A I K U S P
I R I T
Leaving work in the hospital, going
straight to a hospital. Kevin is in trouble. Yesterday's operation on
his brain tumour was a success. But there are complications. He is
unconscious, I am told. We are asked to pray for him.
A tiny waiting room. Kevin's family.
Three psychiatric nurses. We listen to the family as best we can. The
facts, the events, their suddenness, the weight of their significance –
told in rotation, punctuated by sobbing. The room seems dark. There is
another family too. They look more settled in their trauma. They
are giving us silence. They wait.
'Do you want to see him?' his father
Jim says out of the blue. I do. Others hesitate. I go up with Jim and a
colleague. A twist in a corridor, stairs, doors and double doors, a
sudden confusion of nurses, we are with him. We are with Kevin.
He is still. He looks bigger. A lot
of tubes and drains in situ. A nurse works at the end of his bed.
Someone says hello, says his name – 'Hello Kevin'. I glance around. I
am trying to take it all in.
A rack of machines
noticing a single word
An outburst of crying. Footsteps rush
away. A door closes again. I reach for Kevin's hand. With great
difficulty, I speak:
'Kevin, this is Sean. I know you can
hear me. Do you remember our time in Italy? Milan and Venice and the
San Siro? Do you remember when you were mistaken for an Italian in
Milan and asked for directions?
I'm going back for Christmas and the
New Year. You'd be very welcome to come; you're great to travel with.
The operation went well yesterday, the tumour is gone.'
I stop talking. I can sense Jim
behind me near the window. I can sense the nurse at the end of the bed
and that she has paused in her work. There is a silence now.
deepening the silence.
I talk again. I'm not sure what I am
saying now. I am trying to encourage Kevin. I do my best but I am lost.
I remember a comfortable silence we shared on a late night train
journey in Italy that time four years ago.
The memory centres me.
We share a final silence again before
I leave. I leave.
Two days later. In the ward office,
Kevin's name is still on the duty board written in felt pen. Everyone
notices. There is a heaviness on the ward. The patients have been told.
Across the city, in another hospital,
The whole of the nursing team
fragments into grieving. We all seek solitude. Nurses arrive from other
wards to relive us. I am alone in the ward office. There is a small
task that must be done –
At work when he died
my finger on the staff board
wipes off his name.
We return to the general hospital. In
a group, family, friends and work colleagues stand around. There are
quiet introductions. Kevin is not laid out yet, we can see him in the
hospital morgue later. I go outside to walk and smoke. In the grounds I
Going to the morgue
with his son's favourite shirt and tie
– Kevin's dad.
Cavan. The countryside you had spoken
of. The fields all around. Their moisture. There is a hint of rain.
Rolling towards Venice you had talked of this place. How you loved to
be alone in these fields. You liked a soft drizzle, the sound of water
in the drains of the land. Gravel underfoot on the narrow lane to your
We wait here for you Kevin. A guard
of honour of your friends in nursing. The class we trained with has
reassembled. Recognition of those not seen for some time. Few words
spoken, much said. The church bell tolls. A subtle movement behind tall
trees that line the graveyard. Bringing you to church, your hearse
Above your cortege
six or seven
On your hearse
the class photograph
our smiling faces.
Morning of the funeral. The sky is
overcast. There is an unspoken hope for rain. It is the belief here
that rain for a burial is a good thing. It is fitting. A positive sign.
The end of your final mass. As you
pass by, I am broken. There is no controlling this grief. We are swept
along. The pitched song of the choir. The darkened clothing. The
eddying out of this slow crowd.
Pouring. Between headstones, the
All this crying
under black umbrellas
the sound of heavy rain.
Winter. It is now three months since
we buried Kevin. Again, on a train bound for Venice. We have started to
cross the lagoon. The water looks dark in today's poor light.
popping out of the water
It is half past midday, with a look
of early night. Just ahead, there is a black shape of land, then;
a yard by the water's edge
full of headstones.
Retracing the ground. It was easy to
find, this laneway. But can the only hotel we had stayed in be so
quickly come by? A distinctive façade, yes, this is it. I record
the name. In English it means, 'Alpine Star'. Patrizia and I move on.
We cross a bridge.
Dense winter fog
this beggar's hands.
It is the week between Christmas Day
and New Year's Day. Venice is almost deserted. Even the locals have
gone to ground. Through the spiny streets and canals only the
clothes-lines (much fewer than usual) are evidence of life. There's not
even a cat!
At last, the sea and the great
piazza. Patrizia insists on a photograph, and as I root for the camera:
A sudden sea mist
the whole of San Marco –
New Year's morning. Milan. Almost
four a.m. All the rush of millennial hoo-ha is over. An old tram sounds
its bell and rattles away. We walk.
a huge firework