Jake mentioned the other day that Gran’ma hadn’t sent him an advent calendar this year.
As if she had our kitchen bugged, the very next day’s post brought a large red envelope addressed to the man himself and inside, was the identical calendar she sends him every year, a simple little one she buys in the church.
He came into my office waving the two enclosures he’d found alongside the calendar – a £20 note and a little leaflet of hymns from the church. "Here – this one’s for you" he said, holding out the twenty, only to snatch it back at the last minute. "Not really. Yours is the hymns".
In the ten years I’ve been living in Ireland, sterling has become funny foreign money, endowed with the same kind of exotic strangeness I used to associate with proper foreign currency.
Anyway, a sterling 20 looks exciting to these euro-weary eyes, especially with those sparkly silver egg-shapes running down the middle of the note as if the Governer of the Royal Mint had given his Barbie-crazed 9 yr old carte blanche to design the new notes.
It wasn’t till this morning as I waited for the kettle to boil that I picked up the leaflet and saw that it was one of my favourite hymns my mum had sent me:
I watch the sunrise
Lighting the sky
Casting its shadows near
And on this morning
Bright though it be
I feel those shadows near me
But you are always
Close to me
Following all my ways
May I be always
Close to you
Following all your ways, Lord
The hymn goes on through another three verses so I had plenty of time to sing it while I made coffee. I’m afraid I’ve forgotten the name of the singer I first heard sing the song but if you’ve heard the recording I’m sure you will know what I mean when I say it’s an uplifting and poignant song.
I decided that I definitely want this sung at my funeral and felt rather pleased that I’d made a decision about something even though on that occasion I won’t even be present. That’s control freakery taken to the limit I guess.
When I popped out to buy milk a little later I spotted the headline in all the Irish papers that I suppose I should have seen coming – "Katy died in her sister’s arms".
Katie French was probably not known outside Ireland. She was a 24 yr old model who was always attracting publicity – for the most mundane reasons. I never took any notice of her or the publicity machine though just one week ago it was hard to avoid her as a huge birthday party was laid on to celebrate her 24 years and it was reported in all the papers.
I’m not sure there was any reason for this; simply, she was young, pretty and carefree – she sold papers. I glanced at the story but I had no interest in her beyond thinking I didn’t much like her dress. During the weekend, it seems she went partying somewhere else and sniffed too much – or the wrong sort of – coke. She collapsed.
I think people panicked or didn’t panic enough. No-one called an ambulance, instead, after some delay, she was brought to hospital where, during the course of the week, the papers reported she’d had a heart attack, was on a life support machine… and yesterday, she died in her sister’s arms.
Though she meant nothing to me, I’ve cried today for – for her? Only a little. I’ve cried for her friends and family and for the friends and families of all the (predominantly young) people who will die, not from old age, but from drug abuse.
I’m used to expressing this sort of unnecessary death as a "life wasted" but I believe utterly that her spirit continues and so maybe, though this was a shockingly short life for someone otherwise healthy and beautiful, it wasn’t wasted. Perhaps her purpose during this particular life was to dazzle people with her joie de vivre so that in being killed by cocaine, she will serve to deter some people who would have thought it’ll never happen to me.
I watch the sunset
Lighting the clouds with sleep.
And as the evening
Closes its eyes
I feel your presence near me.
Here’s to you, Katy.