Category Archives: Death

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.

Riding on the shirt tails of my sister…..  

As people I believe that we all have our own strengths and weaknesses, including the gifts that we bring to the table of life. Some we are born with, and others we cultivate as we grow and mature as adults. I have often wondered is humour and wit inherent or do we learn it? I know that I practiced being funny as a child in order to be liked and included.

Growing up in a large extended family there were always lots of social occasions with siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. As children we were expected to get along with our many cousins and I think that we did most of the time. We gathered in packs at particular family events throughout the year, and while the adults partied, the cousins did so too in different ways. Looking back I believe that it was actually a training ground for me in how to move comfortably within my extended family and how to perform in a particular way.

I was an overweight child/teenager and I learned to hide my true self or to make funny rejoinders about ‘fat’ people in order to deflect any hurt that I might have felt if a disparaging joke was made. Humour was harsh and critical back then with none of the political correctness that is so prevalent today. I was the family clown.

I had a very well developed personality that people commented on. I was considered outgoing and full of life and laughter. I didn’t appear shy, and I functioned really well at all these family gatherings.

As I became an adult I had good friends and enjoyed socialising, conversation, and the general banter that carried me through job interviews, friendships, relationships and eventually meeting my husband, marriage and children.

My sister Annie was ten years younger than I was. I doted on her as a child and there are hundreds of stories as to how we were as sisters growing up. She was also part of that extended family training ground, although times had changed subtly by the time she became a part of it socially.  We became close friends as adults when I moved back to Dublin in my 30’s (married with kids) and Annie was in her 20’s.

We began to socialise and to mesh our pals. We went out. We hung around with each other and spent a lot of time together. She was still living at home with our mam, but spent a lot of time with me and my family in Lucan. She liked hanging out with us.

She was so witty and very very funny. She simply sparkled. We laughed a lot, yet we had serious in depth conversations about countless things, and I trusted her completely with all of my secrets. There was a beautiful lightness and frivolity to our relationship that I recognised and loved. It was always present. She was inherently humorous and had a sharp wit just like my mother’s.

My children adored her. She was the ‘Cool Aunty’ when they were teenagers, and I clearly remember my daughter Jayne, sitting on the bathroom floor gazing up at her as she swept her blusher brush across her cheekbones before we went out one night. I didn’t use makeup, so my daughter learned this skill from her.

I also remember the time my son Andy ‘came out’ and told us that he was gay. Annie was so supportive and cracked on about how the two of them would ‘go on the pull together’ chasing men all over Dublin. And they did.

She spent a lot of time with us, and was here at the end of nights, at the beginning of mornings, mid afternoons and evenings. She sat and joked, giggled and provided fun, humour, merriment and a general lightness of being that we all basked in.

When she married Mark, had Alex and moved to Lucan, she was even more present in our daily lives.

Of course she had bad days as we all do. She could be as grumpy as hell, but when she smiled and chuckled, we all joined in with her. Her laughter brightened our days.

When she died a light went out of my life. It sounds like a cliché but it’s true.

In the short term all laughter disappeared. All joy disappeared. All lightness and frivolity disappeared. All joking disappeared.

As time moved on, I learned how to be without her, live without her, function without her, and eventually laugh without her. I am only realising now that for so many years I rode on her shirt tails. I relied on her humour and her vivacious nature to disguise my own shyness and my inability to be myself. When I was in her company we were a double act. She was the funny, witty, fabulous girl that I never really was, but could somehow be when I was with her.

Since her death so many people tell me I have changed. They tell me I am quieter, less funny, and less witty, but I realise now that I actually never was. She instinctively possessed those qualities, and unknowingly I assumed that I was the same as she was but I wasn’t.

At the ripe old age of 54 I believe I am ok. Annie and I worked as a twosome throughout many happy years together, and without her I am continuing to live and manage life just being myself. I have my own talents, yet like so many of us I am a bundle of insecurities. I also know that without her, I am actually quite a shy person who doesn’t really like the limelight although it may sometimes appear otherwise. I also realise now that I am not that funny or witty, but am ok knowing this and I am not trying too hard to be otherwise. My kids (now adults) can be the most critical of all when I attempt to be droll or humorous… They simply tell me that I’m not – although they are not being unkind. They simply know the difference having known my sister.

Destiny can be the longest road travelled between wit and wisdom, but with laughter and joy to sustain us, that journey can be made a lot easier with the people we travel with.

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.

My darling girl – “Annie” – 7/11/1970 – 13/2/2009

As long as I am alive her touch will be remembered.

Her smell, her voice, her kiss,  all locked inside me.

Treasure that comforts.

When I am gone so she will be too, though her image will remain in photographs.

Yet who will remember her soft skin, her luminescence.

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A shrinking life…

Quietly and almost without my noticing it, my life has shrunk and become smaller.

Measured tasks that filled and shaped my days, that ate up the hours and minutes were all unconsciously part and parcel of my life until last January. These moments have become fewer over the past year.

It’s difficult to reconcile the constant bustle that was my life last year with the quietness and inactivity that defines it now. It is a hallmark of how things are for me at this moment in time.

My life at the time was a balancing act.

I juggled classes, studying, assignments and learning, along with family commitments and the on-going care of my then terminally ill mother. Sometimes there were not enough hours in the day to complete particular tasks, so a friend of mine very kindly gave me a “do it tomorrow” book. It really helped me to make lists of all the things that had to be done, and if I didn’t manage to finish them I would just carry them forward to the next day or until they were eventually crossed off the list. There was a crazy kind of order to my days.

Reading back over the entries from that time I can see that life was also sometimes chaotic, and some tasks were carried on for far too long before they were eventually scratched off the list but it was all somehow manageable.

Christmas 2012 was frantic. There was so much studying and research to be completed. I stayed up many nights reading, writing, referencing and cross referencing. I remember the tiredness. I also remember minding my mam Monnie, who had moved into Hospice care by that time. Prior to her move, there were hospital appointments, liaisons with nurses and home care staff, and all the million and one things that had to be done to ensure her well-being. I wasn’t alone in this, and my brother and my mother’s sisters and brothers were on hand providing help and support during this time.

Christmas was both joyous and sad, because although my mam was with me over the holidays I could see that her life was drawing to a close. She died in early January 2013 and suddenly the tasks associated with her care that were such a feature of my life for such a long time ended abruptly. After her funeral there was an emptiness that was not just about her being gone.

The days stretched ahead empty without meaning or purpose.

I recognised this landscape as I had been there previously when my sister died in 2009 but it looked different this time, bleaker and more desolate. I remember speaking to a very kind and wise Chaplain in NUIM after my sister Annie died, and he helped me through that terrible time with his gentle words of comfort and enlightenment of how the world works with the cycle of life and death. I tried unsuccessfully to resurrect his words and tender instructions and to apply them again, but it didn’t work this time. I found myself in a place of utter loneliness that I could hardly understand myself never mind trying to explain it to others.

Throughout my life I have been emotionally strong and it has stood to me during times of trouble. However I can honestly say that this past year has shaken me more than I ever thought I could be.

Losing my dear sister Annie stopped my world five years ago and at times I didn’t want it to start again I missed her so much. Losing my mam last year has made me feel fragile and small in the face of the universe and in the arbitrary way that life/death happens.

In all the sadness and adjustment to my life without mam, I could not bury myself in my studies as I had done when Annie died. It simply didn’t work. I tried hard to keep up, but eventually made the decision to defer my studies until such a time that I could be clearheaded and focused on the subject as it deserves to be.

When this decision was made I found myself in another vacuum, another empty place where routine was gone and tasks no longer had to be carried forward to the next page of my “do it tomorrow” book.

Emotionally, I realise that I needed that space to mourn my mother’s death and to sort out her affairs, which took up so much time in the weeks and months that followed.

I took on a major house renovation which was much needed and very welcome. I became a ‘project manager’ in my own home and this activity took me through the sad spring and summer months. Conversations about colours and textures, wood versus carpet with painters, carpenters, restorers, and electricians coupled with builders and plumbers coming in and out of the house kept me occupied and focused on the job at hand.

Once that was complete I was in a vacuum again.

The ending of so many things has left me in a peculiar place. I am stagnant, still, and unable to move forward. I am bereft of people that I loved and habits that had become an intrinsic part of me and I am unsure of how to move forward. The pages of my “do it tomorrow” book lie empty and I find that days drag on with no purpose or direction.

I believe that I will bounce back eventually, but it’s a tougher road than I could ever have imagined.

I believe that inertia is a thief of time, and that if I don’t move forward, I will become stuck in this place and I don’t want to be here any longer than I have to be.

I believe that life for me will not be the one that I casually mapped out before I lost the two greatest women that I have ever known and loved.

I believe that living is only as good as I make it, and that it’s up to me to create the opportunities that will make it better for me.

I believe that I am more equipped than I realise, facing into my future having had the love and friendship from these two beloved women.

Life has shrunk, yet I find myself filled with hope on a road watching out for the signpost that will point me in the right direction.

 

Destiny is somehow trusting that what has passed will provide strength and hope for my future.

 

 

Intimate conversations between strangers.

My husband and I decided to go away for a few days holidays this week to briefly escape the dirt and mess in our home as we are currently undertaking some renovation work. We chose a hotel from the Internet completely randomly and with no real knowledge of what it offered, left for our destination in County Mayo. We holiday in Ireland quite a lot but usually stick to coastal villages and towns. This hotel was situated inland on a lakeshore, and in a region that we hadn’t explored with great depth in the past.

 
On checking in we were told our room wasn’t quite ready, so while we waited we went into the hotel bar and had lunch overlooking the beautiful lake. After an hour, we made our way up to the bedroom to find a middle aged housekeeper bustling around apologetically as the room wasn’t quite ready. My husband left the room to get something from the car and I sat on the bed chatting to her as she vacuumed around the room. We started chatting about the weather, the hotel, and life in general.

 
I mentioned that I would have liked to book a particular suite but on checking in found that it had already been reserved. She told me with a smile that she had just let two women into it and said that she had “opened her big mouth too quickly” when she told them that it only had one bed. I asked her what she meant and she replied “sure you never know these days what people are about”. Realising that she was possibly making reference to the women’s sexual orientation, I smilingly suggested that in modern Irish society people could get on with their lives in their own way, and that no one need make any remarks about what they choose to do or how they choose to live.

 
She agreed wholeheartedly and told me about the guest that they regularly had, who ‘came up the stairs dressed as a man, but who came down the stairs dressed as a woman’. She believed in ‘letting live and minding her own business and letting people get on with their own lives without prejudice’. She continued cleaning the room as all this chat was going on and was starting to dust the surfaces on the window sills when she stopped and looked me in the eye as she told me that her husband had attempted suicide a year before.

 
I looked straight back at her and asked how he was now both physically and mentally. She told me of how he had held a shotgun to his heart and pulled the trigger, but that somehow he had missed that vital organ, and the bullet had passed it without damage and emerged under his shoulder. The physical healing had only taken a few weeks, but the mental healing was still on going. She spoke about the lack of local services for people who are suffering with mental health issues and how the monthly appointments that her husband had were not doing him as much good as she had hoped. I asked her how she was coping and she was in the middle of telling me about the support that she had, when my husband walked back into the room.With a swish of her duster and a smile for me, she was off as she wished us a pleasant stay and a restful holiday.

 
When she left I looked at my watch. The conversation had lasted only about four or five minutes, yet she managed to convey so much of herself to me, a total stranger during that time. I learnt about her acceptance of same sex relationships, of possible transgendered men or of cross dressers, and I also learned that her life had been profoundly affected by her husband’s attempt to take his own life. These revelations took place in a hotel room between two people from two different generations, from two different places yet who shared five minutes of incredible intimacy together.

 
I will never know what made her disclose these details of her life, but I am glad that she felt that she could share them with me. I believe that honest encounters between people can be a part of what is lacking in this fast paced world that we live in, and in that intimate exchange in an anonymous hotel room in the West of Ireland we were two women who briefly and cosmically connected with each other.

 
Destiny can be about short encounters that remind us of the fragile nature of human life and how we respond to it.

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