Monthly Archives: February 2013

People you meet on the bus….

I took a bus ride many years ago in Dublin with my young son Andrew who was almost two years of age at the time. We were heading into the city centre early one morning and we took a seat alongside an elderly woman. We were on the outside seat and she was on the inside one beside the window. My baby was sitting on my knee.

This woman began to chat away to me and to touch my son, chucking his cheek and holding his hands. Dublin is a friendly city so this was not unusual. After a bit of conversation she started to get emotional and began to cling tightly to my son. I remember feeling very anxious. I felt that I had nowhere to escape to. The bus was crowded and to move seats would be ‘rude’ or so I thought. When she began to cry I got really uncomfortable and wanted to get me and my son away from her thinking that she was somehow mentally unstable and that my baby was unsafe.

She gathered her composure and apologised for getting emotional and confessed that it was her grandson’s birthday that day. She told me that he was fourteen years of age. I congratulated her uneasily and asked her if she had bought a present for him.

In one of the most intimate public moments that I have ever had with a stranger, this woman told me that she didn’t know her grandson. She ‘confessed’ that her eldest child and only daughter who was twenty two at the time, had announced a pregnancy fifteen years previously and that her husband, her daughters father had cast their child out of the house because of his religious beliefs. She was moved out temporarily to live in a special home for “unmarried mothers” until her baby was born.

This lady cried bitterly on the bus beside me as she told me of her weakness in not standing up to her husband, and how her daughter was forced by him to hand her baby up for adoption. She told me that she actually hated him for it and could never forgive him although she was silent about it and was still married to him and living in the family home with her two other unmarried sons.

She said that her daughter went on to marry the father of her baby a few years later and that they were happy together. They subsequently had three lovely daughters together but no sons. Her son in law was a lovely man who completely loved her daughter and his three girls. She never spoke with him about the baby that was conceived, born and given away before they were married. Her husband wouldn’t allow it.

This lovely gentle lady told me how she walked the streets of Dublin all the time, looking into the faces of young boys wondering if they were ‘hers’. She had never forgiven her husband for forcing the adoption of her only grandson, and she told me that together she and her daughter were secretly counting the days until this beloved baby was eighteen years of age in the hope that he would contact them so that they could beg forgiveness from him for having given him up.

She hugged me and my son as she left the bus and told me how lucky I was to have a child that I loved and who belonged completely to me.

I snuggled Andrew closer to me all that day and felt overwhelmingly sad for her and her daughter’s loss. I have never forgotten that encounter, and I sincerely hope that she and her daughter were eventually reunited with the child that was torn apart from them by the combination of having a religious zealot for a husband/father, and the savage doctrine of the Catholic Church that rendered unmarried and pregnant women speechless and powerless during that shameful time in Ireland.

Destiny is acknowledging that the rose coloured spectacles of our own past can be a disguise for the hurt and loss experienced by so many …

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My mother’s ring…..

I have been told by my mother all of my life that I am like a magpie. In common with this particular bird, I do love sparkly things. She told me that she noticed this phenomenon when I began to steal her diamond engagement ring when I was about six years of age.

I love this piece of jewellery, it is simply beautiful. It is a unique art deco designed ring and it was purchased in Dublin sometime in the 1950’s. I have never seen another one that resembles it.

I stole that ring at every opportunity when I was a small child having decided that no other ring my mother owned was quite as pretty. I definitely should have been a jewellery designer, goldsmith, gemologist or something similar, such has been my devotion to sparkly stuff throughout my life.

My mother’s dressing table held an assortment of things that were very attractive to a small child. There were crystal bowls that held hair clips, safety pins, thimbles and tie pins.

There was also space for trinket boxes, powder puffs, perfume and rings. She had a small crystal spike that she used to place her rings upon, and it looked like a skyscraper of colored gems to a small six year old girl who loved sparkly things.

I was a very discerning thief though; it was her engagement ring that I loved, despite the array of other precious rings that made up this tower of jewels.

I clearly remember sitting on the pavement outside our house one day before my communion (so I was almost seven years of age). I was wearing pink shorts with zippy pockets. I had the ring on my thumb and was holding it up to the sunlight watching the sparkles radiate from the diamonds when my mother called me in for my dinner. She must have seen me sneaking the ring into my pocket for she did a methodical search of them when I came in.

When she found her treasured ring she went berserk! Despite the punishment of several slaps, this episode didn’t stop me from subsequently “robbing” her ring for many more years to come.

How I never lost it is a miracle.

Searching me became habitual and I was subject to many thorough ‘shake downs’ over the years. It did go missing a couple of times, but that was honestly down to my mother misplacing it somewhere in the house. I came under a lot of pressure those times and was always grateful that the ring turned up again.

This ring has been at the center of so many discussions (and rows with laughter) between my mother and my sisters over the years. We discussed at length what would happen to it in the event of her death. Mam wanted to leave it to her eldest daughter who had no attachment to it whatsoever, yet undaunted she wrote her will a million years ago, and to my horror bequeathed the ring to my sister!

While I argued that I loved it the most, my mother wouldn’t give way. She was following the age old tradition of leaving precious stuff to the eldest girl child. I pleaded and begged to no avail, and even though my older sister kindly whispered to me that she would give it to me on the quiet, I could not be placated. I wanted my mother to leave it to me and not get it by default.

My mother, her sister Betty, and my younger sister Annie all loved sparkly stuff. When we gathered at family dinners in my house, these women would regularly sit at the table after the Irish Coffees were served, and strip off all their precious trinkets so that I could clean them. I have an array of potions, lotions, mixtures and cloths that are particularly good at cleaning fine sparkly things like diamonds and other precious stones.

We had such laughs over the years as I took their tarnished and unkempt jewellery and made it new again. Every woman friend that I have has allowed me to clean their jewellery – particularly their rings. It’s a pity that I haven’t had the same diligence when it comes to cleaning my house- but then houses don’t sparkle like rings do when they have been cleaned!

Times change, as do people, and eventually (with no pressure) my mother realised that her precious ring was better coming to someone who genuinely loved it (me), who would always appreciate it (me), and who would keep it in the family and be the guardian of it forever (me).

She subsequently changed her will and upon her recent death I became the custodian of her beautiful ring. The ring that I used to thief and steal as a small child now rests legitimately upon my finger.

I may have coveted it all my life and I do love it, but as I hold it up to the sunshine and watch it sparkle I wish that it was somehow back on my mother’s hand.

Destiny can be about realising that what we love most are people and the things that make them happy. Without the people their things are just things…

Life, daffodils and springtime…

Collecting my mother’s ashes this morning four weeks after her death was an event filled with sadness and finality. I have made journeys like this in the past. Once for my father and once for my sister. There is something deeply personal in the collection of the essential elements of someone who was once so vital and alive, yet who has now been reduced to ashes.

I collected my father’s ashes during a summer many years ago, and my sisters ashes were collected in spring. I choose to make those journeys alone, as I also did this morning. Collecting the remains of these special people that I loved dearly was a privilege, and I have never feel spooked or scared by handling them.

Going out this morning the sun was shining and the day was bright. As I drove into the grounds of the Crematorium I saw this year’s first daffodils in bloom, their beautiful yellow heads peeping up through the soil.

In that moment I was simply reminded that spring always brings new life despite the dark winter that has preceded it, and that nature annually reflects the unceasing ebb and flow of time.

Spring can be about looking forward to a life filled with new possibilities….

Spring can be about the renewal of sleeping hopes that may have lain dormant throughout the long winter….

Spring can also be about acknowledging that our lives, like daffodils, are precious and short-lived, and that we should really make the most of the time when we are in bloom.

To Daffodils (Robert Herrick)

Fair daffodils, we weep to see

You haste away so soon;

As yet the early-rising sun

Has not attain’d his noon.

Stay, stay

Until the hasting day

Has run

But to the evensong;

And, having pray’d together, we

Will go with you along.

 

We have short time to stay, as you,

We have as short a spring;

As quick a growth to meet decay,

As you, or anything.

We die

As your hours do, and dry

Away

Like to the summer’s rain;

Or as the pearls of morning’s dew,

Ne’er to be found again.

 

Destiny can be about accepting the past while acknowledging the here and now and turning our faces up to the sun.

Surviving loss….

What makes a person get up and face into repetitive everyday tasks? I ask myself that question a lot. Life can be a struggle at times and there are days when I do not want to get out of bed and face the day ahead.

There are days when a deep sadness and melancholy can sweep out of nowhere and paralyse me in my efforts to greet each new day and accept my responsibilities. I usually push through it. What other option do I have?

This melancholy has been ever present since the death of my darling sister Annie four years ago this week. Now it is coupled with the added loss of my mother who died four weeks ago. It is always present but usually below the surface where not everyone can see it.

I realise that mourning is part of life and we all lose people that we love. However I expected the feelings of loss after my sister’s death to have passed at this stage but they have not. They have changed, and I can now carry on a conversation about her without crying openly, but there can still be a physical lump in my throat when I speak her name and recount stories about her. I can laugh about funny things that she said and did some days, but other days I don’t want to laugh because the feelings of loss are still so raw.

This loss is acute, yet I never felt that I wanted to die after her. My life is completely different now and the sections of our lives that overlapped with joy and happiness have gone and I miss that.

I miss the things that we shared and the trust that lay between us. I realise that we were lucky in our relationship and I am a better person because of her. Her honesty and diplomacy were the things that I valued the most, and yet her carefree happiness is something that I can picture in an instant. I can still hear her laughter.

Losing my mother has added another layer to this sadness and I recently found myself looking at pictures of us as a family together. There were seven of us then and now there are only four. It can be difficult to see us smiling and laughing in a captured moment and realise that we will never be together again.

At times I want to cover up all the pictures and not be reminded of how things used to be because it just makes me unbearably sad to look at them. Other times I pore endlessly over images remembering happier days and family events. It’s hard to find a balance.

People have their own ways of coping with grief, and well-meaning friends have given me countless books to help me along my journey. I think that we all find our own way through loss and I believe that it will come organically for me rather than by a particular formula taken from a book. I just didn’t think that it would take this long. Was I being naive?

Sometimes I am comforted by poetry, and as I read I realise that I am not unique. I am not the only person in the world who has experienced the loss of a loved one, and I am not so narcissistic as to believe that my feelings are more deeply felt than others. People in different places and times have survived greater grief than mine.

Yet loss is my constant companion for now and never leaves my side. Although I have many special people in my life who love me and are loved in return, these two women, my sister and my mother will be missed and mourned for as long as I am alive.

I will laugh and enjoy life and go out and socialise, yet these two wonderful women will be in the shadows beside me all the time. How can it not be so when I am such a part of them and they are such a part of me.

Annmarie O’Neill Miller 7/11/1970 – 13/2/2009
Monica Furlong O’Neill 27/4/1930 – 11/1/2013