Category Archives: Empty Nest

Living with Epilepsy…..

My son has Epilepsy. This is not the sum of all parts that make him as a person, but it is a huge factor in his life. He grew up healthy and happy, but he suffered a head trauma 10 years ago when he was a trainee Guard at 19 years of age. He banged his baby soft skull against a concrete wall when playing a joke on a colleague which resulted in a major seizure within 24 hours. The precious safety cap that surrounded his brain was chipped and damaged that day and can never be repaired.
 
This major brain injury has impacted in so many ways on my family that can often be inarticulate and without expression, but it has affected my darling son in ways that I am sometimes emotionally inept at dealing with.
 
He has had much more to deal with than I have.
 
His promising career with the Irish Police Force ended when another seizure occurred almost twelve months later. The Guards ‘let him go’. Epilepsy is a condition that prohibits so many life and career choices, and being a member of the police force was one of them.
 
He took all of this in his stride, and despite the desperate fallout, he took a side wards step to fulfill his ambition of working with marginalised youths and went to college and is now doing all that he ever wanted to do. He works full time with disadvantaged and vulnerable young people and he is dedicated to his profession and is well loved and respected by his peers. He is also a volunteer in the local football club and gives so much of his free time in the endless pursuit of community building through sport with young people.
 
He is on prescribed epilepsy medication for life and it keeps him safe (most of the time) but he has had infrequent seizures since.
He is my precious child and I adore him.
 

I admire his refusal to be categorised by his Epilepsy although the mammy in me wants to protect him and keep him in bubble wrap.
I admire his dedication in trying to make life better for other people, but I get frustrated when he puts his own health on the back burner and doesn’t place himself first.
I admire the way that he will not let this condition rule his life as he gets on with it.

But….

I wish I could wave a magic wand and go back to that day and put a pillow on that concrete wall.
I wish that he didn’t have to hide this terrible stigma that he carries 24/7
I wish that Epilepsy was understood and talked about more.
I love him for all the parts that he is and I wish that life didn’t deal him such a shitty hand of cards.

Destiny is not all that and a bag o’ chips sometimes…..

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What a difference a year makes……..

It is a year (approx.) since my two adult children left home.
One year- 12 months- 52 weeks- 365 days- 8,670 hours – 525,600 minutes.

Time has unglued us from being one complete unit into becoming separate people living apart. This has led to many changes in our individual lives.

Learning to live without the constant ebb and flow of my children coming and going has been difficult. It has brought a new quieter rhythm to the house and one that has not always been welcome. I miss the noise although I appreciate the quiet. I miss the mess although I love the tidiness. I miss the gangs of pals although I relish the choice of seats in the sitting room in the evenings. I miss their late nights out although I realise that I can relax and sleep soundly and not have to wait to hear a key in the door. I miss waking up during the night although I don’t worry now if the house is in darkness as I realise that I turned the last light out and there is no one else coming home.

This is the melancholy side of things….
On the flip side there is a whole new order.

Being able to come and go without having to be there for formal meals is a huge freedom. Our family tradition had us all at the dinner table every night at a particular time having dinner and discussing the daily national and political news. While I always loved that part of the day, it is far less interesting when there are only two voices in the foray. It can descend into a major disagreement in no time.

My dinner time routine has changed.

Sometimes my hubby and I don’t even have dinner! We have the freedom to up and go to mountains, lakes and seaside destinations and we do so regularly. We go to restaurants, pack picnics and are generally less rigid in our evening routine than we have been in the past. We absolutely love this new independence although I am usually the driver of moving beyond the kitchen table.

I particularly love weekends. I am a volunteer with a national charity and my chosen slot is an early shift in Dublin City Centre on Sunday mornings. I finish around midday and my hubby usually collects me afterwards and we take this opportunity to make the most of the day and to enjoy the freedom of not having to be home for dinner. We go wherever the fancy takes us, and we stay out as late as we like. We have no one to please except each other and this adds a fun element and unpredictability to our lives. We are learning how to be a couple again after being parents for such a long time.

Our children still live close by and are welcome visitors all the time. They pop in unexpectedly for chats and impromptu meals that are conjured up in minutes by their Dad. They also come by for more formal ‘invited‘ dinners where the traditions are observed and the topical arguments continue. These dinners are special and very precious. Time tick tocks in the background as our lives move on independently but with habits and rhythms that bind us to each other.

I arranged to meet my daughter today and we spent two leisurely hours bantering and chatting over a delicious lunch in a local restaurant. If she was still living at home I don’t think that this coming together would have held the anticipation and ultimate pleasure of her company that I enjoyed for that short space of time.

Who knew what changes a year would bring.

Destiny can be about rearranging the jigsaw of life and seeing a different picture.

People- and the way they touch our hearts and minds….

Meeting someone pivotal in your life is often not greeted by cymbals and drum rolls. Sometimes they just slip in unnoticed and non-assuming, yet they can subliminally change how we think and act in quiet and unobtrusive ways. People like this are like jewels. Colorful treasure in a sometimes grey, monochrome world that can make us sit up and take notice of the beauty and sparkle that is inherent in life.

I met a man twelve years ago who changed me, fundamentally and quietly without his knowing. We met weekly and exchanged thoughts, philosophies, visions and ideas. He was older than I was and had a broader life experience and education than I had at the time. He spoke to and listened to me, and encouraged me to believe in my aspirations, beliefs and hopes. He supported me as I took the first tentative steps to thinking beyond the person that I was at the time, and he shaded my dreams with pencils of colour and substance.

Looking back, I recognise that I was at a crossroads in my life. My children were in their late teens and were on their own paths of discovery. My job at the time was well paid but I hated it. My husband had his career and was working hard at it. I was approaching my 40’s and I truly didn’t know who I was or where I going to. My life was predictable and mostly enjoyable, but it was lacking something that I couldn’t articulate or name.

This man encouraged me to read the works of great philosophers and writers, and to think deeply about the things that produced joy and happiness for me. He believed in the power of silence and self-reflection and taught me not to feel afraid in the quiet of my mind. Through our weekly discussions we explored what the universe had to offer us as humans and what we could give back.

We debated and argued back and forth about what was meaningful and relevant in a world gone mad with consumerism and greed. We agreed that it was people and how they felt that mattered most when it came to actual living.

I looked forward to our meetings and I was rarely disappointed. We were in a work environment so not all the time was spent chatting, but I loved having time out with this wonderful man learning something new in almost every encounter. He made me think in a way that I had never done before.

Trying to help my husband and children understand the monumental shift that was occurring inside me was difficult, as I was learning to think, to do things differently, and to reflect on where I was on my life’s map. I was also menopausal at the time which may have contributed to their lack of engagement with me as they all thought I was going nuts anyway. My new “Airy Fairy” way of thinking and my constant quoting of this man’s viewpoints made them laugh and dismiss me a lot, although they were never deliberately unkind. They just didn’t get what I was getting.

They didn’t understand the effect that this man was having on my consciousness. Although they listened to me, they didn’t really hear me or understand my new way of thinking. I knew that he did and I simply loved him for it.

I eventually emerged from the menopause mentally intact (although my family may disagree on this issue) and began to slowly build a new individual way of being, hugely influenced by this gentle man.

My thoughts and practices are different now and have been since I knew him. His gentleness continues to affect me in how I view the world and his wisdom will never be forgotten.

I do not see him now and have not for many years. Our paths diverged and we are not in contact. He has absolutely no idea how he influenced and changed my life.

I remember him with fondness, thankfulness and a deep and abiding love. He provided me with a space that allowed me to express my feelings, my doubts, worries and dreams. He listened to me and never judged me. He encouraged me to be quiet in myself and to appreciate the silence that lies within us all. He taught me to accept people with all their frailties and vulnerabilities and to recognise that I have those feelings too.

He has been a kind of guru for me in how I live my life although he would hate to have that title. He believed in the sharing of life’s philosophies, education and knowledge, with the implicit acknowledgement that we have no ownership of them as they were never ours in the first place. I learnt from him that wisdom, kindness and understanding that is passed on is the greatest gift that we as humans can share.

Destiny can teach us about people and the unconsciousness power they have to individually shape our lives.

Trepidation…..

New beginnings are always difficult for me…. Outwardly I can appear to be a gregarious social person who can be the life and soul of parties and gatherings, but inside there is an extremely shy person who hates the limelight. I pretend a lot and I can fake it with aplomb although not many people know this. At parties I can shine and chat- while all the time I am wondering if people will see through me and realise that I am completely phony.

I am quiet when I am first introduced to new people and it takes me a while to settle. When I do, I struggle to join conversations and to eventually get to the stage where I can add my opinion or thoughts to whatever is being discussed. I get to know people by listening to them, and as I discover their personalities and gifts, their very human vulnerabilities and frailties, I realise that I am not too different from most. Everyone has their own way of disguising who they are and we can all wear masks at different times.

I am embarking on a new stage in my life and I will face many difficulties in the near future including meeting new people in new environments. I am hoping that the mask I usually wear will not be slipped on automatically as I attempt to navigate this new landscape. I have used humour in the past as a shield to hide behind as I battle through uncomfortable new beginnings and I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to be able to be myself.

I want people to see the real me- not the pretend funny fat girl who is the life and soul of parties. It’s too hard to keep that mask in place, and for the first time in my life I simply just want to be me.

Hello world… I’m coming at you.

Monkey on my back……

Having left formal State education at the tender age of fifteen, (rebelling against strict parental rules) I was thrust into the labour market at a very young age with limited skills and a whole lot of attitude. I survived, and with various bumps, joys, and disappointments along the way I clawed my path through life. I married my husband when I was twenty and he was twenty four. We were in love with life and each other, and I truly believed that we were invincible. We both had jobs and we bought our first house together shortly before we were married.

I continued working full time during those first few years but we wanted to start a family and our son was born when I was twenty three and our daughter arrived when I was twenty six. I quit working outside my home for a few years to concentrate on rearing my children.

I loved being a parent but often wondered if life had more to offer me. As the kids grew older I began to see gaps in my education and at times it was difficult to address homework issues with them. I always figured that I wasn’t stupid, but lacking formal state examination certification because I was an early school leaver, I believed that I was somehow worthless in comparison to my smart and clever children. This was the monkey on my back and I didn’t like him.

As time went on I enrolled in day classes and night schools. I participated in various courses in many disciplines and I slowly began to build up accredited learning. It sometimes felt like a never ending quest , and that old monkey was always present. In time when my children were teenagers I returned to full time employment and although I was better equipped skills wise, I still lacked that all important state educational certificate. This was a major factor that contributed to stagnant opportunities and cul de sac promotional prospects.

In conversations about qualifications, people always began with the the question” What grades did you achieve in your Leaving Certificate” (which is the final State examination at 2nd level before embarking onto 3rd level at University). I felt so ashamed so often admitting that I never completed that stage having voluntarily left school early. My mistake. My Monkey.

I continued reading and learning during the years that my children became young adults, and despite the fact that I had well paid jobs during this time and was happy in some of them, that monkey was still lurking.

When my children finally finished college and were on their own chosen career paths, I often considered the advice that I had given them over the years. I thought about the importance of education, and about how their father and I had supported them emotionally and financially, and paid for extra curriculum help when it was needed. Education gives you power and I wanted that for my children. I had never compromised on it. I took a long hard look at my own life and wondered why was it that I placed such importance on their education, but didn’t rate my own. Was it too late for me, and had I missed the boat?

Destiny has a funny old way of working.

On New Years Eve in 2008 I met a neighbor at a party who had a few drinks and was feeling happy and full of enthusiasm for her New Years resolutions. When we started chatting, she told me that I had inspired her to look beyond her then boring job, and to reach out and do what she had always wanted- which was to be a teacher. She told me that I was the most positive person that she had ever met, and that because of me she was currently a mature student in a University getting her teaching degree and that she was on her own personal path to fulfillment.

Her conversation staggered me. I had no idea that my simple encouraging words to her at a previous party had led her to take such a huge step, and I left that night feeling bewildered and flummoxed by her apparent sincere feelings of gratitude. I came home and reflected on what had happened and realised that I was so busy encouraging other people to find their own destiny that I had completely relegated my own.

Before I went to bed on that fateful night -Jan 1st 2009- I had applied online to Maynooth University as a mature student for a Double Honor Arts Degree in English Literature- Sociology and Anthropology.

I have that wonderful woman to thank today as this is the eve of my Graduation. Without her kind words I would never have had the courage to leave full time employment to take up the College place that I was subsequently offered. She told me that I inspired her, but she actually inspired me to act, to take a chance and to grasp life. I have had a wonderful three years in a University where I have had the education that I had previously only dreamed about. My world has expanded beyond belief because of this experience, and I am so happy to say that finally, that monkey is off my back. Goodbye- I won’t miss you.

Destiny feels a little closer tonight.

Letting go and saying goodbye.

We say good bye to people all the time. Every time we leave our home we call out good bye to who ever has been left behind. We say goodbye to people that work in shops that serve us as we leave, and in turn people say goodbye to us as they depart from our presence and the space that we have occupied together. Saying good bye is usually said with the unconscious belief that we will see that person again. It’s the greatest presumption that we will-and we continue to believe that nothing terrible will happen to either of us in the meantime, and that we will get to see each other again soon. That’s the way we go through life. We expect to live indefinitely and when death comes to call unexpectedly and cruelly there is often no time to say good bye.

My darling younger sister died shockingly 2 years ago, 9 days after giving birth to twin boys. Her death was as a result of an undisclosed aneurism that ruptured between the central lobes of her brain. The medical staff in the emergency Dept that she was rushed to after she was found at home collapsed and unconscious, could not stem the bleed and she remained on life support for two days until we- her family took the decision to turn it off. We said our good bye’s that moment and over the blur of the next few days before she was eventually cremated.

Tonight while tidying out a press I came across an old mobile phone. I had changed my phone to a smart one shortly after her death and must have put this one away. I charged it up to see what was on it – and shockingly and unexpectedly there was my beautiful sister. All our texts to each other prior to her delivering her babies- reports from the hospital gagging over the unsavory food- the thrill of coming back home with her new boys to greet her 5 year old (whom she adored and called her “Prince”) and settling in back home with her 3 beloved children and husband. This time was short lived and 3 days later her aneurism ruptured.

Finding all those sweet messages that we shared before, during, and after her hospital stay really made her come alive for me briefly tonight. The texts from her friends and family were all still there too, and although it was heartbreaking to read them, it also allowed me to reflect and recall that terrible time and to say goodbye privately to her from my heart. We were very close and I loved her so. Her love for me was evident in those messages too and I am glad that I had the opportunity to read them again. I know I must have read them when she died, but I was crazy with grief and don’t remember doing so.

My dear and much loved sister may be gone from this world- but her beauty lives on in her children and her kindness lives on in the many people who were the beneficiaries of her generosity. Goodbye to a wonderful sister, friend, companion and confident….. I miss her every day, and although life continues it does so in a different way. I believe implicitly that she is part of my ultimate destiny, and I too held onto that simple assumption that we would see each other again and that we would share the joys of watching her children grow. I was wrong.

Chandeliers….

There is something beautiful about Chandeliers…

It’s about the cut of the glass and the way that they reflect the light that is center to their existence. The prisms of light that shoot out of a chandelier when lit from from a particular angle is something that I never get tired of looking at. Rainbow colors dancing across the ceiling and bouncing off every surface allow for the merriest of daydreams, and every time I am faced by a beautiful cut glass chandelier I am enchanted by the colors that are produced by the light or sunshine pouring through it.

Simple pleasures like this are part and parcel of looking for beauty in the inanimate objects that surround us. Not that I have the opportunity to gaze upon a chandelier every day, but when I do I really appreciate it’s beauty and the work that it took to create it.

We can all be chandeliers if we want to be, shining brightly and letting our colors show.