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Saturday 24 February 2018

Morah talks of Gerry with passion -- it's clear she'll always be mad about the boy

Seven months on from the sudden loss of her beloved 'Gerard', Morah Ryan opens up her heart to Barry Egan

Morah Ryan. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Morah Ryan. Photo: Gerry Mooney

LIKE the rest of Ireland, Morah Ryan still agonises over why and how a man so full of life, like her husband Gerry Ryan, is no longer with us. It still only seems like yesterday that Gerry died -- or 'Gerard', as she affectionately called him all their life together.

His untimely passing at just 53 earlier this year shocked the nation to its very core. It instilled in us a collective sense of profound sadness that he was taken from us so abruptly.

"It is very tough, dealing with it all," Morah told me on Friday evening. "It's a daily struggle."

She doesn't want to say too much about the darkness that enveloped her heart when her beloved Gerard died so tragically.

Morah is a genuinely private person. It is perhaps ironic that Gerry, for so many years, was telling Ireland on his radio show just about everything that he and Morah were getting up to in their home in Clontarf. For this reason, it was said that Morah Brennan -- as she was before she met the love of her life -- never listened to her husband's show.

"It is one day at a time," Morah says slowly, the emotion cracking in her voice. "It is all still very raw. It has been tough for myself and the kids. There is not an hour that goes by that I don't think of Gerard.

"It is a very painful and difficult time for me and the kids, but we are doing our best to get through it -- or doing our best to try to get through it. And we are getting through it.

"We are very close as a family, thank God. And we are there for each other. We are blessed to have each other -- as we were blessed to have Gerard.

"There are moments of pain. There is still a lot of shock too. There is a lot of unspoken sadness and shock. I am still in shock, of course. But there is a lot of love, too. When something like this happens, you realise what good friends we have, what close friends who have supported us and how kind people are. There has been so much kindness, so much help and understanding."

These aren't feelings routinely or easily expressed. These weren't words that were easy for Morah to get out.

She struggled with them and with her emotions because she was speaking from a place of dreadfully painful truth. There was much dignity to what she said -- and to her.

Morah was also -- for the first time -- baring a piece of her bruised soul to a journalist. She wasn't pushing or selling anything -- least of all herself.

On Friday night, we talked about grief, pain and loss, about the crazy randomness of death, about its finality, and about hurt. We talked about how you feel when someone you love dies and how you feel when it sinks in that you are never going to see them again -- ever.

We talked about my mother Maureen dying recently. Morah had sent me a message of condolence and she said my mother sounded like Gerry's late mother, also a Maureen.

She asked me about the last time I met her husband, two weeks before he died. Morah wanted to know how he seemed. She had got in the door at home

from a four-hour meeting of the parent-teacher association. She sounded exhausted and was due to get up early the next morning to do a shop for the house for her five kids, before going to a friend's funeral.

I have always admired Morah. There is a lot to admire. Yes, she is breathtakingly beautiful. But she also has a strength of character and a stoic resolve that helped her through the pain (unimaginable pain on an emotionally and at times a physical level) of first breaking up with her husband of almost three decades, then the sudden death of that same man, who she had loved all her adult life.

Morah had an extremely tough time of it with the break-up. Friends of hers have told me that she was only finding her feet when her Gerard died.

Martina Fox, a close friend of hers "for many years", told me on Friday that Morah is "a lovely, lovely person who has dealt with the sadness that life has thrown at her with tremendous dignity. She's a strong woman and a loyal friend."

Asked how she felt Morah was coping, Martina replied: "Brilliantly. She has the support of her kids, who have shown great maturity through everything, and a solid group of girlfriends who are there for her also."

Restaurateur May Frisby, a friend of Morah's for more than 20 years, told me: "She has coped with it all terrifically well. She is a great woman and a great mother to those kids. She never lost her spirit nor her sense of humour.

"Morah has come through it all intact and with dignity. She is great fun but also a great friend. "

On March 1, 2008, at a party hosted by May, Morah told friends (among them May, Michael Colgan, Elaine Doody, Aisling Gleeson and her husband, Gerry Purcell) that she and her RTE star husband Gerry were separating after 26 years of marriage. On March 7, a statement was issued to the media: "It is with regret that Gerry and Morah Ryan announce their separation."

The couple were believed to have broken up in January of that year.

After the split, Morah seemed to look more beautiful than ever. She appeared to actually glow. She was also very dignified about the whole break-up thing from such a high-profile figure.

It was a kind of a running joke between myself and Gerry that Morah was always "exquisitely dignified" in my column on the back page of the Sunday Independent after they had split up. Two years ago, Gerry came up to me at a Gate Theatre opening night and, with Edna O'Brien beside him, asked when I was going to start calling him "exquisitely dignified".

I laughed -- until I realised he meant it. So the following week, he became "exquisitely dignified" for a few weeks, too. I bumped into him outside the Shelbourne Hotel on St Stephen's Green two weeks before he died and he joked: "What happened to 'exquisitely dignified'?"

Morah told friends at first that she was concerned about the separate camps that form when people break up, but added that she intended to concentrate on her five children. That devotion to her children has never changed.

When I asked her did she find her sculpture work in any way healing or cathartic, she replied that she hadn't worked "since the day Gerard died. I've been contacted by the Kerlin Gallery. I'll start again on January 1.

"Getting the kids up and fed and out the door is all I'm concentrating on. They're great kids. We're coping together. The great age differences between the kids means that when one is down, the others are up and we all are up then," Morah said, referring to Babette (aged 11), Elliott (15), Bonnie (18), Charlotte (25) and Rex, who is about to turn 21.

A family friend of the Ryans said the children were very conscious of some of the comments by Melanie Verwoerd -- Gerry's girlfriend for the two years before he died and the woman who found his body at his Leeson Street apartment -- about their father. "It is difficult for them to hear a woman who isn't their mother talk about their beloved Gerry. They are very sensitive to her public statements about their dad."

The source is presumably referring to Ms Verwoerd's interview when she spoke movingly to Marian Finucane on RTE and said she would only give one interview on her relationship with Gerry ("I am hoping by doing this one interview -- and one interview only about Gerry and his death -- that the media may give us a bit of space to mourn Gerry privately," she told Finucane).

Yet, last month, she gave another full and frank interview about Gerry to a glossy social magazine.

"I still find it really, really hard to get words to describe what has happened," she said in an interview in the November edition of Irish Tatler.

"I seemed to be walking around in a daze for the first four months. Now, it seems like the shock is wearing off and it's just this unbearable pain of trying to deal with the reality that I will never see Gerry again."

Morah is way too diplomatic to want to discuss Ms Verwoerd or her comments.

Dignity has, I feel, always been embedded in Morah's DNA. It makes her more beautiful.

When she talks with such beautiful and inevitably sad passion about the man to whom she gave her heart -- the absolute love of her life -- I can't help but recall something Gerry said to me in 1998. He said that Morah had both saved him and changed him for the better.

"I changed when I decided that I was in for the long haul -- that if I wanted to die married to my wife, I had to give up some of my pomposity, my arrogance. It was a watershed of maturity."

He added that Morah saw through him. I remembering asking him what he thought she saw.

"I think what she sees is a very flawed guy who a lot of people give too much credibility to," he answered.

"Morah is my emotional mirror. I throw a lot of stuff at her and it depends what way it comes back. Morah is the most honest -- the most honourable -- person I know, so when you f**k up with Morah, you really f**k up with her and you are really in trouble. She makes sure the boy in me is responsible."

And one thing is for sure -- Morah Ryan will always be mad about the boy.

Sunday Independent

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