Category Archives: Chance

Time

The perpetual clock counts down the seconds of my life 

as it silently ticks on
marking the era I spent here in between birth and death.
Time marked by childhood joys and innocent times
growing older, taking a lover, becoming a mother.
The seconds pass by inexorably.

Joyous events have left their invisible stain as did the tragedies.
My sister’s clock became motionless too soon.
Time arbitrarily stopped it and forever changed the lives of those who loved her.
There are no illusions when you know the ending to the story
yet still I rise every day unencumbered by the sound of ticking.

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Gone is the saddest word…..

Every time I opened the door to her home I was met by a scent which was unique and personal. It was her house, containing her life and her memories. It wasn’t a bad smell, it was simply distinctive. I have excellent olfactory senses despite being a smoker which is rare as everyone tells me. Senses are dulled and ruined by cigarettes but mine have somehow escaped intact. My sense of smell has always been good. It can detect foodstuffs that are no longer fresh despite the “best before date”, and with cooked food I use my nose as a gauge which decides whether I will eat it or not. If there is a hint of suspicion that it is not the freshest, my nose guides me. It has rarely let me down.

I am also great at identifying scents and fragrances. I can catch a whiff as someone passes, and will be able to “name that brand”. It’s like my X factor talent. I love perfume, and wear it every day. I sniff uncontrollably and unconsciously all the time taking in smells around me.

I clearly remember an early morning flight from London some years ago when I sat in a seat on board the aeroplane with my face occasionally pressed through the seats in front of me trying (without success) to identify the “scent” of the business man who sat there and who smelt divine. After several visits to the men’s cosmetic counters in Dublin department stores over the course of that summer I eventually “found” the smell, bought the product, and still continue to wear it regularly despite it being marketed as a “man fragrance”. Calvin Klein- Escape. It’s a musky fragrance that warms and changes as your body goes through the day. I never tire of it.

Two years ago as my dear and much loved mother in law became frail and unequipped to live alone; a sleep over rota was put in place by her family. I stayed over every Thursday night. I had my own key, and every week as I let myself in, I was enveloped unconsciously by the odours of her house. Not a perfume as she never wore it, just the smells that settle in any house that are distinctive to the person who lives there.

When I would come home the following morning, unpacking my clothes I could smell her lingering scent as I put them out for washing. I never really thought about it.
When she died and her house was subsequently emptied of all her possessions before it was sold, I felt really sad clearing out clothes and recalling this wonderful woman who I would miss forever. I took a couple of little keepsakes to remember her by, and I have them in my home so that she is somehow amongst us in the things that held meaning for her. I miss her all the time. She was a very special woman and I loved her dearly.

Time moves on and as a family we continue to cope with her loss. She was 94 when she died and she lived a great and long life although we miss her all the time.

There was a leak in my own house recently. It wasn’t major, but water poured into the hot-press and soaked all the linen and other paraphernalia that was stored inside it. My husband pulled out all the towels and sheets that were stored there and set them to dry on radiators and clothes horses after the leak was fixed. I was away when this happened although I knew of the catastrophe as we were in touch by phone.

I arrived home later that same night. The house was in darkness and I knew my husband was in bed. As I opened the door and stepped inside I could “smell” his mother. It was unnerving and completely unexpected. Her distinctive smell was in my hall. I don’t believe in ghosts but I was completely unbalanced by it.

I walked through the downstairs of my house but couldn’t figure how or why I was “smelling” her. I turned out lights and made my way up the stairs as the scent grew stronger and stronger. As I turned on the landing, I immediately spotted the small Blarney woollen blanket that she used to cover her lap with when she was cold draped across our banisters. I didn’t realise that my husband had rescued it from her home and had stored it in our hot press. It was just another item amongst all the other bits and pieces that were pulled out and dried after the leak.
The moment really shook me. I believe that up to then I had coped well with her death, carried on, missed her, yet remembered her. But in that minute on the landing as I lifted and snuggled into her blanket, holding it to my face and inhalling her unique scent, I understood that ‘gone’ is really the saddest word as I realised unhappily and sadly that I will never smell her again.

Destiny can be about acknowledging special people like Bernie Morrissey whose scent and memories linger on.

Capturing life… 

Sometimes there are pockets of loveliness in our days that remind us that life can be very special. There are also times that we can focus too much on the negative instead of reinforcing the positive. (I think there are song lyrics from the 50’s that echo this). It’s up to all of us to remember and to recount to others when things are good and to lay down these memories in our personal life archive.

I don’t know if it’s human nature to remember the bad stuff and to have difficulty remembering the good stuff, but this is the way that it can be for me. Tell me a sad story and I have one of equal sorrow and angst. But tell me something great, and I struggle to match it. Maybe it’s the inherent Irishness in me that finds it easier to recount a sad story, because as a people we don’t like to be boastful and full of ourselves. I have no clue, but know that alongside many others, I have dark personal tales that could curl your hair.

I also have wild and beautiful tales that could render you speechless. I tend to write less about these and have somehow consigned them to a past that I don’t boast about. Not that I was ever a winner of the Rose of Tralee or anything fabulous like that, but just other good stories have been censored and chopped from my life narrative. Archived with no code. Filed away with no yellow post-it.

My thoughts tonight are a promise to myself to try to enjoy and to capture the moments that are good for me and to simply jot them down, ensuring that they will not be consigned to an unsignposted archive. All life will end, and my own special moments will be relegated to a past that someone else might eventually read about. If my words capture how I felt at the moment that the events happened, perhaps they will light up those seconds when they are being read in the future. I have no clue if this will ever happen.

Tonight I was sitting outside a bar in the west of Ireland, having a cigarette, listening to the wonderful boom of the surf on the rocks. It was a constant noise. The barman came out and asked if I was ok. I replied that I was grand, and that I was just enjoying the sound. He asked what was I listening to as he could hear nothing. He is a local, and the music of the waves on the shore are as normal to him as the usual night time sounds of traffic on the motorway in Dublin is to me. Familiarity means that we can sometimes no longer hear the background sounds to our own lives. When I told him I was loving the sound of the waves, he cocked his head and listened. He then bustled about and made some off hand remark about the beach and the recent damage caused by storms, but really didn’t understand my pleasure in listening to the sound that is so normal to him yet so special to me.

Later on back in my room I was having a sneaky puff of a cigarette out the window. All hotel rooms in Ireland are now non smoking and one has to go outside the hotel to smoke, or puff out the window which is still against the rules yet is what I was doing. Anyway there I was, puffing away, facing the Atlantic Ocean, freezing my face off, listening to the sound of the surf, and watching huge stormy waves chase each other up the shore under a moonlit Irish sky, creating a cove of whiteness as bright as the suds in a washing machine. I was thinking that this was a truly special time. I was away with my hubby who was asleep in the bed near me, we had had a lovely couple of days relaxing and enjoying ourselves, and here we were, the two of us, juxtaposed in a small hotel in the west of Ireland, really appreciating a different background sound and rhythm to our normal life which is one lived contentedly, albeit next to a busy, noisy motorway in Dublin.

It was a memorable moment. I couldn’t take a picture to share on social media with all my family and friends as it was too dark, so I decided to write about it instead. I will re read this entry and remember this lovely night and the way that I felt. That is what archiving good memories is all about.

Destiny can be about really appreciating the actual moment that we are living in and not waiting for another one in a future that may never happen.

Dublin- Smithfield.

Growing up in Dublin, I remember Smithfield Square in the North City area of Dublin as a market. It was a place of traders, fruit and vegetable merchants, and horse fairs. It had a particular character and feel, cobbled and weather-beaten, but it was beloved by many hard working people who were there earning their living . It was regarded as a major trading  marketplace for Dubliners.

It was a run-down sort of place in the 70’s and 80’s, dilapidated and neglected. Small lock up premises bordered the square on three sides where trade was plied, and vans and horse drawn carts were in and out delivering and collecting. Business was conducted daily and the square was a hive of activity filled with many colourful characters selling merchandise.But at night time the place was deserted and empty. Irish Distillers were located on one side of this square, but the traders were the life force of this inner city square during the day.

Old Smithfield

There was also a horse fair on the first Sunday of every month. This fair was as old as my grandfather could remember and I regularly took trips in with my Dad to watch the trading of horses, donkeys, and other animals during the 60’s and 70’s. It was a bustling fair where horses, ponies, goats and chickens were kept in makeshift pens with other domestic animals. Walking around the square on those Sundays was an experience filled with sights and smells that I will remember forever. I had to hold on tightly to my father’s hand in case we became separated because it was crowded by hundreds of people.

Dublin changed, and during the late 1980’s a new city plan was created to redevelop the area. There was a sustained outcry from the people who traded there, but the lockups started to disappear and become boarded up as leases were not renewed. Trade shifted to the more expensive  ‘Official Fruit and Vegetable covered market’ off Capel Street and the square became more forlorn and neglected.

The horse fair continued on the first Sunday of each month though, despite repeated efforts to close it down.

Developers began to buy up properties on the square in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and I clearly remember reading a proposed plan for the area, where it was imagined that it would become a grand piazza or square, modelled on an Italian vision where new urban dwellers could ‘cast their gaze over the space as they sipped their cappuccinos from their apartment balconies during their leisure time’. Coffee culture was unknown in Dublin at that time, and most of us didn’t even know what a cappuccino was or what it tasted like.

The developers created wonderful artistic impressions in their sales brochures of this new fabulous lifestyle that they were attempting to sell to Dubliners. It all looked amazing. People talked it up, and there was such a buzz about this new European style apartment living.

All looked and sounded great except for the fly in the ointment.

The one thing that ruined the sales palaver about ‘coffee on balconies’ and ‘gazing across the rooftops of Dublin’ was the obvious smell of horse manure that would pervade this idyllic space every four weeks without fail.  (In my opinion there was a greater whiff from the sales patter than there ever was from the horses.)

In the intervening years when the apartments were eventually built with their balconies and their new urban dwellers, and the whole square was redeveloped, the monthly horse fair continued. There were calls from the health and safety police about animal welfare, rogue trading, and counterfeit selling. You name it; it was all happening in Smithfield on the first Sunday of every month. There were proposals to move the fair to another venue outside the city limits, but the horse traders cited old city by-laws which allowed the trading on site to continue.Smithfield horse market 2008

The market attracted all kinds. And inevitably there were people who ignored standards, and animals were traded and sold to people who didn’t have the animal’s welfare at heart. Reports of cruelty began to surface, and coupled with an influx of young lads who just wanted to buy horses as pets and urban racers, grazing them on common ground in Dublin estates, the authorities were becoming increasingly bureaucratic and wanted the whole fair disbanded. There was a gun attack in the market in 2011 and this signalled the end of the fair.

It was simply over and I have no idea where horses are traded in Dublin any more.

Smithfield has continued to be redeveloped and now bears all the hallmarks of that once envisioned grand Italian Piazza. It is a place that is on the map of all visitors who come to Dublin, and the Distillery on the corner reaps the rewards from people who pay for the tour to see how Irish whiskey is produced.Smithfield 5

I went in there tonight to see the Christmas tree that lights the square and reflects on the wonderful ancient cobblestones that hold a million memories, but for me, despite the beauty of the revamped area and the wonderful buzz of contemporary living, it has become a heartless anonymous place.Smithfield

I gazed about, and remembered the sounds that used to reverberate around it, the calls of the merchants, and the banter of the Dubliners who traded there. It is a beautiful space for sure, but it possesses no history or footprint, as that has been obliterated by the urban redevelopment practice  that has forgotten that cities need people living and working in them to survive and not just be places for tourists to visit. Walking around Smithfield tonight, admiring the Christmas tree, listening to the other visiting people who were doing the same as I was, I could have been in Berlin, Prague, or any other European city. There is sadly nothing left to distinguish it as a place that is recognisably Dublin.

Destiny can be about realising that we all need a history to know who we truly are.

Christmas……

Is it wrong to look forward to this time of year when I am constantly reminded of all those who I have lost and who will not be present with me during this season of gift giving and family oriented activities.

As the old cliché goes ‘misery loves company’ and too often I find myself spiralling downwards in a maelstrom of sadness thinking about the people who I have loved and who are no longer with me. I remember them all the time and reflect on how different my life is without them.

Some may think that I am melancholic and miserable, and although I can be, it’s not the hat that I wear 24/7.

Planning Christmas for my family, wandering through gift shops and buying presents for loved ones online has created a stark reminder of all who are no longer here with me on this planet.

I hate not buying for my sister Annie any more. Almost every time I shopped, online or in real time, I thought of her. If I dared to come home with something that appealed to me, she would ask why I hadn’t bought a replica for her.  Silly and inexpensive things mostly, but stuff that we liked and that represented our shared taste. I bought on the double a lot when she was alive.

Since her death, shopping has been a major challenge. I cannot view ‘stuff’ without thinking and wondering if she would like it. Is this feeling unique to me, or do others experience this phenomenon.

My mam who died two years ago had similar tastes, but didn’t like ‘household’ stuff like Annie and I did. She was always thrilled by a gift that sparkled and that she could wear.  My mother in law Bernie who died earlier this year had no time for “gee gaws” as she called ornaments or household embellishments, and preferred to receive the gift of a practical cardigan or something similar. She liked things that were useful to her. Unlike my mam, she never wore jewellery.

I never really thought about how shopping for gifts for people that I love was such a minefield of emotion, but I really feel it this year. Everywhere I go I am reminded of what not to buy.

Notwithstanding  these feelings I am at last looking forward to Christmas.

I am looking forward to Christmas despite not having three wonderful women that I have loved collectively for over 50 years being present with me.

I am looking forward to Christmas, sharing the day with my very dear and patient husband of over 30 years.

I am looking forward to Christmas with my adult children who will come to visit and share dinner with me, and who I have really enjoyed buying gifts for.

I am looking forward to Christmas, although it will be a quieter and less crowded affair.

I am simply for the first time in five years quietly and smilingly looking forward to Christmas…….

Destiny can silently and unknowingly creep up on you and remind you to keep on living.

Taking things for granted…..

As people, I believe that we can all take things for granted without thinking too much about them. Things just ‘are’ in our lives, and we accept them and rarely give them too much thought. So many actions/interactions that we encounter daily can have an emotional impact on us, and I know that I have been guilty of not really thinking about the implications and consequences that they have on me personally.
Life can sometimes be so busy that we can get hopelessly lost in the myriad of tasks that we think have to be completed in order to provide structure and meaning to the day. I realise that with time on my hands I have become much more reflective than I have been in the past. I have a lot more time to ponder as I am not so caught up with a rigid time schedule. The studying and reading that was so focused and time consuming during the past few years no longer dominates my time. Now I find myself deliberately taking time out to consider what pleases me and what doesn’t.

After a year of mourning the death of my mother together with all the ancillary tasks that managing her estate entailed, I began to look for employment as soon as the New Year began. I scrutinised websites and agencies and updated my CV with the intention of going back to work full time after my five years in College. I applied for a couple of positions that I believed would suit me and my particular skill set, and I was so enthusiastic about my prospects that I even purchased new interview clothes. I never even made it to that stage.

While facing into my disappointment I took some time to think deeply about what it was that I was so upset about. Not being given a chance to put myself forward was the biggest difficulty that I had to deal with, but on reflection I wondered if this was about my ego and nothing else. I believe that I have great qualities, but the fact that I never even got to showcase them? How very dare they!

Imagine a scenario where I had been interviewed and given one of the positions that I applied so enthusiastically for. It was a 38 hour week in an area a fair distance away from my home. There would be morning and evening traffic to consider and selective early starts and late finishes.
Sometimes not getting what you want provides a clarity and certainty that you hadn’t considered beforehand.
Not being granted an interview made me take stock of my situation and my current life. While I moaned in the short term, I took time to examine the long term and I realised that I don’t actually want to work long hours and be away from home 40 hours a week and possibly more with travel.

My husband is retired, and while we live a small life we manage comfortably on his pension.

We don’t spend money unnecessarily, drive two modest cars, and we have never been the type that has to have the latest trend or fad.

We take several mini breaks during the year and generally enjoy a life without timetables and rigidity.

We come and go as we please (with kids grown up and flown the nest) and enjoy spontaneous lunches out at the coast and picnics in forests when the humour takes us.

We have our own rhythm and we enjoy it, and although I would like to work I don’t want it to cut into this lovely way of life that we have. I also don’t want to leave him alone for eight hours every day as there are only the two of us at home now. Being rejected for these jobs has made me recognise how precious and special this shared life is, and I am so glad that I have had the time and space to realise what it is that I want, and what it is that I don’t want.

I have taken for granted the absolute pleasure that a day without time constraints can bring.

I have taken for granted the fact that I do not need to work outside my home in a paid capacity to be happy and content.

I have taken for granted the fact that I actually like spending time with my husband even when we have nothing to say to each other.

I have taken for granted the fact that we are financially secure enough that I don’t need to provide another income to our household.

I have taken for granted how extremely lucky I am that I have choices about how I live my life with my dear husband and partner of over 35 years.

I have taken for granted the simple pleasure of simple pleasures.

The past five years have provided me with a top class education and qualifications, but it has also been the toughest time in my life as I have lost my much loved sister and mother. Deciding not to take things for granted is the best way forward for me at this moment in time, and appreciating the simple everyday pleasures that shape my days is the greatest realisation that all this reflective thinking has achieved.

Destiny can be many things and can wear coats of jewelled enticing colours, but it can also be there sitting plainly, quietly under our noses if we could only just recognise it.

What’s another year….

Winter has rolled around again. It’s December. For many people this time of the year is one of joy and happiness as Santa comes to visit small children, bringing surprises and gifts. I have always loved winter and have enjoyed the seasonal cheer throughout my life.

This time last year however, I was caught up with the care of my terminally ill mother Monnie. She was in the loving care of a hospice as she lived out her last few weeks before her death on January 11th. 2013.

Looking back, I recognise now that this period of time was emotionally difficult and completely unpredictable. The days were all caught up with managing visits, linking in with social & health workers, meetings with counsellors and care staff, while all the time I was trying to remain positive and upbeat around my mam. This wasn’t always easy.

It wasn’t easy for her either. There were days last December during my visits that we would sometimes just sit in silence. We couldn’t speak about future events because we knew that she would not be around for them. It rendered us speechless. Other times we could gossip about family members, neighbours and friends. We tried to keep it light as we consciously skirted around the fact that she was dying.

It was a heartbreakingly sad time for both of us I think. We did have conversations about death, but they were few. Looking back I wonder if I could have been emotionally stronger in order to speak bravely about how life would be without her. I will never know.

Christmas Day she was with my husband and I with our two adult children at home in Lucan for a few hours. We were so glad that she was well enough to travel and that she wanted to be with us. Previously over other years she had travelled to my sister in Bristol for the holidays, but not this year. My son Andy collected her in the morning and brought her to our home, where she was fussed over and made comfortable.

We had prepared all the things that she liked to eat even though her appetite was poor, and when we all finally sat down to dinner that day the moment was filled with poignancy and emotion… until she asked for gravy.

Traditionally my family don’t use gravy, but Monnie stoutly declared that she couldn’t eat her dinner without it. There was a deafening silence around the dinner table that moment as we all looked at each other in desperation and horror, realising that despite my husband slaving away for hours preparing all the little things that she liked, he had forgotten to provide gravy! (This moment will always be remembered as “Gravygate”). Like a true gentleman (with gritted teeth) he left his dinner and went back to the kitchen to prepare her heart’s desire. Minutes later, gravy accomplished, we all enjoyed our last Christmas dinner together.

She went back to the hospice that night having spent an afternoon amongst family members who loved her and who were glad to see her enjoying the day despite her frailty.

Two weeks later, I was sitting beside her in the hospice one afternoon reading to her. She was quiet and had little conversation. She was watchful though, like a little bird. I left her eventually and promised her that I would be back the following day. That evening my son and husband headed in to visit her and advised me to stay home and to have a night off. I took them up on this suggestion and settled in on the sofa, relaxed in the knowledge that “the lads” were with mam…

A couple of hours later I received a phone call from my son telling me that mam was asking for me and wanted to see me. I left the house reluctantly and made my way to the Hospice. While on the way my son kept phoning me to ask where I was every step of the way as mam kept asking for me and wanted to know how long I would be. I was short tempered and narky as I repeatedly told him that I was on route. When I got to the hospice my brother and his wife were also present. We all had a great evening with mam and we left her in sparkling form.

The following morning my daughter Jayne called me at 8am to say that she was in the hospice after finishing a night shift and had called in but that she couldn’t wake mam up… I left home immediately and arrived to the hospice just after my daughter had left. Monnie was still asleep.

She eventually awoke, yet was quiet and had no words compared to the previous night when she was full of life and wit. As the morning progressed a member of her team came in to attend to her, and as I was leaving to give them privacy, I heard him ask her if she wanted to be made more comfortable. I saw my mam gaze into his eyes with trust and acceptance as she whispered ‘yes’.

I returned a few moments later and mam was lying back in her bed, comfortable and relaxed. I took out a book and began reading as I held her hand. I asked her if she wanted anything, and she shook her head. I told her to rest and to sleep and that I would stay with her. She closed her eyes as I continued to read.
At some stage I attempted to move my hand in hers, but she held on fast… eventually she fell asleep and her hand in mine became slack.

She never awoke again….

Looking back I realise that she knew her time had come. I think that she knew the previous evening when she asked for me. My brother, his wife, my son, my husband were all there as she prepared to leave this life and we were privileged to be present during that time. I was the fortunate one to be holding her hand the following morning as she slipped into the peaceful end sleep that she wanted, and I am so glad that I was there with her at that special time.

Looking back at this past year as Christmas is almost upon us, I miss her so much. We had a tempestuous relationship but I loved her so. This time of year is difficult for many people who remember loved ones who are no longer present, and I know that I am not alone in my grief as mam was a part of a large and extended family who all miss her.

Clichés about ‘time healing’ are well intended, but bring me no comfort. I realise that as I grow older I will lose more people that I love and that this is a simple fact. Life continues on but in a different way.

This is a time for reflection, looking back and remembering other Christmas’s past, and I have wonderful memories of growing up in Dublin when Santa visited us as children. Monnie was always at her best on Christmas night singing at the piano as Uncle Paddy belted out show tunes while we kids peeped through the banistairs at the party going on down below. These memories will never tarnish and I treasure them.

Although I will always miss her, I will remember Monnie this Christmas day with a smile and wish that she was still here with us. We won’t have gravy on the menu, but we will laugh and smile as we remember ‘gravy-gate’.

My life is constantly changing and shifting as I loose people that I love, but I also rejoice in my friends and family who bring richness, variety and love to my life. This is what makes it my destiny.

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