In April 2017, Mark Earley was in an airport in Melbourne when he got a phone call that would change the rest of his life. His wife of just under two years, Liane, was dead, leaving him a widower at the age of 35. Mark joined Ryan Tubridy to talk about Liane, their life together and coping with grief.
Remarkably, Mark and Liane grew up mere streets away from each other in Glenageary. Less than a kilometre separated them for the guts of 20 years. But they never really interacted, as Mark explained.
“Myself and my twin brother James knew her as the kind of cute blonde from around the corner…Our social circles never really crossed.”
10 years later, Mark was in Galway studying to be a teacher when fate intervened. Mark and Liane met at a party.
“It was kind of one of those romantic stories, eyes met and there was immediate attraction and mischief between the two of us. I knew who she was and we got chatting and kind of laughed that we’d never really, you know, met properly or been introduced.”
The pair started dating shortly after, Mark told Ryan. Liane was easy to get on with. She loved the outdoors. They swam and hiked and had a very happy “hippie” phase” together. They moved to Sandymount in Dublin and got engaged on Killiney Hill during a walk. A feat in itself, Mark says.
“Liane was more irritated with me trying to stop the walk happening…I was trying to get her out onto a view of the place to propose somewhere romantic and she was having none of it. So, I just had to go down on a knee and ask and get on with it.”
A Clifden wedding and Sri Lankan honeymoon followed and Mark and Liane settled into married life. It was 2015.
Liane had a seizure disorder called nocturnal epilepsy. In Liane’s case, this meant that she would experience an epileptic fit about 45 minutes into a sleep cycle. She took medication that aimed to curb the amount and severity of the seizures but Mark says that the medication was not completely successful.
“She’d have seizures maybe once a week, sometimes twice a week.”
Liane’s epilepsy was part of her life but Mark says she made the most out of every day regardless.
“She didn’t want to change the life she lived. She was someone…who lived their life to the full.”
One year ago, Mark was at Melbourne airport on his way home from a friend’s wedding when he got a phone call. It was Liane’s sister, Jane. She told him that Liane had had a bad fit in her sleep and passed away.
“I collapsed. There was a wonderful French family beside me and they kind of scooped me up off the floor and realised there had been a phone call of some magnitude…I think my first thought was maybe it was a mistake. Maybe Jane [Liane’s sister] had made an error or maybe somebody had misread it. I just wanted to get home as soon as possible.”
Mark told Ryan that the boarding crew debated whether he was able to travel, as at this point he could “barely stand up”. He made it onto the plane and used one of the few functions on his phone he could open during the flight: the notes application. He had “an immediate fear” of forgetting things about Liane. He started writing down every memory he could think of. Ryan asked Mark to describe these memories.
“I suppose I’m slightly biased, I think she’s the most beautiful woman who ever walked the earth. She’s a stunning blonde bombshell. She had a big open face, a big smile that warmed people. She was very open and friendly. She was a carer. She looked after people.”
When Mark landed in Abu Dhabi for his connecting flight, he discovered that his friends and family had bought him a seat on an earlier, more direct flight.
“The network had gone into overload.”
His arrival in Dublin airport is difficult to think back on.
“I remember falling into arms and bawling. I didn’t know where I was.”
Mark’s memory of what happened next is hazy but he thinks his parents drove him to the funeral home straight from the airport.
“I wanted to see her. I wanted to see her as soon as I could…It was horrible…You walk in and see the person, you know, your best friend, your soul-mate lying still and pale and cold. Yeah, that was horrible.”
Mark decided he wanted to speak at Liane’s funeral.
“For me, a lot of it was about honouring her, about leaving a memory that would be fitting for her…I think me standing up there and crying through the whole thing would have been fair, I suppose but would have been maybe not what I wanted people to remember. I wanted people to remember her and what we had together and what she had with her friends and family.”
Mark spoke about his reasons for talking about his loss publicly, saying it “really helps” him to share Liane’s story.
“I’ve become a very strong believer in the power of positive change after a deep loss. Post-traumatic development is something I’ve read a little about.”
He told Ryan that another facet of the period after a loss is coping with other people’s grief or curiosity.
“Some people like, you know, the gossip side of it…I jokingly call them ‘grief-mongers’, who actually get some sort of kick out of it…people I’ve never met…There are a small percentage of people who just want gory details and want to know what they can pass on in their next chat with whoever they’re meeting for tea that day…I’ll never really understand that.”
Ryan asked if Mark has experienced the phenomenon of thinking he sees Liane in crowds. Mark says that it happens frequently.
“I see Liane’s hair. I see her clothes. I see her gait. I see the way she walked. I see her cycle by. I haven’t quite reached out for people but close enough.”
Mark dreams about Liane sometimes, he says. It’s a feeling always accompanied by great disappointment when he wakes up.
“You wake up feeling like you haven’t got a chance to check in, to see how she is, to see what she thinks of what I’m doing, to catch up…You wake up wishing it was real.”
It’s been just over 2 years since Liane passed away but parts of his grief are “still new”, Mark told Ryan.
“I’m talking to someone…I’m quite public about it. I think it’s important.”
There was a huge reaction from the listeners to Mark’s story, with many people messaging to say they had listened to his story in tears. One listener praised Mark for sharing his experience to help others.
“There will be so many people grieving for a loved one that might have felt alone until this morning.”
Listen back to the full interview on The Ryan Tubridy Show here.
Mark has been writing about his experience with grief at his blog, There Are Words.
For more information about Epilepsy and Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP), please visit Epilepsy Ireland’s website, epilepsy.ie.
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