Musician Bernard's tribute to wife with song
WHEN musician Bernard Traynor was twice struck down with serious cancer, his devoted wife Denise nursed him through his illnesses.
Then, in a cruel twist of fate, Denise herself was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and, tragically, died in March of last year after a brave battle.
Now her grieving husband Bernard is honouring his wife’s memory by posthumously releasing songs they had recorded together.
One of the tracks, Flowers From Heaven, is set for release on Friday, May 8, to highlight World Ovarian Cancer Day.
The love story of Dubliners Bernard and Denise began in college when both were young students at the College of Music in Dublin. “She was a soprano and I was doing classical guitar,” he tells me.
Bernard was instantly attracted to the stunning young woman, he says, and today he laughs as he recalls his chat up line: “I suggested that maybe we should do duets together. We hit it off straight away. We got engaged in 1988 and then we married the following year and set up a music school together in Dublin city centre.”
Later, the couple moved to Ferns, Co Wexford, where they taught music and wrote and recorded together at the dream home they designed and built themselves.
The happy couple were like two peas in a pod, always together and never exchanging a cross word. Bernard says: “A friend of mine commented one time, ‘I don’t know how you spend that much time day in and day out working together. If I spent that much time with my wife I’d kill her.’
“We were both so different. I’m calm and I like to stay in the background, while Denise was very excitable and bubbly. She liked my attention to detail, and I would calm her down.”
However, their idyllic life was shattered in 1993 when Bernard was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. “I became unwell and Denise forced me to go for an x-ray,” he says.
Remembering the moment he was told the diagnosis, Bernard says he feared for his life. “Denise said that my face went white and I couldn’t speak,” he recalls. “I immediately saw it as a death sentence, and I thought of all the things we were to do together. But Denise was full of positivity.”
It was August 1993, and Bernard was put on a very aggressive, concentrated course of chemotherapy. During the treatment, he lost all his hair and was self-conscious as he felt people were staring at him when he was out in public.
“One day, Denise said to me, ‘I’m going to have my hair done.’ Great, I thought, it’ll give her a lift. She came back bald. ‘Now they won’t know who to look at,’ she said, adding: ‘We’re in this together.’ That’s the type of person she was.”
Bernard recovered, but 14 years later the cancer returned. This time, the treatment involved a bone marrow transplant. “I spent 21 days in a sterile isolation unit at St James’s Hospital, and each day Denise would gown up all in white and sit by my side from morning till night.”
Once again, plucky Bernard made a full recovery. In the years that followed, he and Denise decided to write and record songs together. Denise also did a documentary called Dying To Live, about Bernard’s personal battle.
“I didn’t realise how important this time together was going to be, because in May 2010 Denise began to feel unwell,” he says.
After many visits with doctors, she was finally diagnosed with a very aggressive form of ovarian cancer.
“True to form, Denise stayed positive throughout her battle,” Bernard says. “She always had the belief and the fight to keep going. Even when the cancer had gone to her spine, she would be on the treadmill at home trying to get her fitness back.”
And she was a huge support to other patients in the hospital. “Denise was always counselling someone,” Bernard says. “I went in to the hospital one day when she was very ill, and I got an awful shock when I saw her empty bed. Then I found her in a corner of the room talking with a young girl who had been admitted.”
Towards the end, Denise chose the music for her funeral. “She had a great belief in the music that she had written, and felt the songs would be her legacy,” Bernard says today.
“I hope that the song, Flowers of Heaven, is the start of working through her vast repertoire of music. I feel lost without her, but I know that she would want me to keep going.”