Monthly Archives: January 2013

Memories of a Dublin childhood…..

Growing older brings its own rewards. I tell myself this all the time and I truly believe it. It brings wisdom, confidence, and a settling in to one’s self that was largely missing for me in my younger days. Being middle aged doesn’t mean that I am on the scrap heap of life though, I am anchored in life with friends and family and I am fortunate to call Dublin my home.

Home is different to everyone and we all carry our own traditions and histories, but I believe that I am privileged to have grown up at a time in Dublin when communities felt real, and where people mattered to each other.

My childhood neighbourhood in Drimnagh was full of houses that were small and where families were large. My own house had two parents and five children. We were similar to other families that surrounded us, some having more kids, others having less. One house around the corner had seventeen children in a three bedroomed terraced home, plus two parents and a grandmother. They were lovely people, and I often wondered how they happily fitted inside the small rooms that were characteristic of the houses that we all lived in at the time.

My house in my opinion was squashed full of people, and the only places that I could comfortably exist in were my bedroom (shared with two sisters) and the living room (shared with the whole family). The ‘good room/parlour’ was out of bounds and I was only let in there with special permission.

This parlour had an opulent chesterfield suite in it that I was not allowed to sit upon on a daily basis. The room and all its contents were for guests and visitors, and I grew up peeking inside it, wishing that I could relax on the softness of the couch instead of sitting on the floor in the family room, or sharing a fireside chair with one of my siblings watching the TV which was the center point of the room.

My father was a skilled craftsman who could have knocked the wall down to make a bigger family room for us all, but my mother didn’t want that. She liked having a special room for very rare visitors and guests. That was her family tradition.

We had a little fancy telephone table in the hall, and although the telephone was cut off several times during my childhood through non-payment of bills, the ‘dead’ phone was always polished as was the table…. Keeping up appearances was an integral part of living in those days. Lots of our neighbors had ‘dead phones’ too.

As children we were always in and out of each other’s houses. The mammies made jam sandwiches for us when we were hungry, and the daddy’s played with us and taught us how to kick balls and make stuff like bows and arrows out of branches from trees.

They swung us around and praised us and kissed us when we did well. There was a simplicity to living that was innocent and precious, and I have wonderful memories of the kind and loving neighborhood dads that I grew up with.

There was a trust between us as neighbors that was never tarnished, hurt or broken.

The Daddy’s of my pals were all working class men, who loved their children and who made time for them and me after a long hard day’s work. I remember so many of them with extreme fondness and these memories will never fade.

Sadly I now only get to meet my childhood pals at the funerals of our parents and old neighbors, where we hug each other and ask about our own children and how they are doing. We recount our shared memories that we have about the people that we grew up with, and we tell ourselves how lucky we were to live in a time when lives were simpler and people trusted more.

We were lucky. We lived lives where most of us were cherished and beloved.

I realise now that there must have been many difficult domestic issues happening behind closed doors when I was growing up, and most of us were more poor than rich, but I am thankful and forever grateful that my childhood was not scarred by any type of abuse or inappropriate behavior by any of the wonderful men who were the fathers of my childhood pals. We have spoken about this when we meet at funerals and we have recounted how fortunate we were. Everyone that I knew had lovely men as fathers.

Looking back, there is always the possibility that rose tinted glasses are in place to gloss over the grimness of Dublin in the 60’s and 70’s, but as I embrace middle age I can honestly say that those glasses add a shine and luster to my childhood that will forever be pink and pretty, and nothing will ever dull the memories that I share with my childhood friends growing up in Drimnagh. I truly loved most of the fathers of my pals and I remember them with great affection. I realise how lucky I was to have a childhood that was simply about being a child with nothing else to tarnish it.

Destiny can be about looking back and wishing that you were looking forward again…..

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Monnie Furlong O’Neill. 27/4/1930 – 11/1/2013

Having previously written about my mams terminal illness, it is with a numbed sadness that I am writing now about her recent death.

Reading notices in newspapers about people who have died after cancer, I have always been struck by the language used. “She fought hard” or “he battled strongly”. These words always conjured up images of the said person dressed up in army fatigues, in a war zone, engaged in hand to hand combat.

Dying of cancer may be like that for some people, but I never saw it as a war or a fight that my mother could “win”.

In the earlier days of her illness there was certainly hope, but as the disease progressed, this hope was extinguished and she was left with the stark reality of facing into an uncertain future. Her time for living was limited and she knew that she was going to die.

I believe that facing our mortality must be the most frightening experience ever. We spend our lives planning this and that, visualizing particular outcomes and results. But imagining our own death and what comes after it is mystifying and terrifying, because we have nothing to go on and no images of what happens next. While medical intervention and treatments can make a person more comfortable during their illness, the undeniable fact that life is drawing to a close must be petrifying.

My mam was ill for almost two years. During this time she had incredible support and care from all the health professionals who she came into contact with. She took everything that was offered to her in the hope of gaining more time, and she accepted all treatments and interventions despite them making her feel sick and her losing all her beautiful hair.

By the time December 2012 rolled around, she was increasingly tired and unable to cope with living alone. We sometimes talked about the future, but these conversations were difficult and she confessed to feeling afraid. She was admitted into the palliative unit of the hospice in Harolds Cross in Dublin early in December and she peacefully died in their care on January 11th.

During her time there the staff made her feel so special, and they showered her with attention mixed up with humor and compassion. She was treated with absolute dignity and respect by everyone who worked there including the volunteers who brought tea in the evenings to her visitors. Spending time with her was a pleasure, and it was wonderful to see how she was viewed by the people who all contributed to her care. She loved being there and grew less afraid as time moved on. She told me this several times.

As she grew weaker her beautiful hair grew once more, and it was great to see her give up her wig and to look stylish and trendy with her new cropped pixie haircut. She was with my family on Christmas day for a few hours, and although she was tired we laughed and told stories around the dinner table as we always had done in the past. We could see though that she was struggling.

As a family we had time to spend with her as her life drew to a close. I was alone with her holding her hand when she slipped into a sleep that she would never awaken from, and my brother and I sat up with her through that first night. We whispered together in the darkness as we said our goodbyes. It was a frosty bright night and there were two foxes outside that kept stealing past her window. It was a real privilege to be there with her as she prepared for her journey from this world. She slept peacefully for three more days while our family kept vigil, and then she quietly slipped away while my two brothers and one of her own brothers were present.

She leaves behind siblings, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, neighbours and dear friends who loved her and who will miss her forever. She also leaves us with memories of a wonderful woman who loved life and embraced it with passion and gusto. She spoke her mind and had an opinion on almost everything, and her voice and expressions will echo around in my head for a long long time to come.

Rest easy mam, your long journey here is over, but only you know if another one is just beginning.

My future destiny will always contain elements of my past and this will always include my mother……