Well, folks, it’s New Year’s Eve again! I’m sure I don’t need to go through the reminders of what all has happened across the world in 2020. And I’m sure each and every one of you have had unique challenges and heartaches this year, and hopefully a few blessings and joys as well.
As you may have noticed, I haven’t written in well over a year. Between not knowing if anyone actually reads the blog, and then the busyness of the holidays last year, and then the frustrations and difficulties of the New Year, I just sort of gave up on it. But I’m still here, and I’ve promised at least one person that I will give an update, so here we go.
So, in addition to everything else, my 2020 has been punctuated by drug crime in my corner of Ireland. (Not what you were expecting, right?)
I had only been back to work about a week into January when everyone on my bus and I were witness to the immediate aftermath of a shooting on the Bridge of Peace in Drogheda. A taxi driver was hit with gunfire while driving in rush hour traffic as the intended target and his girlfriend climbed out of the car and escaped. That was enough to shake up all of us, but for me, there was more. It turned out this shooting was a retaliation connected to an extremely brutal murder the public did not even know about yet. Over the next few days, the story unfolded in the news and the details came out of a 17 year-old gang member who was lured into a house and chopped into pieces, his body parts sent around Dublin as a warning, with reports of graphic videos and photos being shared in chats and social media. And as if that wasn’t enough to give me nightmares, when his name was released, I discovered he was the son of a woman I used to work with.
I did not know this boy, but I met him a few times with his sister when he was very little and I was working in a local restaurant. From what I understand, he was groomed by this gang from a young age, promised money and expensive clothes, given responsibility and respect if he took part in terrorizing people with outstanding drug debts, including the use of petrol bombs on people’s homes. I did not know him, and I do not know what kind of a person he was, aside from what people have told me and from the horrendous remarks I try to ignore on the internet.
But I do know that he was a child and he was loved. And I do know his mother, a little. While she and I have not always seen eye-to-eye, I have nothing but respect for her. She is one of the most hardworking people I’ve ever known, and I remember she did everything she could to provide for her kids and give them a good life. She loved them enormously. As a co-worker, she was friendly and funny, dependable, helpful and committed. When I heard the news about her son, my heart just broke in two.
I was not the only one. Mothers, especially, across the country hurt for her, commenting on social media and the book of condolences. For who among us has not worried about what bad choices her son or daughter will make? Who has not been afraid of heartbreak when her children suffer? And this was the very worst kind of suffering imaginable. After several months of trying to conclude the investigation and literally piece the boy back together, the Garda finally allowed the family to bury what they had located and in an attempt to mourn privately and move on.
By mid-March, Ireland was in a lockdown from this new coronavirus threat. The shadow of the murder and the constant updates in the news still hung over me as I began working from home during those dark days, trying to help Frank and the kids get through as well.
Then things started to get tense in our own house. We had a neighbour in close proximity who had several pit bulls running around off leash on the the shared property. They were mostly just pups (and I’m not anti-pit as my brother has a pit mix who is awesome), but on several occasions they jumped up on my children, chased our dog, and once even ran into our house and chased us through the living room. We complained to the landlord, who addressed the issue with the other tenants, and the other tenants became very aggressive with us, in turn. We were limited to 5 km of exercising distance from our home and I felt like my kids and I could not even go outside unless the neighbours were away. Once I was walking down the road and stopped to talk to the farmer when this neighbour tried to intimidate me with his car, peeling out and spitting gravel all over the lane. I began having panic attacks, and flashbacks to when our home was broken into in Indianapolis. I had nightmares, became very anxious and depressed, and felt that the whole world was crumbling and it was somehow my fault. On May 1, there was a full scale raid on the neighbour’s house, including at least 10 garda vehicles and a fully armed team with flak vests, shields and a ram for the door. Considering what had happened in January, and all the drug unrest in the town already, the raid was the final straw for us – my anxiety had become contagious and Frank made it his priority to get us into a new home then and there, COVID-19 or not!
Luckily, the summer calmed things down a good bit. We rented a lovely big house in another town up the road and slowly, as the number of COVID cases went down around the country, we were able to get out a bit more. I explored the new area almost every evening, taking long walks with our border collie, Georgie. In a way, all that time at home was a good thing because I got to spent so much extra time with my wonderful dog. During that Spring when all hell was breaking loose, she starting having a bit of a cough, which increased into June and July. The vet thought it might be hay fever, but on further investigation, we discovered she had a massive tumor on her lungs and was in a lot of pain. One day she was running around playing with us and literally a day or two later, we had to say goodbye forever. This was, by far, the toughest blow 2020 delivered to our family.
We took some time in the weeks after to travel a little bit, visiting Limerick, Clare, Galway and Westmeath. We made some nice memories, just the five of us, as we tried to be kind to ourselves and each other. When September came, the kids went back to school, even wee Isla in preschool, and we’ve just been paddling along ever since. The anxiety still rears its head every few weeks – the Presidential election was a big trigger, as well as the COVID numbers in the States – but we’re in a better place.
Now, on the 31st December, 2020, we’re in our third wave and our third lockdown, but I don’t mind staying home for a bit again. The vaccine is in sight, I want to keep my family and lovely new neighbours safe, and besides, my heart is still weary from months of ups and downs. I’m in no rush to start commuting back and forth to Dublin, especially when I have to wear a mask on the bus for 2 hrs each way and most of the day at work, too (is anyone else getting “maskne?”). I read 16 new books this year and was able to do tons of baking, plus we spent a lot of days at the beach or on little road trips around our side of the island, so there’s definitely been some good taken from this year as well! I also got to see both Jamie Cullum and Alex Borstein perform live before the lockdown, so I consider myself lucky on that front, too.
I also saw my old co-worker, the one who lost her son, the other day. She was wearing a mask, but she smiled and waved at me and my family and I waved back and wished her a Merry Christmas. This post today is dedicated to her, because while I’m still finding it difficult to breathe as I write all this, I find her strength of spirit astonishing. If she can keep going in spite of everything, so can we all.
To everyone who lost loved ones this year – and I know many of you did – be they miscarriages, COVID casualties, victims of crimes, cancer patients, or simply natural causes, I hope and pray you will find peace and hope in the coming months.
So, Happy New Year, friends and readers, and may we all find reasons to love life again in 2021.