Homage to the one I love

by Colin O’ Neill, fiancee of our late co-founder, Grace McDermott.

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Each morning I wake up to the same ritual of horror. For a fleeting second my hazy mind forgets, then I remember that I have lost you all over again. So perpetual, it feels almost routine at this point and the worst part of all is that I can’t see that feeling ever ending. The contrast to my morning routine prior to May 1st is almost laughable. ‘Now I wake up happy, warm in a lover’s embrace. No-one else can touch us, while we’re in this place.’ Remember we used to send each other songs when we first met? My desperate attempt at trying to tell you how I felt, or even that ‘I liked you’. I remember you telling me how much you loved that lyric. I had it all with you, that’s the hardest part.

I met Grace in Melbourne back in 2012. We immediately hit it off. I convinced myself that Grace would pay someone to put her lunch in the highest cupboard just so she could ask me to get it for her each day.  I would get ripped apart by the lads coming in from work in the evening because I wouldn’t shut up about the cute American girl at the office and would go on to tell them about the countless email chains of flirting. ‘How’d it go this week, Col?’ It was all in good fun but they knew something serious was coming. I couldn’t believe my luck when she agreed to go for dinner with me.

You were beautiful, charming, kind, caring and funny. I thought I was cool (I wasn’t). My USP was that I played in a band (I’m laughing now thinking about how cool I thought I was), but when you began to explain to me the theory behind musical chord structures I was in complete awe… Is there anything this girl doesn’t have? We talked about music and we laughed all night. I remember you telling me all about your family as we had dinner, I was instantly hooked. We told each other that we were going our separate ways after 3 months but I think we both knew that wouldn’t happen, and when I left you at the train station that day, I stared at my phone for an hour before sending you a message ‘Maybe we should give this a go?’ We sure did that. The proceeding years, I will never forget.

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Life with Grace was one of constant amazement. The pride I felt every day as she would tell me of her latest success is one I cannot effectively describe. Invited to speak about her PhD at conferences all over Europe, lecturing, activism and of course, this amazing blog, which led to interviews and cover stories in countless broadsheet newspapers & publications. I watched her lecture in DCU. There she was, 5 foot nothing, controlling the auditorium. Even the students that arrived late after quite clearly enjoying the finer side of college were glued to Grace. I didn’t get to see her after the class as there was a queue – a mile long – of students waiting to get a few minutes of her time. I checked out her twitter upon arriving at my office, streams of students ‘I want to do what you do’ or ‘Thank you, that was the best lecture I ever attended’ and so on.

Equality was one of Grace’s biggest passions. She firmly (and correctly) believed that women should not have to choose between work success and family. She wanted to be the CEO of an organization and have 100 kids. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting one and not the other, however, Grace wanted both. She would stop at nothing to achieve whatever she set her mind on. My Girl, My Hero.

My life with Grace was one of utter happiness. We loved, laughed, sang & travelled. We were best friends in every sense of the word. As I read through all the glowing tributes of Grace’s achievements, I came across one written by a lady that Grace thought the world of. At the risk of misquoting, I recall a line ‘Above all else, Grace was a goof!’. THIS was my Grace. We had a mutual respect for everything we achieved, but we were total goofs. We laughed literally all day every day. We would sing together in the car and of course I would give her a hard time about the high harmonies and insist that I would do them if she couldn’t hit the notes. We would be the first on the dance floor at every wedding and tended to remain there for the duration of the night. It was easy to see where she got it from, though. I recall my first meeting with the McDermott family at a family wedding in New Jersey. Moments after we were seated for the meal, we were on the dance floor… The panic running through my veins as I was yet to have a drink! What a night, zero inhibitions. They were as mad as I was!

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I recently sat and spoke to a friend of mine about how many lives Grace touched. In 30 minutes, we could name 5 people that Grace not only touched, she helped shape them. I can only speak for myself, however. In the first 3 months of our relationship I found out Grace was moving back to Ireland to pursue her PhD, I simply had to be there. I came up with a plan to speak to our boss about moving back to Ireland and setting up my own business in partnership with the company. He knew exactly what I was up to. I was motivated, so it made sense for all of us. The first 2 years of any company can be a struggle, we certainly had plenty of them. Coming home every night and hearing the words ‘I am so proud of you’ was enough for me to get myself out of bed the next day and go again. She was my rock, there is absolutely no doubting that. Grace gave me so much strength every single day. I would tell Grace all the time, ‘Ah I’m not smart, sure I didn’t even go to college’, she would flip! She would then begin to explain to me all the different ways someone can be intelligent and that I too was intelligent. When someone tells you that for four or five years, it starts to rub off. I can honestly say she made me who I am. Grace made me believe I could achieve things, constantly in my ear with reassurance, love and support. My brother mentioned during his eulogy, ‘Grace met people on their level’, that may have been her number 1 asset, she just knew how to connect.

 Over the past few weeks your friends and family have told me how much you loved me. I can’t tell you how nice that was to hear, but I already knew. You were so incredible at showing me. I have never felt love like the love you gave me. You told me all the time and I could even tell when you looked at me. You made me the happiest man in the world when you agreed to marry me, I’m sitting here picturing your face that day. It was the best day of my life and I keep trying to replay it in my head.

Though I know that this might sound arrogant, I believe what we had was truly unique. I try to tell myself that if the world was meant to lose you on that date, how lucky was I that I got to spend the last five years of your life being loved by you. I go through all the usual emotions, daily. In my selfish hours, I feel hard done by, but I am still here. I know how wonderful your life was and I know how much you achieved, but you were taken too soon. You would have been a fierce and amazing mother and I know how much we both wanted that. It’s just unfair.

 I will try to live my life in a way that would make Grace McDermott proud of me. I will keep my chin up and try to achieve anything I feel she would approve of. I know my life will never be the same but that is something I must live with and walk with (I can hear her screaming at me now ‘different doesn’t mean bad’) but I will have to disagree with her on that one. I suppose I just miss my best friend.

I love you Grace. Thank you for being my number 1 fan, for teaching me how to be a better human and for choosing me to be your life partner. I just wish it lasted another 50 years. x

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