A couple of months ago, radio presenter Meghann Scully published a candid and moving memoir about the devastating loss within a year of her brother Marcus, and father Maxie. Marcus was killed in a 2005 car crash, while Maxie, widely known as a superb horseman, died the following year after a long illness.
In Broken Love, Meghann, who grew up in Galway and now lives in Limerick, writes with unflinching honesty about the pain and emotional turmoil she endured in the wake of her loved ones’ deaths. She also offers keen insights into how one can cope with grief and find a way through it.
Writing itself was one of her coping strategies, as she told me over an afternoon phone conversation. “Writing has always been a helpful tool to me,” she says. “I’ve been writing from a very young age, I was always scribbling in diaries, and so on. When these tragedies struck I found I struggled to be open with people, so I started writing. Writing enabled me to really see my emotions there in front of me, and then I was able to express them better when it came time for me to talk to professional people and get the help I needed or even when I was talking with friends and family.”
Interestingly, Meghann usually opted to jot down her thoughts the old-style way with pen and paper. “I prefer reading what I’ve written on paper rather than off my phone or laptop,” she explains. “I used always have pen and paper left beside my bed and I’d carry my diaries in my handbag. I’m always jotting down notes and constantly writing in things. I sometimes get the urge to write at unusual times so I like to have pen and paper close by. A lot of the passages in the book are pieces I wrote when I was 16/17/18. Even now, when I look back at my old diaries and when I was putting the book together, it amazed me to see how stressed and sad I was then and to realise how happy I am now. For me, that was a huge part of the whole experience and the process, just being able to come from a place where I felt dark and low. At times I thought I’d never feel happiness again but here I am a couple of years later and able to enjoy myself.”
I ask whether she felt any anxiety about putting her experiences into the public domain as she wrote the book. “I did feel nervous putting it all out because obviously it is a very personal story,” she admits. “After Marcus and my dad died I found there was no book that spoke the language I understood about grief and loss. My mother had lots of books on the subject but they were all written by psychologists and professionals and used big words I could barely understand. So even back then I remember thinking someday I’d write a book for young people so that they realise they are not alone and I’d write advice in simple language that they can relate to. When you’re really upset and you are crying it’s very hard to read a book anyhow so you want to use language that is down to earth and without fancy words.”
It is clear from the book that Meghann had a close bond with her father, and yet he was largely absent during her early childhood due to her parents separating. “When my parents separated we moved to Spiddal so we only saw Dad at holidays,” she explains. “It was when he moved to Galway, when I was about 10, that we started spending more time together and once I started getting into horse riding the two of us would go riding together and and we became really close. I admired him so much; still to this day he is the most talented man I have ever seen on a horse. We’d go horse riding in the turlough at Killeen and they were some of my favourite memories.”
‘There was no quick fix I just had to ride it out through every emotion’
Meghann also speaks glowingly of her mother, Pauline; “Because of our parents separating when we were very young both myself and Marcus were always close to mum,” she tells me. “After Marcus died she was torn to shreds, and so was Dad, but I think a mother’s grief is indescribable and I always understood that. She went from this happy-go-lucky woman to being just a shell. I found sometimes that the grief she was experiencing was so vast that I wasn’t able to grieve myself and I felt I wanted to be strong for her and I tried to be as positive as I could.
“It was only when Mam started finding the acceptance to deal with the deaths of Marcus and Dad that I started to really grieve and go down a dark and lonely road. Because she had been through that herself she knew what I was going through so she sat me down and said ‘right, I’ve done my grieving and now I am here for you.’ Once I realised that I knew we could do it together. She knows me so well; if I am having a bad day and trying to hide it she’ll know. We have really good chats where we’ll sit down together for hours and we can be open and honest with each other about losing Marcus and Dad and about life generally. She’s been the most amazing person and biggest influence in my life.”
Meghann describes how there is no neat time-span to the grieving process; “I try to convey in the book that there is no time limit to grief. I remember reading a book by a psychologist that said grief takes five years and after that you can accept it. So when I hit my five year point I thought ‘Oh great!’ but it was only after that I really started to go through it, so it took me a good six or seven years to start going down the road to grief and from then on I was a couple of years going through that journey, there was no quick fix I just had to ride it out through every emotion, there’d be good days and bad days and days where I thought ‘this is all over now’, but it wasn’t it was just a few days’ break I was getting from it. So it took me quite a few years and I had to revisit a lot of my dark and vulnerable places and get proper professional help because I wasn’t able to do it all on my own. There is nothing to say this might not hit me again, grief could come back, but I know now what I can do to keep my head above water and get through to the other side.
“When I first started going through it I didn’t realise it was grief,” she continues. “I thought I was losing my mind. I thought I’d never again see the happy-go-lucky, bubbly, Meghann that my friends and family loved and knew. One friend of mine said to me that the sparkle had gone from my eyes and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get it back and that was scary. After a while I was able to recognise it as grief and was able to start working on myself and working through it. I had to revisit some areas of my life that I’d maybe tried to forget about. It was challenging and it was lonely at times but there was always someone there for me, it just took me a while to realise that and now I feel able to seize life again and I can start to make up for the dark days.”
Broken Love; my Journey Through Loss and Grief is published by Bookhub and costs €9.99.