Life Lessons with Christy Dignam

Pic: Lili Forbeg for VIP Magazine

“I came, I did my best and I hope it was good enough.”

Christy Dignam speaks to Michelle Dardis about the trials and tribulations of life, and what he’s learned over the past six decades…

Pic: Lili Forbeg for VIP Magazine

In my 20s…

I was only starting out in the music business. It was a very healthy time here for music and nearly every street in Dublin had their own band. We used to go around listening to music constantly and I was learning how to be a singer!

On a personal front, I had been going out with Kathryn since I was 14 years old and married her when I was 28. I remember back then thinking how long life was, with so much time ahead, but when you get to my age now, quickly realise it’s a flash in the pan.

If I could go back now, I’d tell myself to enjoy every moment. I was constantly looking forward and projecting, thinking about what may or may not happen in the future and fretting about stuff like that. I should have just enjoyed the moments of my youth.

Pic: Supplied

In my 30s…

One of the most profound experiences I’ve had in life was having a daughter. When Kiera was born, they took her away, cleaned her up and then put her in a little basket.

The nurse in the Rotunda came back to us and said your baby is there, and I remember seeing her for the first time. There were about eight babies beside her who were born at the same time but she shone out at me – and I’m sure it’s the same for every other father with their child. I remember the love hitting me all at once.

That’s someone you didn’t know two seconds ago, but now you’d kill or die for them. It was profound, it was so amazing. When she was a baby I didn’t want her to grow out of that period, and the same when she was an infant, a child…but every year got better and better.

Obviously, we had trials and tribulations, everybody does, but fatherhood is such an amazing experience. I came from a big family, there was eight of us in mine and Kathryn had ten in hers. We intended to have a fairly big family too, but things didn’t work out that way. You see, we suffered three miscarriages. Kathryn had cervical cancer.

But then Kiera had three kids, so we have three grandkids and that was our second chance at the big family. When I got sick and diagnosed with cancer on St Patrick’s Day, 2013, the doctors told me that if there’s anything on my bucket list I should do it, because they thought I’d have six months left.

The house didn’t matter, the car either – I love Mercedes cars! – Aslan didn’t matter, the only thing I cared about was my grandkids. I wanted to see them make their Holy Communion and their Confirmation. I wanted to see my granddaughter at her horse riding competition. For years, I was running around like a headless chicken wondering what life was about and there it was in front of me the whole time; my family.

Pic: Lili Forbeg for VIP Magazine

In my 40s…

With the lifestyle I had, gigging and touring, I was away a lot. We had a house in Ratoath and at the time, it was in the middle of nowhere. This bloke knocked at the door one day, he said something to Kathryn and he tried to push her into the house.

She screamed ‘Christopher’ pretending I was there and he ran off. Kiera was only young at the time and after that, she wouldn’t stay in the house, so we moved. We got a house in Finglas, I was originally from there, but didn’t want to live there anymore.

After that, we moved onto the Navan Road, near the Phoenix Park, so there was a lot of jumping around. I was still touring as well. I was busy, out living life and getting on with things to pay the mortgage every month.

Pic: Lili Forbeg for VIP Magazine

In my 50s…

This is when I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a lot of issues, obviously everyone knows which ones, and I sorted them out. I had just started to get my life on an even keel, things were plodding along nicely, the band was going well, we were going around the world. I kept getting these chest infections.

I remember I had taken 13 courses of antibiotics between Christmas and March – a three-month period – which is not good, and it still wasn’t doing anything. It was a Thursday, I was sitting at home and couldn’t breathe. I had a gig the next night, so I told Kathryn I just wanted to do that and afterwards I’d go to the hospital, but my grandson came down and called an ambulance.

On the 17th of March, I found out that I had cancer. For the last nine years, that’s what I’ve been dealing with. Chemo, small break, chemo again, and so on. I went to London for scans that they don’t do here.

The doctor said that if I had tried to do that initial gig I wanted to play on the Friday, I’d be dead… I wouldn’t have survived it. I flatlined in hospital once, they gave me adrenaline and it kickstarted my heart again.

Then another time I got sepsis and my kidneys were failing. It’s been a constant battle and I’ve had a few lucky escapes. Now, every day I get the chance to put my foot on the floor is a good day. I always try to capture a moment and enjoy it because it could all stop in a heartbeat.

Pic: Lili Forbeg for VIP Magazine

In my 60s…

I’m getting by, day by day. Before, I used to worry a lot about what might happen or what did happen in the past, but now I don’t think about stuff like that anymore. It’s a cooler way of living and frees you. It’s great for focus.

I’ll tell you a story actually: when we were 21, myself and Kathryn went over to Australia. She had a sister living in Sydney at the time. We went over for a holiday and loved it there.

When we came back, I told her we’d give Aslan one year, I’d get it out of my system and then we’d go back to Oz, get married, have kids and rear our family there. Kathryn is still sitting upstairs with her cases, waiting to go, 40 years later.

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