Thursday 26 April 2018

An ode to great loves

Following his wife Brid's death, Micheal O'Siadhail has found happiness again with New York surgeon Christina Weltz

Poet Micheal O'Siadhail and surgeon Christina Weltz now live together in New York with her sons Edmond and Oliver. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
Poet Micheal O'Siadhail and surgeon Christina Weltz now live together in New York with her sons Edmond and Oliver. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

In Sex and the City, which is set in New York, hopeless romantic Charlotte discusses her belief that we each get two great loves in life. In that same city, poet Micheal O'Siadhail met Christina Weltz, the breast cancer surgeon who has become his gorgeous new love, following the death of his wife Brid in June, 2013. Christina and Micheal hit it off when they were introduced to one another in 2010 at dinner, while Micheal was in New York on a book tour. He told her that Brid, former principal of a primary school in Marlborough Street, had degenerative Parkinson's disease, and when they met again in February, 2014, Christina learned that Brid had passed away.

"Micheal was grieving, but said he was so grateful for the 44 very happy years they had together, which I thought was so lovely," she says. "We struck up a friendship, and I found him to be an incredible, smart and caring person with a great sense of humour."

Micheal returned to Dublin, but he and Christina continued chatting by phone. They grew closer and fell deeply in love, and in one of their nightly conversations, Christina decided that she just had to see Micheal in person. She ran to the airport, flew over for one day to Dublin, and then headed back to work.

"We had never kissed or touched before, so it was a beautiful moment," says Micheal (68). "I knew within days that Brid was the person I wanted to be with, and for the second time in my life, I had that same feeling with Christina. I always said if I was given the gift of love again, I would hope I would have the grace to receive it. I can only love 100pc, so to meet someone who can match that is amazing. Christina is also a very beautiful and attractive woman, and is honest, extraordinarily bright, intellectually stimulating and compassionate."

In May, 2014, Micheal travelled to New York to visit Christina (54) who is assistant professor of surgery at Mount Sinai hospital. She has worked there for 18 years, and is associate director of the hospital's Dubin breast centre. She was previously married and has two sons Edmond (18) and Oliver (16).

"Micheal and I have a little joke where I say, 'You are the love of my life and I can't imagine loving a man more,'" she says. "Then I pre-empt his response by saying, 'Don't worry, I know what you're going to say,' as he always says that he has loved twice. There is no jealousy there, as Micheal's experiences with Brid say nothing but wonderful things to me. Even as she aged and became ill, she was more beautiful to him every time he saw her, and that really says something about where someone's heart is and who they are."

Growing up in New York, Christina is one of the late Robert and Audrey's two daughters. Her parents divorced when she was quite young, and she had "multiple step-siblings" both older and younger. "I was with my mum during the school week and my dad at the weekend," she says. "It wasn't upsetting, it was exciting and I just felt, the more the merrier. We had this big crazy family that you could make a movie about, but it was great fun."

After she volunteered at Boston Children's Hospital, Christina decided to embark on a career in medicine. Her first clinical rotation was in gynaecology, and as soon as she went into an operating room for the first time to assist, she realised this was what she wanted to do. Then she discovered the subspecialty of breast cancer, and working in that area really fulfilled her. "You are involved in a woman's life at such a tragic time, and there are emotional, physiological and humanitarian components to it that are the most important and rewarding parts of my career," she says.

Micheal decided that as he had been given this wonderful and unexpected gift of Christina's love, he didn't want to waste a moment as life is short and precious. He left the house he had lived in for 30 years and bought an apartment so that they would have a base in Dublin, but he and Christina live largely in New York with her sons, the younger of whom is at boarding school in Switzerland.

"It's a different city and different life, and for me, it's an enrichment to experience what it's like to live with two teenagers," he says. "Having children never happened for me and Brid, but I have always enjoyed children and got on well with teenagers. I used to wonder how people at a later stage in life could fall in love again as they would have their own quirks and ways of living, but love just takes over."

"The boys are very fond of him, as he is so kind to them," says Christina. "If I'm at work when Edmond has a day off, he and Micheal go off and have lunch and spend the day together. They have such a lovely, comfortable relationship. Oliver flew to Dublin this week to be with us, and we had a wonderful weekend walking all over the city and laughing the entire time."

Having brought out his first book of poetry in 1978, Micheal won the Marten Toonder Prize for Literature in 1998. On the day we meet, Christina and Micheal are in Dublin for the launch of his latest book, One Crimson Thread, a beautiful, tender and heartbreaking series of poems that chronicle the last two years of Brid's life, her death and his grief. It will resonate deeply with those who know both love and loss. At the launch, president of the RHA, Mick O'Dea, also exhibited Brid, a series of new paintings.

"Sadly these are the first poems I never showed to Brid, but I hope she would be proud," says Micheal. "It was a slow loss and I grieved terribly during the three years I was on my own with her at home, but I knew I would have her blessing to be happy again. My love for Christina is not a replacement - it's a different relationship but you don't forget somebody either, I could still look at a picture of Brid and cry even though I'm blissfully happy with Christina. She has been wonderful, and Brid comes up in conversation naturally. I hope that if we all make it to paradise, we will be dancing up there together."

Micheal O'Siadhail's One Crimson Thread is out now, Bloodaxe Books, €18

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