The best of us

We lost a good man this week. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. It never is. Cancer can’t read, of course. After Irish hospitals had done all they could here, there was a carefully crafted plan to fundraise and get Ciaran to Mexico for specialist treatment, and the fundraising worked incredibly well. But in the end, it was not the lifeline we all hoped it would be. What did happen was an avalanche of unbelievable kindness and generosity that ensured the original target of 140,000 euro was met within about a day, and very quickly it reached about 200,000.

But then the cancer took over. What started out a couple of years ago in the prostate that then spread to the hips and internal organs now travelled to the brain. And that is only going to end one way. The end came quicker than anyone expected, at the start of the week. At aged 46.

Ciaran arrived from South Africa as a young man. He had Irish connections through his Mum, and he met Fiona, and they settled in Leixlip. Fiona is a lifelong friend of ours, and once Saoirse and I had tuned into Ciaran’s accent, we quickly became good friends. We had some great times together in our home town, and up at the local rugby club, and Ciaran was welcomed into the fold like a long-lost brother.

Children arrived, and about 13 years ago, they took the decision to move down to Wexford where they built a wonderful home. In typical Ciaran fashion, he involved himself in all the local clubs, and became, to coin the phrase, ‘more Irish than the Irish themselves’. That’s not a surprise, of course. If you met him, you would know why. He had that easy way about him, but also that ability to make you feel special (I’m loathe to mention politicians at a time like this, but it would be something you might hear said about someone like Bill Clinton; that he would make you feel like you were the only person in the room. Ciaran had that).

He was, as I said at the outset, the best of us. He was the guy you wanted to be and if you couldn’t be him, being with him was a damn good second. Don’t get me wrong; he wasn’t an angel. But he was the best friend you could hope to have, and the best host. And no better man for a braai. And he was never happier than when he was entertaining family and friends around the barbecue he custom-built in his garden in Oulart.

Ciaran would remember your birthday. That may not sound like much, but for a bloke, this is practically unheard of. Maybe these days with Facebook, that may not sound like such an amazing feat. But Ciaran didn’t need help. He just remembered anyway, and you got a message. And it gave you a little boost.

The last time we were together I actually thought we’d killed him. Despite his ongoing and debilitating treatment, during the Summer, we went down to see them. They had installed a hot tub on the deck outside as it was one thing he was able to enjoy that also gave him some relief from the pain and discomfort.

Ciaran and one of his best mates from the village, and myself, ended up in the tub for the night, and many beers were had, and much music was blasted out. At one point in the early hours, Ciaran slipped serenely under the water. I looked at Brendan as if to say ‘help’ and Brendan looked as relaxed as Ciaran clearly was when he went under. When we fished him out and propped him back up, he was still smiling. How he managed to make it up to bed later is another story I will save for another time.

With the money literally pouring in, he was able to pose for the photo up above from his hospital bed. As one of Fiona’s brothers said at the funeral; it was not the way we wanted it to go, but for a few glorious days, it gave him great encouragement, knowing how much love was out there in world. But it was simply just all the love he’d sent out in his lifetime coming back home.

The wake was this Friday, down in their house in Wexford, and the funeral was the following day, in the local village church. We had been encouraged to wear bright clothes, and many also wore flip-flops, in honour of Ciaran’s own fondness for a pair, and indeed, under his coffin in the main room in their house they had placed his favourite pair of ‘slops’. At his feet, his favourite South Africa rugby jersey. The cremation was up in Dublin, and it was an honour to be asked to be one of the six to bear him into his final place of rest, at the end of his journey. Many tears were shed from the many, many people who gathered to say their farewells.

His brother-in-law’s homily in the church was wonderful, as was his friend’s final farewell speech in Mount Jerome in Dublin. In it, we were asked to ‘be like Ciaran’. This, as Kevin pointed out, would be the best way to honour him, and continue his legacy. Be a better friend. Go that extra yard. Because that’s what Ciaran always did. And the rest.

I’ll remember him as the naturally athletic, fit bloke who could knock out an IronMan without too much trouble. This is him at the finish line in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

He was a gifted rugby player, and loved tag, and coaching. He was a nifty tennis player too, and clearly no slouch in the pool, on the bike, or running. I suspect he would have been good at whatever he turned his hand to, but in truth, nothing seemed to please him more than entertaining and cooking for everyone. His barbecues are the stuff of legend. I suspect, subconsciously, one of the reasons why I didn’t have too many of my own was the thought that I may have to invite him if he was around, and you couldn’t really live up to that standard!

But by god I wish I could invite him around now.

So it’s been one hell of a week. And whilst I know in my heart that old chestnut about death coming in threes is a load of old confirmation-bias bollocks, I am also sad to hear news from England that my Great Aunt Paula has passed away. But at the great age of 99, after a long and fulfilling life, it’s a very different prospect from losing Ciaran. Carl, the gent who died during the race two weeks ago, was also in his forties. Their combined age still falls short of Paula’s innings. It’s a lottery. And while I am not a gambling man, nor ever do our own state ‘lotto’, I know we all hold a ticket somewhere. We’re just not allowed see the numbers.

But I know things go on, and Ciaran would be the first to ask me why the hell I wasn’t out training. Indeed, just as it is an honour to be asked to bear a coffin, it also a privilege to be able to get out and train for an event like a marathon. Indeed, I managed a run on Saturday, despite all the travelling, and it seemed somehow fitting to rise at 5am this morning, don my gear and head torch, and head out into the dark morning for a 20 miler.

It was my own private ‘darkness into light’ (which is a hugely popular fundraiser in May for a charity that focuses on self-harm and suicide. In it, participants gather all over the country, and in many other countries around the world, to walk and run before the dawn. It is a powerful and uplifting event for many people as they walk towards the rising sun.)

As I inched my way around my chosen route, the light began to leak into the gloom, and the torch was placed back in the pouch. By the time I crossed the bridge over the Liffey near the Salmon leap canoe club, the sun was starting to glow on the horizon, and it finally made an appearance when I hit the canal. I was rewarded shortly after with a glorious rainbow. Gary often accompanies me on these long runs, but this morning, I think it was better to be on my own. I would have made for poor company in any case.

When I uploaded the run later, it struck me that the route looked like the drunken ramblings of a lost soul, or perhaps some modern-day Mad Sweeney. Fitting, perhaps. But no matter. It was a slog, and I got it done, and Ciaran would approve.

The one thing we didn’t necessarily see eye to eye on was music. But he loved to blast out this at a party, so you can click on this one and turn up the volume!

Cheers. Gesondheid. Sláinte.


16 thoughts on “The best of us

  1. Words fail me reading this except to fall back on the clichéd offering of condolences. You were obviously great friends and I hope the many happy memories you have will help you deal with the pain of his loss. RIP Ciaran 😔

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lost a good cycling friend to cancer of the pancreas 6 years a go. I was in USA when he died , so I missed the funeral. When out with another cycling friend we still talk about him on some routes. Strange , when cancer takes somebody, most people comment on how they never smoked or drinked. Was sorry I did not get a chance to say goodbye. In a way I suppose I was lucky to get out on a new,to him, cycle route-just the two of us, a few months before he knew he had the cancer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Saying goodbye is such an important part of the process. Always an extra layer of sadness when that’s not possible. But it’s those little things, like remembering someone on a cycle, that helps keep that person around. They’re important moments. 😔

      Like

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