One thing Daniel O’Connell had learned in the last year – the only thing maybe – is that life goes on. Even if you feel like you’re walking through it on autopilot. Someone had stolen his, taken everything he knew, loved, and lived by, and turned it on its head. Some days he felt he’d been sucked up by a twister, hurled around, and spat back down amidst the debris of a landscape he knew he should recognize, but couldn’t. And without familiar landmarks to navigate by, he was lost.
Husband, father, widower – those labels were supposed to tell him something about himself – but he was damned if he knew. But he was still a father – even if he had no clue how to manage this new and terrifying version of parenthood, he was still a father – they would figure it out together – that’s what he told himself anyhow.
‘I think you should go.’ Matt the bereavement counsellor had said. ‘A change of scene will do you guys good, it might even be the breakthrough Sean needs, some distance might give him a little perspective.’
‘Can’t do any harm.’ Dr Shriver agreed when I ran the idea by her in her office. ‘The question is how will you handle it?’ She looked at him through those tortoiseshell-framed glasses that made her brown eyes seem even bigger. ‘You won’t have the support framework you have here, Dan.’
‘It’s only for the summer,’ he said. ‘We’ll be back in time for school. He may even be talking by then. But at least it means I’m getting back to work. Apart from anything else, I need the money.’
‘Of course you do.’
As Sean’s trauma specialist, Dr. Shriver understood the practicalities of the situation as much as the nuances. She was a mom herself, after all. ‘It could happen any time, Dan, you know that. Don’t panic if it takes longer than you expect, he’ll talk when he’s ready.’
‘I keep telling myself.’
‘Good. You keep doing that.’ She got up from her desk to show him out. ‘I’ve never been to Ireland. I’d like to go. I have Irish ancestors, so does Kirk, my husband.’
‘With a name like mine, I guess I do too. Maybe I’ll get to look them up.’ He smiled and turned to go.
‘Try not to worry, try to have some fun – and remember I’m at the other end of the phone if you need me.’
‘Let’s hope I don’t. But thank you – for everything.’
‘Any time, it’s a pleasure.’
He meant it. Dr Shriver had been fabulous – everyone had been wonderful, and kept on being wonderful. Dan hadn’t known so much kindness existed.
It was over a year now, since the accident, and somehow they got through the first anniversary, but still Sean hadn’t said a word – not one single word. Dan wondered if he ever would. The longer it went on, the more frightened he became. Dr Shriver said it was text book Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, that they had to continue as normally as possible, that Sean should go back to school, continue with his therapy and bereavement counselling – and that when he was ready, he would speak. In the meantime it was vital to keep the lines of communication open any way he could, to keep him from retreating any further.
Everyone was doing everything possible – but when it came to the crunch, Dan was still the breadwinner – whatever about not talking – they still had to eat.
The timing of this research trip couldn’t be better – hence the trip to Ireland, to a small village called Ballyanna, in the southwest of the country, home (according to the tourist comments on line) to some jaw dropping scenery, terrific trout and salmon fishing, and a world class golf course.
The irony of the project he would be researching was not lost on him. The submarine Atlantic cable had finally enabled people to communicate between continents for the first time in history. Now communication was the one thing denied him, just when they needed it most…now Dan had to grapple with the silence of his son that lay between them, deep as any ocean and just as perilous to navigate.
He could do this, he knew he could. He had to, for his boys, for Mary. This was work – a return to normality of sorts, albeit in another country – somewhere they’d never been. That had to be an improvement, because he couldn’t feel more of a stranger anywhere else than he already did in this bleak terrain his own life had become. At least in Ireland, he wouldn’t be surrounded by constant reminders of everything he’d lost. Sean might find his way to talking again. They might even find their new beginnings as a family – their way back to each other. He sure as hell hoped so.