from a distance



Last Wednesday, I was in Lanzhou; a nondescript town in Central China. I phoned home and was told that Traolach (we always called him pop) my Grandfather had passed away just minutes before. This was not unexpected. He was 86 and his health had been failing. Before leaving I had told myself that I wouldn’t go home if he passed away. I’d stick it out and mourn him in my own way, wherever I was.

My rational resolve faded with that phone call. Hearing Dad tell me the sad news I realised where I should be. Un-emotive contingency crumbled in the face of uncontrollable feeling. I sobbed alone in a shabby hotel room in Central China- remembering a great man, great in both stature and presence, and his unerring support of this little boy’s dreams and ambitions.

Death has a way of bringing things into focus, a stark reminder of the scarcity of life, and thus its value. Learning of my grandfather’s laid bare my isolation and distance from my girlfriend and family- the knot in my stomach a physical manifest, of how important they are and how wrenching it is to be so far removed.

So I began the three day journey home, taking a plane to Shanghai, then Paris, then Dublin. Drifting vaguely through the characterless and placeless limbo of the departure and arrivals lounge- barely conscious of whether I was in fact coming or going. From time to time choking sobs, and wiping salty drops; as memories of my childhood hero bubbled up- he was opinionated, patient, principled and incisive, generous and careful, to me he was all those things but primarily an intriging gentle old man.

Tears flowed when I thought of him sitting in his chair, reading the Irish Times, with his elevenses sitting on the coffee table, and the clock on the mantel ticking the clockwork metronome of his time.

It seems cruel that I’ll never see him again, unfair that its so final, that its over abruptly. But that’s life, and what makes it precious; That’s the catch… there is no forever…

I should just be thankful that our lives overlapped for so long. I shared the last 28 years of his, he the first 28 years of mine.  And be glad that I could come home and say goodbye.

Pop…My Hero…is gone, but won’t be forgotten.