celebrities, mental health, nostalgia, obits, psychology

Sinead O’Connor actually helped me survive the COVID-19 pandemic…

It was a shock last night when I got the news that Irish singer Sinead O’Connor died. My German friend, Susanne, shared a link to a German news article with the headline “Sinead O’Connor ist tot!” (ist tot= is dead). I went looking for confirmation and quickly found it in The Irish Times, a very reputable newspaper to which I am a subscriber. Then I remembered that Sinead O’Connor had lost her 17 year old son, Shane Lunny, to suicide in January 2022. Based on her last tweets, it appears that Sinead was still very deeply distressed about his death.

Sinead O’Connor did a fabulous cover of Dolly Parton’s song, “Dagger Through the Heart”. She wrote in her book that this was one of her favorite songs. It’s brilliant!

At this writing, details of how Sinead passed away have not been made public. She was 56 years old, and things do go wrong in 56 year old bodies. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if Sinead decided to exit life in much the same way her son did. Unfortunately, suicide can be contagious, particularly among those who are vulnerable to mental illness, as Sinead O’Connor freely admitted she was.

A couple of years ago, I read and reviewed her book, Rememberings. At the time I read the book, it was the summer of 2021. COVID hysteria was in full swing, and I was struggling with feelings of depression that were worse than usual. I remember wondering if life would ever go back to “normal”… or some semblance of normal, anyway, as my life hasn’t been really “normal” in years. Between noticeable climate change, moving to Germany, and watching the neverending Trump dumpster fire from afar, things have been rather weird for some time. COVID just magnified all of that anxiety I already had and made it much more surreal.

I’m not ashamed to admit that there were some times during the height of the pandemic when I wondered if I wanted to go on living myself. Who wants to go through life wearing face masks everywhere and being “locked down”, surveilled, screamed at, and possibly even arrested for not complying? Many people were talking a lot about how we should all be living life differently, and some were suggesting that those changes should be forever. Other people were denying the pandemic and becoming violent when they were asked to take the most basic precautions. It was terrifying, and the overall mood legitimately caused me a lot of angst, especially given how hostile and aggressive people were in pushing their views– and I mean on both sides of the issue. There didn’t seem to be much moderation… and I was so very tired of it all. It made me feel HOPELESS.

Anyway, there I was in June 2021, reading Sinead O’Connor’s book. It was about time for my birthday, and Bill and I had arranged a weekend stay at a beautiful five star hotel in Heidelberg, Germany. Heidelberg is not very far from where we live, but it’s a wonderful city. We went there for the first time in 2008, and had a blast. So, even though we could drive there in less than two hours, I was happy to enjoy the weekend turning 49… the last year of my 40s.

As we were driving to Heidelberg, I was reading passages from Sinead’s book aloud to Bill. Some of her stories were absolutely hilarious! Some were moving. Some were tragic and infuriating. I was sharing passages from her book with friends. My former shrink, who is now a Facebook friend, even had a laugh at one of them. I asked him if he thought he’d read Sinead’s book. He said “no”. I thought that was kind of a pity. I think he’d enjoy her musings. But maybe reading her book would be too much like taking his work home with him.

I remember that weekend in Heidelberg with so much fondness. It was the most “normal” I’d felt in a long time, even though COVID measures were in place. I remember having to go through a pain in the ass rigamarole to get my COVID vaccination credentials in order, mainly because I live in Germany, but got shots from the United States. We had to prove we were fully vaccinated before we could check in to the hotel, and we had to wear masks everywhere. I know a lot of people didn’t think any of that was a hardship, but for me, it was. However– I hasten to add– I DID COMPLY with the rules, even if I wasn’t cheerful about them.

Sinead O’Connor was a big part of that great weekend, because her book was so engaging to me. She made me laugh. She made me cry. I felt things other than anxiety and depression when I read her book. And we had so much fun over that weekend in Heidelberg, even if a lot of what we did involved people watching and taking pictures.

I remember sitting at a wonderful Heidelberg restaurant called Chambao on the night after my birthday. Because it was June and COVID restrictions were in place, we opted to sit inside by a window. At the time, those who weren’t vaccinated weren’t allowed in most establishments. Consequently, Chambao’s patio area was packed. The inside was almost empty. I remember the first bite of that dinner, and how tantalizingly delicious it was. It was the first really excellent food we’d had in a long while… which I know sounds very spoiled, given how much people have suffered over the ages. In my review, which I linked in this paragraph, I wrote that “my tastebuds were exploding”. It was a reminder that there are still good things in life worth waiting for and savoring. And I instantly started enjoying things more, and living life, rather than just wanting to “fast forward” through the bad parts, or just quit working altogether.

I finished Sinead O’Connor’s book, and we headed back to Wiesbaden, taking a brief detour to an awesome German city called Speyer. Speyer is also not that far from where we live, and we probably ought to go there and explore it more. But going there in 2021 was a revelation that there are still things to discover and enjoy, and the world is still out there… and a lot of it, in spite of what’s in the news, is still good. When I got home from our weekend, I bought a bunch of Sinead’s less popular albums and got to know her better. I should have “met” her a lot earlier than I did. She was phenomenal.

I still worry about things beyond my control. I worry about Donald Trump getting back into office and turning the United States into a dystopian, fascist, nightmare. I worry about my body turning on me and having to make decisions that I’ve been putting off for years. I worry about Bill and my mom, and the prospect of someday losing them. As Sinead’s sudden end has shown us, no one is guaranteed tomorrow.

Well… I don’t know how or why Sinead O’Connor died yesterday. I have my suspicions. If I’m right about my suspicions, it’s just one more reminder that mental illness is a real, and it can be deadly. I know she had many people in her life who loved her, in spite of her difficulties with mental illness. My sincere condolences go out to those who actually had Sinead in their daily lives and will miss her very unique and unforgettable presence. I have no doubt that having her around could be very difficult at times, but I also have no doubt that she rewarded her loved ones with warmth, creativity, unusual insight, and true hilarity.

I obviously didn’t know Sinead as a regular person, but she really did help me survive the pandemic. At the very least, her hysterical stories about her fantasies of having sex with Mormon missionaries and the nun who drew a penis on the chalkboard at her school gave me a reason to keep going (and if you want to see those anecdotes, have a look at my review). I hope wherever she is today, she’s finally at peace.

RIP Sinead O’Connor– December 8, 1966- July 26, 2023

I recorded this cover of Sinead O’Connor’s version of Elton John’s “Sacrifice” 9 years ago. I’ll probably redo it today, but for now, here’s a musical tribute.

Here’s the remake…

It’s no sacrifice at all.

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