she had "an episode of mania or elevated mood".

I had seen Dolores during those truly terrifying moments when she was in the grip of some sort of manic episode beyond her control. I had seen Dolores get herself in a terrible state with drink (having been already on medication) over the years and it was always a depressing and sad scene.

Christmas, 2013: a staggering Dolores singing incoherently at the bar of the Gran Melia, high on the hill overlooking Vatican City and St Peter's Basilica. Guests filmed the horror show on their phones as I tried unsuccessfully to stop them. I was equally unsuccessfully in trying to get Dolores to go to bed. She wanted more drink, even though she was falling down drunk.

November, 2015: a Dolores rambling and frighteningly delirious at a rented house on the estate at Adare Manor. She could not have looked more woebegone. Will you go to a counsellor for help?

"Sure, I am a counsellor. Aren't I counselling the world? Aren't I after healing billions of people around the world?" She had made huge steps in her life since those dark days and was making a full recovery. That was the real tragedy of Dolores O'Riordan's life: that Dolores was in the process of changing her life through painful self-inquiry and self-awareness when an awful accident happened that took her from us for eternity. For the first time, she had real hope in her life for the future. As Emily Dickinson wrote in 1886 in her famous poem Hope Is The Thing With Feathers:

'Hope is the thing with feathers.

'That perches in the soul.

'And sings the tune without the words.

'And never stops at all.'

And because of the music she made, Dolores O'Riordan - even in death - will never stop at all.

Sunday Independent

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