Category Archives: Loss

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.

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.

 

 

Closing the door gently behind me…..

Smells are so evocative… They can help us tap into memories in an instant and transport us back to particular times and places. This can be good, but maybe not all of the time. My mother’s house is sold and the contracts are being exchanged this weekend. After that I will no longer be able to let myself into number 33 as there will be new owners living there. I will never again catch that particular smell of hers that I used to get when I walked in through her front door. My brother has been clearing out her things and recently he brought me her furs because he didn’t quite know how to dispose of them.

 
Fur in 2013 is just not fashionable or ethical. It’s all about fake fur these days, but I remember my Mam wearing her furs proudly. They were always kept for special occasions and the one that has survived best is a fur stole that she had made for my wedding a million years ago. I have several photos of her wearing it, and she looked lovely in them. Holding this fur on my knees while traveling from her house to mine this week, I could get her own particular smell from it. Holding it to my face for hours afterwards crying into it and feeling the ache of loss so badly knowing that I will never see her again was particularly emotional and sad.

 
Having had to go back and forward over the past couple of months to sort out the removal of her furniture, the clearing out of her possessions, and the finalisation of her utility bills has allowed me to gradually let go the house that I grew up in. As the fixtures were given away and the cupboards were cleared out, the memories went into skips, other people’s homes, and to charity shops to be recycled into other people’s lives.

 
I went back for the last time on Tuesday night along with my adult children, my husband, my brother and his wife. We were all saying goodbye to a house that contained many personal memories built up over many years. We sat on stools that we had brought with us and told stories of different times there. There were tears and laughter all around as we swapped tales. An old neighbour saw my car and popped in because she wanted to say good bye to us. We recounted hair raising stories of times when we were young kids alongside her children and we chatted about how times had changed but how lovely life in Drimnagh had been and how much she had loved having my mam as a neighbour.

 
Over the fireplace in the now empty room there was a picture hanging. It was an artist’s charcoal impression taken from a photo of my Father that that my brother Phil (who lived in Ibiza at the time) had given as a gift to my mother some years before. I remember him proudly presenting this beautiful framed gift to her and her looking blankly at it asking “who is this”. My brother Phil indignantly responded “it’s Dad of course” to which my mother replied “That’s not your father, it looks like a Spanish man to me”. I think that because it was created in Ibiza, and that the artist had focused on my Dads dark hazel eyes, there was an exotic slant to it. According to my mam at the time, it wasn’t a version of her husband. Her children all disagreed.

 
Time moved on, and she grew to love it and the image of him. This beloved picture has always been subsequently referred to as “The Spanish Man” and there was a poignancy and sadness in the air as we recounted the time when it was originally hung. I was completely heartbroken as it was lifted off her wall, as this was the last of her possessions to be removed. It will be hung in John’s house and will be loved forever by him and his wife, but it was dreadful watching it being taken down. I just couldn’t stop my tears.

 
As we departed the house and walked through the empty rooms, I was so profoundly sad I found it hard to catch my breath. Clichés about houses being all bricks and mortar are easily spoken, but the bricks and mortar contain so many stories and memories like snap shots of lives lived within the walls. They were mostly happy ones, and I will treasure them forever.

 
It’s really difficult to articulate the feelings that I had as I walked out through the hallway. I looked back and gazed up the stairs, and heard so many ghostly echoes of the voices that used to resonate within those walls. I set the alarm code and stepped out for the very last time and gently closed the door behind me as I locked up a lifetime of O’Neill memories in number 33 Mourne Road. We have some ‘things’ like Dad’s picture, but memories, sounds and images are stored in my mind’s eye ready to be taken out and looked it again and again…

 
This is my absolute destiny…

Dismantling a life…..

Since the recent passing of my mother I have been living in a kind of limbo, a half-way house, a place somehow in between life and death.

When she was dying there were lots of people around providing loving emotional support, and they were also present for a week or two afterwards. However when the funeral was over and ‘the circus pulled out of town’ I was left in a place of sadness and loneliness. I have no order to focus on, as all the routines that were associated with my mother’s care have ended with her death. I feel adrift without direction. There is a vacuum that is unfamiliar.

Her home is going to be sold, and as part of the preparations for sale it has to be cleared out. Over the past week my siblings and I have undertaken this task. My mother lived in this house for over fifty years. It is modest and small and she loved it. She had wonderful neighbours and friends and always felt safe here.

I believe that going through the personal belongings of someone else is similar to reading their diary. Every life is a story, and while we may not all write about it, our lives are reflected in the things that we surround ourselves with. We all accumulate ‘stuff’ throughout our lifetimes, and in her fifty plus years in that house my mother accumulated a lot. Every room had cupboards and drawers that were full, and everything that she had tucked away out of sight was dragged into the open in the past few days. Decisions were made about keeping it, discarding it, or donating it to a local charity shop.

Unearthing her old clothes from the back of wardrobes were physical reminders of the life that she lived. Finding old photographs with captured smiling faces gave us a sense of history that stretched back to a time before I was born. Some of the photographs were previously unseen, and they were pored over and studied, as names were considered, matched to faces, and dates and places were agreed upon.

Reading through old letters and cards from many years ago added an unknown dimension to the woman who was my mother. We also found receipts written in Spanish from a Bullfight in Barcelona where she went on honeymoon almost sixty years previously. Imagining her as a carefree young woman experiencing all the drama of life and death in a ring, in a country that was so foreign and exotic back in the 1950’s brings added colour to her life. Sorting through a selection of clothes that she wore in ‘Stage Shows’ in the local parish also reminded me that she loved dressing up and singing when I was a child, and that she sang in the house to records that she played on her old fashioned radiogram all the time.

Discarding items like these was like throwing away her life. I was unprepared for the sadness that would engulf me like waves during this clearout.

Room by room, drawer by drawer her life is being dismantled.

The precious things that she gathered over her lifetime and that held meaning for her are all going to different places. Some will be treasured and kept, while others are unwanted and will be placed out for collection. It was tough making decisions, and I believe that secretly we all felt that if we held on to her ‘stuff’ we could somehow keep her and her life intact. Impossible I know.

As we sorted through her (mostly) costume jewellery, I picked out items that I remembered her wearing when I was a child. They are valueless in monetary terms but are completely priceless to me. As I put them in boxes to bring home with me, I realised that I will probably never wear them, but that I will take them out from time to time to see them sparkle just like she did when she was wearing them.

When this task is finally over and my mother’s house is cleared, the memorabilia of her lifetime will be gone. Some of it will live on in other people’s lives and houses, and the rest of it will simply disappear. In sifting through her belongings I have been privileged to see into some of the private pages of her life, and having been allowed a glimpse into her past I believe that I have also gotten to know her a little better.

‘Goodbye Mam’……I feel like I am letting her go again and it’s not getting any easier.

Monnie Furlong O’Neill. 27/4/1930 – 11/1/2013

Having previously written about my mams terminal illness, it is with a numbed sadness that I am writing now about her recent death.

Reading notices in newspapers about people who have died after cancer, I have always been struck by the language used. “She fought hard” or “he battled strongly”. These words always conjured up images of the said person dressed up in army fatigues, in a war zone, engaged in hand to hand combat.

Dying of cancer may be like that for some people, but I never saw it as a war or a fight that my mother could “win”.

In the earlier days of her illness there was certainly hope, but as the disease progressed, this hope was extinguished and she was left with the stark reality of facing into an uncertain future. Her time for living was limited and she knew that she was going to die.

I believe that facing our mortality must be the most frightening experience ever. We spend our lives planning this and that, visualizing particular outcomes and results. But imagining our own death and what comes after it is mystifying and terrifying, because we have nothing to go on and no images of what happens next. While medical intervention and treatments can make a person more comfortable during their illness, the undeniable fact that life is drawing to a close must be petrifying.

My mam was ill for almost two years. During this time she had incredible support and care from all the health professionals who she came into contact with. She took everything that was offered to her in the hope of gaining more time, and she accepted all treatments and interventions despite them making her feel sick and her losing all her beautiful hair.

By the time December 2012 rolled around, she was increasingly tired and unable to cope with living alone. We sometimes talked about the future, but these conversations were difficult and she confessed to feeling afraid. She was admitted into the palliative unit of the hospice in Harolds Cross in Dublin early in December and she peacefully died in their care on January 11th.

During her time there the staff made her feel so special, and they showered her with attention mixed up with humor and compassion. She was treated with absolute dignity and respect by everyone who worked there including the volunteers who brought tea in the evenings to her visitors. Spending time with her was a pleasure, and it was wonderful to see how she was viewed by the people who all contributed to her care. She loved being there and grew less afraid as time moved on. She told me this several times.

As she grew weaker her beautiful hair grew once more, and it was great to see her give up her wig and to look stylish and trendy with her new cropped pixie haircut. She was with my family on Christmas day for a few hours, and although she was tired we laughed and told stories around the dinner table as we always had done in the past. We could see though that she was struggling.

As a family we had time to spend with her as her life drew to a close. I was alone with her holding her hand when she slipped into a sleep that she would never awaken from, and my brother and I sat up with her through that first night. We whispered together in the darkness as we said our goodbyes. It was a frosty bright night and there were two foxes outside that kept stealing past her window. It was a real privilege to be there with her as she prepared for her journey from this world. She slept peacefully for three more days while our family kept vigil, and then she quietly slipped away while my two brothers and one of her own brothers were present.

She leaves behind siblings, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, neighbours and dear friends who loved her and who will miss her forever. She also leaves us with memories of a wonderful woman who loved life and embraced it with passion and gusto. She spoke her mind and had an opinion on almost everything, and her voice and expressions will echo around in my head for a long long time to come.

Rest easy mam, your long journey here is over, but only you know if another one is just beginning.

My future destiny will always contain elements of my past and this will always include my mother……

My sister’s birthday is approaching…..

I was born in 1960, the 2nd child in a family of five children. I don’t remember the  births of my two younger brothers but I do remember with absolute clarity the night that my baby sister Annie was born when I was ten years of age. She was born on November 7th 1970.

That particular summer, my mam didn’t want to go to Kerry in August on holidays as we had done previously. I remember being disgusted that I wasn’t going to see my friends in Ballyheigue that year because my Uncle Paddy, my mams brother, had offered us his caravan in nearby Clogherhead instead.

Looking back I realise that my mam didn’t want to be too far away from her doctor when she was in her advanced stage of pregnancy, but as a ten year old child I had no idea that a baby was on the way and that this was the rationale for the location of the family holiday that year.

That summer was very hot, and we had a great holiday in Clogherhead but it just wasn’t Kerry. Although I enjoyed the caravan holiday, I remember the time as being strange and disruptive. Mum was just different and I didn’t quite know why. Pregnancy was not talked about as openly as it is now, and as a child I had no idea that my mother was shortly to give birth although I had asked her about why she was ‘getting fat’ without getting a satisfactory answer. She brushed those questions aside that summer and I never suspected anything until I was back in school in September. I vaguely remember asking her if she was going to have a baby with no real idea of why I was asking the question, and mam telling me that her ‘bump’ was wind!

By the time October rolled around, she did tell me that she was going to have a baby but that I wasn’t to tell anybody! News like that was too much for a curious ten year old and I constantly bombarded her with questions about the new baby although I hadn’t a clue that this event was linked to her growing tummy! (I was a very innocent child at the time).

Anyway….. She had an elective delivery and was well prepared in advance.

Her gynaecologist had booked a room for her in a private nursing home on a particular day in November assuring her that he would ‘induce’ her and that her baby would be born that day. A-la-carte delivery days were all the fashion back then…

I remember being packed off to my grandparents’ house with my older sister and my two younger brothers…. It was a weekend, but we had never all stayed away from home together without one of my parents being present. I didn’t settle well in the double bed that I was sharing with my older sister that night.

My dad’s car at the time had a broken exhaust and it was very loud. You could hear the car coming before you saw it.

That night on November 7th 1970 I lay awake beside my sister Bernice in a strange bed in the darkness, listening to the different street sounds outside my grandparents’ house on the canal in Dublin city. At some stage during that long night I heard a noise in the distance and listened carefully as it grew louder and louder. I knew the sound of dad’s car (and the broken exhaust) and as it got closer I got out of bed knowing absolutely that it was my dad approaching and I crept down the stairs while the rest of the house slept.

I clearly remember the moment I opened the front door in my pyjamas, and saw my smiling dad as he walked up the garden path in the darkness towards the steps of the house. He leaned his arm against the door frame, grinning at me and said “you have a new little sister”.

This story is part of the landscape of my life.

When my darling sister Annie was old enough to listen, she loved to hear me recounting each special moment that I remembered of that particular night as she grew up. It was called ‘her story”. As she became an adult and a friend in my life, it was a ‘thing’ a ‘routine’ between us that would happen on her birthday. She would wait in anticipation that day for a phone call from me recounting faithfully my memories of the ‘day of her birth’, and she would suspend whatever it was she was doing at the time in order to hear the story. If lunchtime arrived and I hadn’t called, she would be on the phone indignantly demanding to hear it. It was and still is like a script in my head that contains colour, sound and texture of one of the most memorable nights of my life. This was one of the most precious things that we shared.

That first birthday – November 7th 2009 after her death was dreadfully sad for me as I couldn’t phone her and do the thing that we had done for so many years … No one will ever know or understand the simplicity and joy contained in that story and what it meant to us as sisters every year it was retold.

Her birthday approaches yet again…. I miss her constantly and my life is bereft without her.

November 7th 1970 is the day my darling sister Annmarie Patricia O’Neill was born. I am so thankful to have had such a wonderful and beautiful relationship with this lovely girl, and I will gladly recount the story of the night of her birth to anyone who cares to listen because sadly she is not here to hear it anymore…..

My destiny lies in our past and my future without her……