Category Archives: family

The Presidents Daffodils.

My Mother was a ‘townie’ (inner city child) in her day. She spent her early years in Manor Street just off Aaron Quay in Dublin, and she had a pal from school whose mother worked as part of the domestic kitchen staff in Arás an Uachtaráin (house/home of the President of Ireland) which was located, and still is in the Phoenix Park which is one of the largest enclosed parks in Europe.

Kids had wonderful freedom back in those days, and as a youngster my mam cycled everywhere. She told a great story about a day when she cycled up during the holidays to play with her friend in the Arás. These two small girls were in the garden when the President came out to walk. He asked my mother if she liked flowers, and when she replied that she did, he plucked several daffodils which were in bloom and told her to bring them home to her mother and to say that they were a gift from him. My mam popped them into the basket on her bike and headed home. At the gates of the Park, one of the gate keepers stopped her and asked her where she had gotten the flowers. She truthfully answered that the President had given them to her. He didn’t believe her and threatened her with the police for stealing flowers from the park. After lots of tears he finally let her off to cycle home the short distance to Manor Street and to give her mam the flowers. Every Spring when I see daffodils growing in the lands throughout the Phoenix Park I am reminded of my mam and her lovely story. How sweet of the then President, Douglas Hyde to send flowers from his garden to my grandmother.  

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.

Sink or Swim

As we go through life we encounter many obstacles. We stumble over them, we navigate around them, and we plough on forward. It’s a one way street. Reflecting back on my life, I recognise that there have been many boulders along my path, and I know that I have steered my ship through many stormy seas.

Like many others I didn’t get a life raft and I had to learn to swim with sharks in order to survive. (forgive the overuse of metaphors in this piece of writing).

I realise that many of the blocks in my lifetime have been caused by people, their actions and reactions, their opinions and their viewpoints.. When you are trying to muddle your way out of a situation that largely affects you and only you, the decision to sink or swim is down to your own desire for survival.

In my late teens, the transition from being a single girl about town to being in a relationship was a new adventure for me. It suddenly wasn’t just all about me and my own endurance. Amazingly I was thrust into being the other half of a ‘couple’. Thinking and acting as one as we ventured forth into marriage and a grown up life where problems were shared instead of having to go it alone.

As a parent, passing on wisdom to my children was part of the job that I signed up to on giving birth. At times information and advice was well received, and at other times it was scorned and ridiculed. It’s always difficult to find a balance, and I understood (but not always liked) this awkward conundrum between parents and their offspring.

Like many others I’m sure, I have a passionate and overwhelming love for my now adult children, and I have attempted to protect them throughout their lives. Sometimes I have been over zealous and controlling (when they were teens) and other times I have been ill informed about particular circumstances and defended them when I should have taken a step back and listened to others. In my defence, I usually reacted about what I perceived was unjust behaviour and acted upon it even when it turned out that my offspring were at fault. Like me, they have flaws and are imperfect.

Time has moved on, and my children are now fully grown and are on their own pathways through life. They are in charge of their own vessels and have had to learn to steer through life for themselves. Their dad and I are fully present in their lives, and I know that we are a supporting influence in matters of importance.

Our family is very small. At its heart, there are two parents, and two kids. We fight, argue, listen and love. As parents we have opinions on every element of their lives that we are included in, and this can produce huge discussions (where no one agrees) sulks, laughter, gaiety and tears.

They are both so different. My daughter is a listener, pragmatic, very kind, clear thinking, thoughtful and sensible (like her dad). My son is an action man, an organiser, flamboyant, caring, generous, kind and thoughtful. Their very individual characteristics are acknowledged and celebrated all the time. In this wonderful small life, we have all learned to love and appreciate, and to fully support each other no matter what else is happening.

We have recently had the most horrendous eighteen months with the most difficult circumstances that has affected us all as a family, but that has impacted on my son Andy most of all.

We have all been tested. Truth, honesty, faith in human kindness, our belief and trust in each other, and how we view those who looked at us, have been held under a microscope where strangers have gazed and judged.

As a person who has minutely examined and reflected on the response of people who live in close proximity to me and my family throughout my whole life, some of the reactions have been disappointing.

Despite my belief that friendship and loyalty are qualities to be treasured and nurtured, I am unsurprised by some peoples responses, but sadly my family have been. That’s not to say that I’ve not been shocked by others reactions, I have been and they have changed me and how I view them.

Sincerity is something that carries huge value for me, as does integrity and truth.

Blind trust these days is rarely asked, but if there is a foundation of honesty, I believe that it’s easier to make the choice between belief and doubt, and sometimes people have to make the difficult decision about which side to fall on. Truth versus innuendo/ belief versus gossip/ honesty versus lies.

Having had no life raft during the past eighteen months, it’s been sometimes difficult to keep our heads above water. As a family we paddled persistently to avoid drowning and helped each other constantly as we threatened to slip under.

Thankfully and happily things have changed. Perspectives are altered, new goals have been achieved, and future prospects are looking more positive.

To the wonderful, nurturing, trusting people in my life who I treasure beyond measure, thank you for providing support based on the person that you know, trust and love. From the deepest place inside myself I am grateful. The hope and empathy that you have given us during our darkest days as a family, has steered us through the roughest toughest seas that I have ever encountered in my lifetime.

We are navigating towards blue skies and calmer waters ahead, and we will not sink, we will swim. As a family, we will survive.

Destiny is realising that anchors are the people who stabilise us when we are lost at sea without a compass.

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.

Family.

No one in life is born in a vacuum. No one is born who is unrelated to others. Some people are unlucky by birth and are attached through blood to people who cause them harm by abandonment, hurt, abuse, neglect, cruelty and/or shame. Others are luckier. They grow in an extended family that nurture, love, support and care. The roll of the dice is so arbitrary, and I often reflect on how wonderfully they tumbled for me.

My younger life has been documented to some degree in the stories that I have already written. The family that I was born into have been present throughout that time. I have had Parents, Grand Parents, Uncles, Aunts and Cousins who I have always known and loved. They were all there during the course of my life, and no one was estranged or apart. How fortunate I am. How lucky I have been to know and love all of these special people that are my kin, my blood, my heritage.

My maternal grandmother, ‘Sis Furlong’ had seven children. Two sets of twins and three other children. Monnie (my mam), Paddy, Elizabeth (BiBi) & Philip, Leo, Paul & Pauline. My Aunt BiBi and Uncle Phil recently celebrated their 80th birthday. They are the first set of twins and Paul & Pauline are the second.

BiBi & Phil decided to have parties for their birthday, and invitations were sent out to family and friends from all around the world to come and celebrate with them.

So recently as a clan on two different nights, in two different venues, we gathered and we celebrated. We talked, we danced, we laughed, we cried, we drank, we sang and we rejoiced being a family that is confidently and lovingly connected despite the ages and geographical distance that lies between some of us.

I watched a beautiful montage of family photos set to music, of my lovely Aunt and Uncle when they were younger. It documented their lives, their loves and their happiness. I cried watching my lovely Uncle Leo and my Mam no longer with us, but who were remembered with such love and great affection by all who were watching. I laughed, hugged and cried with some of my cousins who I hadn’t seen for quite a while, but yet we all slipped effortlessly into that wonderful comfortable place where being part of a large loving family was the biggest thing that was happening alongside the birthday celebrations. It was hard to tear myself away and to say good night.

My Aunts and Uncles have created a fantastic dynasty and there were so many cousins and their spouses present over the party days. My cousins, who I grew up with, now have their own partners and adult children who are also part of this great and extended family.

Marrying or joining a clan like this must have been daunting, but hats off to everyone who was brave enough, because everyone who did so has added to the beauty and texture that make it so very special. My cousin’s partners, husbands and wives have all become my beloved relations who I absolutely adore, and are as much a part of my kin as my own children are.

I’ve missed my mam so much over the past two years, and no one will ever replace her, but I was down in BiBi’s for lunch just before the parties started and was out in the porch having a sneaky fag with my Aunty Pauline (Monnie’s younger sister) when she chuckled and threw some remark my way. Tears sprung into my eyes, because it was like having Mam back in that moment. Mannerisms and family sayings are so unique and are absolute identifiers of kin. I looked at her and could see my mother in her eyes, her smile and her chuckle and was so very glad to be there beside her.

I truly appreciate and love all the people in my family. They are a part of my bloodline and heritage. They are my kin. I feel it instinctively, and would do my utmost in a heartbeat to answer a call of distress from any one of them to be there if I was needed. Mam was at the centre of this family and although she is no longer here, I love that her people continue to love me and include me in their family meals and get together’s. I feel privileged to be included in cousin family gatherings as I have been so much recently, and I humbly acknowledge that I am so very fortunate having such special warm and loving people to call my own. I really hope that my kids realise what a cracking family that they belong to.

Destiny can be about gazing back into an older life with the fervent hope that its values and tradition continue into the future.

Endings……………..

 

Reaching an end signifies a beginning, and I have witnessed and been present at many wonderful beginnings with people that I have loved.

I reached an ending recently that was more than my words can ever fully express. I went to Ballyheigue in Kerry to lay the ashes of my Dad, my Mam and my sister Annie in a place that is beautiful, and was visited and loved by them when they were alive. I began there as a child where I enjoyed the freedom of explored fields and ditches without parental supervision. We began there as a family on our annual summer holidays. My little sister Annie began to walk there as she enjoyed playing on a sandy clean beach as a toddler. Ballyheigue is real, but it is like a mystical place where I can close my eyes and revisit at any time. It is a place where happy memories flourish.

 
I have no idea why my Dad choose this sleepy sea side village in Kerry to take our annual summer holidays in, but I am so glad that he did. I have nothing but happy recollections of times spent there.

 
We first went there in 1966 or 1967. We roomed in a house on the main street that was owned by the Hartnett family. We brought my grandparents and my grand uncle Leo that first year and we all squashed happily inside the house next door to Willy O Leary’s Butcher shop.
I remember the freedom.

 
In Dublin I had to be home at a particular time and I was closely supervised while outside playing, but in Ballyheigue there were no time constraints and no obvious regulation. This was freedom like I had never known before, but it was also during a time when places were safer and parents didn’t worry as much. I remember introducing myself precociously to local people, and being accepted in a sweet way that was completely different to the city ways that I was more familiar with.

 
I remember the Roche family. Elderly brothers, Timmy, Tommy, Mike and Sonny, and their sister Mary. They lived nearby, and my older sister Bernice and I were always welcome in the house from that very first year. Sonny rambled with us along the beach and climbed the ramparts of the old castle on Kerry Head. He laughed with us, watched over us and spent time us. We felt safe with him, and our parents allowed us to spend time with this family without the fear that is so prevalent today. We wandered in and out of his house and watched Mary baking bread daily. We fed the chickens and the pigs during the day, and we sat up against the range as we piled turf into it during those long summer evenings. The range had to stay hot to keep the kettle boiling for the endless pots of tea that were constantly being brewed and drunk. This simple country family accepted us city children, chatted away with us and never took advantage in any way. I remember the embroidered cushions on the soft chairs in the parlour, and the hard chairs that we sat on in the other small room as we watched TV while the brothers smoked their pipes silently after a long day in the fields. They regularly took us to the local creamery on their donkey and cart with a milk churn of unpasteurised milk. We were witness to the old fashioned traditions of an Ireland that is reminiscent of post cards and storytelling. But I know it and remember it well.

 
Summertime seemed to have a glow about it back then, and Ballyheigue was a place that was always sunny and happy. I am sure that there were rainy days and times of boredom, but I cannot recall them. I remember the annual fancy dress parade that took place, when everyone gathered outside Casey’s Ballroom on the main street. I remember dressing Annie up when she was a toddler and being so thrilled when she won the ‘Bonny Baby’ competition. We led the parade down the main street and I was so proud of her. She was the prettiest baby ever.

 
The Carnival was always present when we arrived on our annual holidays, so as a child I believed that it was permanently there, outside the ‘Castle Gates’. I remember the smell of the dodgems as the cars connected to the electrified grid overhead, and how the sparks spilled out into the darkness on summer evenings. This was a truly magical place where pennies were pushed into slot machines in the hope of winning, and where the dexterity of throwing bamboo hoops over empty jam jars showcased your skills in the rubbishy gee-gaws that were won and proudly brought home night after night. Revisiting again as an adult in later years, I was dismayed to see a vacant space with litter blowing around in the place that had held such a dreamlike quality for me as a child.

 
Looking back on those lovely innocent days and nights I feel so fortunate to have grown up in a time where I was cherished by the lovely people of Kerry who only saw our family for two weeks out of fifty two. I remember feeling jealous when thinking about ‘other’ kids that were holidaying when we were not there, and that the locals might like them more than they did us!

 
Summer days spent on the beach, running into the waves and playing endless games in the sand dunes with my siblings were picture perfect, and nothing can spoil the memories. Aunties and Uncles, cousins and pals came to Kerry with us over the years that we visited to share the magic that we knew was unique.

 
Revisiting Ballyheigue recently was an ending as my family finally let the ashes of our loved ones go. We could think of no better, happier and a more beautiful place to remember them, and the moment that we let them go on the slipway curling into the waves will be etched on my heart and in my mind forever. The ebb and flow of life was momentarily captured in the movement of the ocean as their ashes were gently eased into the water of the outgoing tide….

 
Endings can be heart-breaking, but the beautiful, wonderful, memorable moments between the beginning and the end are what makes life so precious.

 

Destiny can be realising that to love, and to remember that love is simply all that there is…

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.