Background >>Watch video>>
I am 22 years old, I’m from Mexico. I grew up in Mexico for 15 years of my life and then I moved to Ireland. I live in Dublin and I’m an artist.
I do quite a few different things but it started by just playing the oboe and having fun playing the oboe. I decided to go to college and study it properly and more opportunities kept coming.
Suddenly the Irish Baroque Orchestra gave me a baroque oboe and they paid for my lessons. They were like, “Here you go, you’re a baroque oboist now, we’ve adopted you”.
It’s evolved with time. Now I’m not only an artist and a musician, but I also work in social media for example and I work for my conservatory as well at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, which happened organically so I’m very happy it’s not only one thing.
Confusion >>Watch video>>
When the pandemic started, I was living in a very tiny apartment with my sister and my brother-in-law, we all love each other very much. We were in this cosy little apartment doing nothing but watching movies all the time and then everything changed dramatically. I felt for a long time I was in a horror movie.
The whole COVID situation was really bad in Mexico. My Dad got very sick from it. We would talk every day on the phone. That day was a Friday I think. He would usually say, “Go have your college weekend off, do whatever it is you wanna do and I’ll catch up with you Monday. You can tell me whatever adventure or boring story”.
Monday came and I remember being sat in my house. It was a beautiful day and I picked up the phone. It was one of my brothers in Mexico. We don’t really have a relationship at all. He said, “By the way, Dad got really sick and from one minute to the next he needed to be taken to hospital and he just passed away now.” I was very confused, my confusion kicked in there, it was very immediate. “So I’m just letting you know, he was alone, there was nobody there with him. We couldn’t go in because you don’t wanna put extra people at risk.” It was this weird, awful situation and obviously immediately they had to arrange everything. So basically he said, “I’m on my way to bury him, See ya.” It was incredible. I remember looking at my sister and she just knew. She has this amazing sense, she could read me so well and was like, “Oh no, oh no”.
That was in June 2020 and basically from June ‘til August I don’t know what happened. It was tough, that was the toughest time for sure. I was in this perpetual state of confusion. I think it was the shock of it. It was very confusing.
Whole body experience >>Watch video>>
The first thing that happened was that I felt that my feelings and emotions were so incredibly massive that they felt like a giant and I felt like I was being constantly crushed down. A very specific feeling, it clings to you like a cold, it doesn’t really go away. You kind of go through your day but it’s there, the symptoms are there, it’s a whole body experience.
I just remember thinking that I was so sad and so depressed that I must be some weird alien and nobody has ever gone through something as hard. I would, in a way, honour that and give it the space to be, and then of course it would come down and ebb and flow again.
Shock >>Watch video>>
I played a lot of oboe, I focused on a lot of technique. I found out that if you play the oboe, you can’t cry at the same time. I would do a lot of crying for sure but then I did need some time for myself to do something different and use my head to escape for a minute. That kind of worked for a while. It’s always a work in progress, I think that’s how grief naturally works. I’ve learned a lot of new things since everything happened.
I was about to go into my final year of my degree so I had a lot of expectations and ideas of what I wanted to do. I think it was very much deflecting the whole situation. I was feeling the loss of someone, but it was also this incredible shock and feeling of, “I’m not someone’s daughter anymore”, also, “I’m by myself”. I think the shock stayed in all of the layers of who I am. At the same time, I knew that I wanted to keep existing and keep living somehow.
Baby step >>Watch video>>
Although it seemed very much impossible at the time, I did hope that I could do something with myself. I think it started with the smallest possible baby step of, “I’m going to get up from my bed and see if I can do something.” It started like that, just a warm up, even if it was only five minutes. Then I’d put the oboe away and do something else. As the days went on, I was finding a lot more strength there and then I realised, because of lockdowns, “OK, I’m gonna be here for a long time now”.
I worked a lot more, that was probably my most efficient time, then I relaxed a little bit more. When I felt stronger, I worked on a lot of orchestral excerpts. Because I’m an oboist, I love them and they’re everywhere. I listened to a lot of music and read a lot of scores. I also had that opportunity to start working on baroque oboe, which was crazy. My poor family, they had to listen to me sounding like this dying duck for months. They had nowhere to go, like nowhere to run away from me but they were very cool about it.
All of these opportunities started coming, then I went back to see my teacher in person. We had been kinda close doing lessons online during all of that, trying to figure it out.
Never alone >>Watch video>>
The main thing, I think, was that I was never alone. My whole community kind of rose and they realised, “She doesn’t know what’s happening just now, but we need to help”. I was lucky and I’m still very lucky.
A lot of people showed up to my house. They came to keep me company, socially distanced, but they came. They brought cookies and biscuits and flowers. The confusion was so bad at the time. I would be more close to some of my friends than others and I was like, “Do they know? Did you tell them?”, and they were like, “Don’t be so silly of course they know”.
One thing that was very surprising about it, and I think that anyone who reads this who has gone through any kind of loss will understand, at some moment you realise you were put in this group of people you didn’t ask for. Like you’re in the parentless group, or the single group. There are so many groups and suddenly you’re a new member, so you feel like a loser for a long time thinking, “Oh my god I didn’t want to be here, I didn’t ask for this. Then suddenly you realise, there are a lot of people waiting there saying, “You’re not alone and everybody goes through this at some point, it’s going to be different.”
I was meeting with my wonderful, wonderful therapist Virginia Kerr. I love her. She was incredible during this time. I felt very close as well, for example, to my oboe teacher. I realised he also went through this twice already. I think something shifted in my head and I started listening a bit more. My teachers would say, “I know exactly what you’re feeling like and nothing I can say right now is gonna help very much, but it will soon so here’s my phone number, call me”. That was just one thing. There were so many things that I was told by people already experiencing different kinds of loss. I realised I’m not alone and everybody at some point goes through this.
I think it was a really tiny small moment of being curious and listening to them. I felt a lot of the time I didn’t want to dump myself on them so I would actually keep quiet and not talk, or I would do a little bit and then be like, “Oh they look like they’re gonna cry now so I’m gonna stop.”
People were making a lot of sense to me. They were very generous and very vulnerable at the very beginning. They were like, “I am the same as you are, that’s why I’m telling you this.” It was very beautiful really because then I asked about their person and they told me about the person they had lost and their childhood stories.
When grief strikes you, you are a little kid. I wasn’t the 20 year old Maria at the time, I was the five year old little baby who suddenly didn’t have a Dad any more. People all rose up to say, “We don’t have parents anymore but we’re making lives that they are proud of and full of love and full of music.” I think that’s the most important thing. I am very lucky to realise that I will never again be alone, it’s just a matter of realising.
My advice >>Watch video>>
There are a lot of people out there who think they’re very good at accepting help and I thought I was one of them. I’ve been a person who has been in therapy a long time, on and off, but when something very hard happens, I think you immediately go, without realising, into survival mode.
I’m going to go ahead and say nobody’s good at accepting help. I was very closed off at the beginning, not ready to try and help myself a little. My advice would be, “The first step is, Yes, let it all out, let it all out and feel your feelings, as scary as they are. They’re very valuable and they deserve respect and they deserve to be felt. It’s not something that you can pretend doesn’t exist because it’s gonna catch up at some point unfortunately. Respect them and give them the space, if you can, as much as you can. I know life is very different for many people and sometimes you need to juggle many things at once, but even finding tiny moments, “This is my time, I’m gonna feel whatever, feel horrible but this is my time”. Then whenever you’re ready, “Part 2: ask for a lot of help”. I think I did a pretty good job but I probably could have asked for more at the time.
I had a lot of people coming but at some point all of that is gonna stop and that’s when you need to be your best friend and just ask people. “Can I have a therapy session? Can I be an ongoing therapy patient please? Can I have a cup of coffee with a friend?” Just listen to what you need. You don’t have to be alone, it’s very lonely as it is and very depressing and tough so don’t be by yourself all the time. I think I could have done a better job at that.
My job now is to make sure this is a smooth transition. It was very messy at first but then you realise, “OK. This is a good opportunity because I get to know who I am again.” I’m always changing and I like that. I think that I’m great and you’re great, but we want to find new things and keep it interesting and fresh and even make friends with the kinds of things we don’t appreciate a lot of the time. So now when I introduce myself to people, I’m like, “Hi, this is me. I’m very different from the last few years but you’re different too”. I’m kind of interested to see what people have turned into.
Right now >>Watch video>>
I’ve just finished my own recital. It was a great programme, jazzy stuff and a baroque piece with a soundscape in the background, plus a Poulenc sonata and a contemporary piece – it had everything. That was in the Royal Irish Academy of Music. I’ve also just finished my exams so I’m going to have my summer now.
I’m going to enjoy a little bit of downtime and after that I’m going to finish my masters degree and hopefully freelancing a lot. The new season is coming bigger than the last two years so it seems like orchestras are really eager to do big things again. I’m excited about that and to keep playing baroque oboe and see what I can do with it. We had a bit of a weird relationship at the beginning – a covid relationship – so it’s nice to actually play it with other people now.
I hope to do a bit of travel as well. I wanna go back home at some point. Well, back to my initial home, Ireland is my second home, then just eat a lot and travel a lot and get a nice tan, we’ll see. It’s like a musician life, you never really know what’s just around the corner.
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