A cuddle with Nora
Let me share a story. It's a story I have often thought back to over the last few months, unsure of what others would say. It's a story that revived my aching heart and gave me hope in a moment when I needed it most.
A few months ago, I had a cuddle with Nora.
I was sitting with my family — the kids, my husband, my parents, my brother and his girlfriend, all of us enjoying lunch on a sunny day at a beautiful winery restaurant. A large family was nearby also enjoying a day out. At first I noticed them because they were a big group, a number of kids were chasing each other on the grass. A little girl, about the same age as Clodagh caught my attention as she laughed and played that all too familiar running away game with her parents.
Then it happened. "Nora, come back here." Had I heard that right? I felt my stomach do a flip. My heart skipped a beat. Then again. "Nora - Nora," her mum called. I felt my cheeks start to burn as I quickly tried to convince my mind and body to calm down. Our whole table had heard it too, all of us unsure of what to say or whether to acknowledge it. "Her name is Nora too," I heard myself say, forcing a smile to ease the mood.
It was so hard hearing her name. The sadness, the longing, the envy; it was all gathering force, like a fierce wave about to crash. They say that about grief — it comes in waves. Some waves you see coming so you brace yourself, then others are upon you without any warning. These are the ones that can knock you down and pull you under. There is a split second where you do get a choice though? Should I ride it out? Or should I just let it hit me? Some days I can breathe through it, I keep busy, distract myself and keep moving forward. But other days are more the weak-at-the-knees, curl-up-and-cry kind of days. This day I chose to ride it out.
We continued our lunch, while Nora and her family played behind us in the grass. Eventually Tiarnán, who had been oblivious at first, noticed the adults calling out Nora's name, he seemed unsure how to respond. Then little Nora came over to the table, interested in Clodagh who was eating a hot chip. 'Sorry,' said her mum, scooping her up. "How old is she?" I managed, with a smile. "A little over 18 months," she replied. "Oh, so is Clodagh," I answered. Then Tiarnán shared what I desperately wanted to say, "We have a Nora too but she died." Oh how I love him for this. He will tell anyone who cares to listen about his sister in heaven. So I told Nora's mum all about our Nora. Then after some conversation, her little Nora ran off again with her mum following behind.
It felt better to talk about Nora, to tell this mum that we too had a beautiful girl with the same sweet name. I felt more settled, the wave had eased, and I was able to enjoy my lunch again.
After lunch, the kids wanted to play on an old farm truck that sat in the field. What once I'm sure was a beloved work truck, was now a rusted shell used for climbing and jumping and children's imaginations. As I approached the truck with Clodagh and Maeve, I watched Tiarnán climb onto the trailer. Beside him, little Nora was also playing on the back of the truck. I helped Maeve up, still holding Clodagh who was not keen on having a go. Then, before I had a chance to process anything, little Nora came running toward me. She leapt off the trailer and straight into my arms, beside Clodagh. She put her head on my shoulder and rested there for what felt like the longest time. And for just a moment, my arms felt full again.
I don't know why this Nora felt compelled to give me a cuddle. I don't know why she chose me from all the other children and parents gathered around that truck. And while I know that this sweet little girl was not my Nora — my heart and soul believes without a doubt, that my Nora was there that day too. And maybe, just maybe- it was her that gave me a cuddle.