Light of Connemara

My friend, Dan, is the most extraordinarily talented musician with whom I have ever had the privilege to be acquainted. His melodies are soaring, his lyrics are evocative and his voice is as rich and smooth as the finest wine. I love his music with such a passion that if there were a Dan Medakovic Fan Club I would be the self-appointed president. I met Dan twenty-one years ago when we were working together at the same summer camp. His cabin was next to mine and his guitar playing lured me like a sailor to the siren song. I would sit at his feet in wonder and just feel myself being transported by the exquisite resonance; his music took me to a place that felt like coming home. I would watch utterly transfixed as his fingers coaxed sound from his guitar that I had never before experienced. It was as if Dan’s music filled an empty space inside me and coaxed my soul to soar. After that summer I was completely hooked by Dan’s music and to this day I cannot go long between sessions before I need a ‘Dan fix’.

I am thrilled to report that twenty-one years later our lives are delightfully intertwined; our spouses are best friends and business partners, our kids are best buddies and until very recently we lived across the street from one another. This intertwining has meant that for two decades Dan’s music has been like the soundtrack to my life. Every song he plays has a special meaning to a particular phase of my life; camp, university, meeting and falling in love with Simon, marriage, kids, holidays and everything in between.

Michael is a passionate music lover and is also a huge Dan fan. He has had the great fortune of being exposed to Dan’s music his entire life (even in utero). His favourite Dan song is called ‘Light of Connemara’ which is a stunningly beautiful song written shortly after Dan and his family returned from a trip to Ireland during the summer of 2004. This particular favourite of Michael’s evokes a very painful era in our lives and I can never hear it without a painful lump forming in my throat.

That was the summer when life was making a terrifyingly fast downward spiral and we could not figure out why.

Michael was almost seventeen months old in April of 2004 when our youngest son, Zachary, came into our lives. When I look back on Michael before Zachary was born I can recall a delightfully happy and busy baby who met all the milestones, ate well and slept easily through the night. However, all that changed the night we brought Zachary home from the hospital. Michael began a pattern of sleeplessness that night which would continue for three straight years and is still not completely resolved even now. I look back on that era of my life and call it ‘hell’; a colicky newborn, a raging and exhausted toddler, a needy 5-year-old and complete and utter sleep deprived exhaustion. I had a phrase that would run constantly through my head at that time; ‘it’s not supposed to be this hard.’  But it was hard day after tortuous day and there seemed to be no light at the end of the pitch black tunnel.

We could never determine a pattern to Michael’s sleeplessness; some nights he would be awake every 30 minutes through the night and some nights he would be awake for four straight hours. His awakenings were full of the frustration and fury of a thoroughly enraged toddler. He would stand in his crib and roar, he would point at the cupboard and scream and he would throw everything out of his crib only to shriek in frustration because he wanted it all back again. This went on night after painful and agonizing night and we had no idea what to do. In the beginning I tended to be the one to awaken with Michael because Simon had to get up and go to work the following day. I was breastfeeding a colicky newborn, dealing with Michael’s midnight rages, praying that Max would not be awakened, and slowly coming apart at the seams.

Sleep deprivation is the most exquisite torture imaginable. It is a slow descent into hell and the fatigue is so unbearable it is like living a slow death.  And it wasn’t just the sleep deprivation that was so difficult; it was Michael’s daytime rages and tantrums that were equally as disturbing and anxiety-provoking. I walked on egg shells trying to anticipate anything that would upset Michael. Transition times were the worst and I dreaded them like a bad root canal surgery. I thought that if we could get Michael some sleep then perhaps the daytime behaviour would improve. However, we had tried everything to get Michael sleeping through the night and nothing was working. I got to the point that I was so exhausted I could no longer cope.

Eventually Simon took over the night watch with Michael (and, even to this day, it is Simon that Michael needs every night when he awakens). Simon would spend hours in Michael’s room patiently and lovingly rubbing his back and singing to him. The only song that would truly settle him was ‘Light of Connemara’ so it became Michael’s lullaby. If Michael were ever to hear Dan play the song he would go completely still and seem to drift away somewhere we could not follow. Michael’s body never had the chance to be still so to watch him while Dan gently strummed his guitar and sang was both miraculous and heartbreaking; ‘Light of Connemara’ seemed to have mysterious and magical qualities attached.

Zachary celebrated his sixth birthday this past April. This birthday also marks the anniversary of Michael being pulled down into a mysterious and bewildering realm. I don’t know what chain of events were set into motion that caused Michael to sink into sleeplessness, rage, tantrums, arm flapping, not wanting to be touched by anyone but Simon, violent impulsiveness and constant torment. That question is a difficult puzzle that has many pieces which, at some point, I will attempt to put together. I still remember the Michael we had before that descent and that is the child we are so desperately trying to recover.

Not long after the journey into ADHD began last month, Simon and I indulged ourselves in a night out to go and see Dan perform in a local bar. There is nothing I love more than to go to see Dan on stage and I am always absolutely riveted by his music. I never talk to the person sitting next to me and I always apologize for my anti-social behaviour before the show begins. I am so captivated by Dan’s live performance it’s as if I inhabit a sacred healing space all my own even though I am in the centre of a noisy bar. That night Dan was being accompanied by a brilliant violinist who complimented Dan’s music exquisitely and made it even more captivating. Time always goes by too fast when Dan is performing and that night was no different. I knew the show was starting to wind down and I could already feel my body mourning the loss of such heavenly sound. I had allowed myself to be carried out of the pain and heartache of my present circumstances and did not want to return.

My emotional state at that time was so delicate I had to be very careful not to cry. I was terrified that if I allowed myself to cry I would never be able to stop. I managed to keep it together through Dan’s show but when ‘Light of Connemara’ started to play I could feel the dam beginning to break. As I sat riveted by Dan’s voice, the familiar mournful Celtic melody and the swelling violin I could feel years of grief beginning to unravel and the delicate process of grieving setting in. As I sat in the middle of the bar I could see pictures of Michael through the years running before my eyes like an old home movie. I could see him as the adorable baby with the beautiful curly hair, the smile that lit up his whole face and the unique magic that is Michael. I could also see the years of Michael trapped inside a body whose skin seems to be three sizes too small for his body. I could see the violence, the frustration, the hurt and the utter bewilderment with which Michael has lived his life. I sat quietly at my table with tears streaming down my cheeks and felt overcome with grief.

I needed to get to the bathroom quickly so I could fall apart in privacy. As I made my way through the crowded tables Simon reached out for me to reacquaint me with the friends with whom he was sitting. “I’m crying”, was all I managed to croak out as I fled the music, the memories and the profound grief.

What I didn’t know at the time was that while I was weeping in the bathroom the next step in my journey was miraculously taking shape.

While I was enjoying Dan’s show at one table, Simon was sitting at another visiting with some good friends. He was describing the challenges with Michael and the path that we had just started to delicately navigate. One of the friends with whom Simon was sitting is a raw food chef named Barbara Maccaroni. Barb is not only a raw food chef but also an instructor in the preparation of raw food and a raw food caterer. As I hurried by their table with tears streaming down my cheeks Barb looked at Simon and said; “I can help her. Tell Katie to give me a call anytime and I can help her”.

As Simon and I drove home a short time later he told me about Barb and her company called ‘B Love’. I was still feeling so bruised and tender from my breakdown in the bathroom all I could think was; ‘what does raw food have to do with me? And what is raw food anyway other than carrots and celery?’

Again, there was a Divine force at work that night. Safely in the arms of Dan’s music I stared a process of grieving that was going to allow me to delicately move forward. What’s more, a teacher had shown up in my life just before I was going to desperately need her; Barb was going to be waiting with a delicious new safety net called ‘Raw Food’ the moment I began my next fall.

I am so astonished and humbled by the complex and miraculous orchestrations going on behind the scenes of my life right now. I feel as if I am being held and guided by a force that is both powerful and miraculous and I have never felt less alone. When I finally let down my solitary burden and asked for help eight short weeks ago I had no idea just how much help was going to be provided me. And I had no idea how much of that help was going to be from a realm that I could not even see. Call it God, call it angels, or call it the Divine; I have no idea and I do not need to know. All I know is that there are forces at work which are all conspiring to heal my adorable little boy.

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1 Response to Light of Connemara

  1. Janet Frood says:

    Katie, again I am moved beyond belief by the authenticity of your voice. The pain, the truth and your experience – it’s all so raw. And yet, all I see is your passionate commitment to being in the struggle with dear Michael. The more you open up and share the more the world around you reveals the angels meant to walk with you in this journey. You are clearly living your purpose. It’s not about being a perfect Mom. Not at all. Yours is a story of resilience, of rawness, of finding courage in the midst of despair. It’s about commitment, resourcefulness and deep love. You are speaking out about the challenges of parenting; the parts that people don’t share. Through your stories I see you creating bridges that connect people – to their own inner thoughts and beliefs, and to others sharing similar journeys of pain and yes, hope. Thank you for being such a brave, true and authentic voice.

    Keep going Katie. Your lessons are ones for all of us. Keep asking for help as people want to share the gift of support, resources and hope. Keep loving with all your heart – it’s your fierce determination that will lift you beyond any challenge. You are not walking alone!

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