Category Archives: love

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.

 

 

Taking things for granted…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s another year….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She never awoke again….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Irish Gaeltacht – Triple Bunk Beds and Fridge Freezers…..

“Going to the Gaeltacht” is a great Irish tradition. It is the first rite of passage for many teenagers in Ireland and it has been happily in existence since the early 1970’s. Leaving your parents for a month to go away as a boarding student to “Irish College” in the West of Ireland in the middle of the summer holidays in order to encourage a fluency of the Irish language is how the deal is sold….How it is perceived by the students who go there is entirely another matter. I was that teenager back in 1970 something, and the idea of getting away to a remote rural location, far away from my parents for a whole month was better than winning the modern day lottery. I think that I would have willingly taken on Japanese lessons if it meant that I could get away, unshackled from home for a four week period.

My older sister Bernice and I were willingly dispatched to County Cork during the summer of 1972. She was 14 years of age and I was 12. Already an experienced veteran, (as she had been there the summer before and loved it) the pair of us were packed off to Ballingeary, County Cork for the month of June. Although we were staying with a host family, and we attended Irish language classes during the day, there was a huge amount of independence and autonomy where adults were not looking over and monitoring us and our time. We were allowed to make our own choices about what to do and where to go.

This was rural Ireland back in a particular time, and to be honest there really was very little to do. We were in a village with a couple of shops, a river, and lots of fields. But freedom from parental shackles, and making decisions about how to spend ones time was a heady combination that made this experience very special. I remember the Céilís (Irish dances) with great affection. These gatherings took place every night in the local school and every student was obliged to go. Being an urban city child, this was my first ‘live’ interactive experience with traditional Irish music, where local people came to play their instruments and enjoy communal dancing with no fee expected. I absolutely loved it.

Part of the nightly experience was losing the teenaged self-consciousness that hung around me like a boulder, and (eventually) learning to abandon myself to the joy of the music and dance every night. There were set Irish dances, for two people, for four, and for more. We learned them and practiced during the days, so that we would be better again the following evening. There was an element of competition about it all, so it wasn’t unusual to see gangs of teenagers ‘dancing’ inanely together during the days on the local tennis courts and on the small roads of the village.

There were no mobile phones back in those days, and the house that my sister and I were staying in had no land line telephone either. We used to queue to phone home every Friday night from the local phone box on the street and assure our parents that we were well and happy (as we undeniably were). Our spending money was restricted, so we received “tuck boxes” and letters from home during our time there. The excitement of receiving a registered parcel from the postman, filled with goodies to be shared, ensured that you were the most popular person in your house that day…

Our “houses” were gendered back in those days. There were “girl” houses and “boy” houses and they were separated by geographical distance. The organisers obviously knew a thing or two about raging teenage hormones and kept a strict segregation rule. This may also have had something to do with the Catholic religious ethos that was a predominant feature in Ireland at the time.

I happily look back on that halcyon summer remembering it with vividness and colour. Nothing bad happened to me, although I experimented with cigarette smoking, seances and ouija boards in my naïve attempts to raise the spirits of the dead. I survived (with the subsequent occasional nightmare about dead people crawling all over me in the dark) and the end of the month came all too soon.

Returning home to Dublin via train I remember looking forward to seeing my family as I had missed them more than I thought I would. My dad had written to tell me of the changes that had occurred at home while I was away. There were a couple of new additions. A new fridge freezer had been installed as had new bunk beds for myself and my two sisters.

We were collected from the train station by a neighbour whose daughter was also with us in Cork and we all fell out of their car excitedly and into our respective houses. My mam opened the door to greet us, and my older sisters first words out of her mouth were to ‘snitch’ on me for smoking while we were away… Never mind that she had also smoked, I got a slap before I had time to defend myself. When I replied that “She had been smoking too” I got another slap and was told “not to tell lies about your sister” as she smugly stood by knowing that as the oldest and most precious child she would be believed regardless of what I said about her. Grrrrrrrr…….I never won that that war, and many years later my Mam still didn’t believe me when I told her that Bernice stitched me up as she was smoking too.

We eventually got into the kitchen and admired the brand new Fridge Freezer…. This was such a rare commodity that it still had a wonderful “exotic” feel to it. We opened and closed the door watching the internal light go on and off and felt the wonderfully cold milk bottles, and wondered at the frozen ice cubes in the freezer section. Our milk bottles had previously been stored on the “cold shelf” over the stone sink in the kitchen and frequently went sour in the summer heat.

My dad then excitedly carried our cases up the stairs to our bedroom so that we could view his newly built wooden bunk beds for his three daughters. Unlike traditional bunks, instead of two beds, this set had three. One box unit was at floor level for my two year old sister Annie, who up to then had been sleeping in a cot in my parent’s room. Another was in the middle about chest high for me, and the highest was at forehead height for my older sister Bernice.

I had never had a “WOW” moment like it before in my life. They were the most ‘avant-garde’ beds that I had ever seen, and I was so proud that my Dad had made them. (They were the talking point in our neighbourhood for years). I tumbled into my new bed that night and thought about how lucky I was to have been away having had the holiday of a lifetime, coming back to all these wonderful new changes. A new bed AND a new Fridge Freezer. Crikey – but I was easily pleased.

I remember many nights whispering to both Annie and Bernice as we lay in those triple bunks. We had great fun sharing as sisters although the room was cramped. I left that bunk bed eight short years later as I married and moved out, and Annie who was 10 at the time, moved into my bed. Bernice also left her top bunk to marry shortly afterwards.

Dad later carved them up and left the middle one (my one) as a single bed that Annie slept in until she too left number 33 to move to Mullingar with her husband Mark….

I was reminded of the bunks tonight by Joanne, Annie’s childhood pal as she posted on Facebook her memories of times past remembering the triple beds as being ‘soooo cool’. They were crafted by my dad in order to give his girl’s individual space to sleep and grow. As an experiment it worked, yet I have never seen triple bunks since. They may be gone, but they are certainly not forgotten. Memories of that particular summer include- Irish language, dancing, and music, being away from home, the wonder of refrigeration and three new beds for three sisters.

Destiny is shaped by experience, but it can also be complimented by outside influences and talents that make our lives better. Thanks Dad.

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.

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…

Making Military Triangles out of Crisp Bags….

Have you ever watched state ceremonies on TV where people of importance have died and were accorded huge funerals with flags draped over their coffins? I have. I like the way that the flag is removed from the coffin and folded tightly into a small triangle and handed to the chief mourner afterwards.

Learning to fold the flag in a certain way, and reducing it to a small triangle is a skill not known to many. My sister Annie learned how to do this with large scale flags (from her time in the Scouts) and somehow managed to transfer this skill into reducing “crisp/chip bags” into mini triangles with similar military precision.

We loved crisps Annie and I. Potato chips/crisps are a part and parcel of the staple Irish food chain. A whole generation were reared on ‘Tayto’ crisp sandwiches, and believe that the essential part of a picnic/day out is missing if there are no crisps in the basket to mash in between two slices of buttered white bread.

It’s an Irish thing…. Crisps are eaten by the bucket load in Ireland by all and sundry. ‘Tayto’ cheese n’ onion flavour is the biggest seller with ‘King’ following closely behind. ‘Walkers’ (the blow in from the UK) are gaining in popularity, while ‘Pringles’ are attempting world domination with a million flavours to tempt the pallet. Dubliners who were reared on crisps know what they like and are very traditional in their choices. There was a time when youngsters went into a shop and asked for a bag o’ ‘Tayto’ before branding was even heard of. (They were just asking for crisps!) Nowadays in a shop one can’t ask for a bag of crisps, but an assistant asks, “What brand, what flavor, and what size”!

Anyway I digress….

My sister Annie had many talents but this was a thing that marked her out because it was so unique. Back in the day when pubs allowed smoking, there were always ashtrays on the bar where people deposited their cigarette butts along with any other litter – like drink receipts, and empty crisp and peanut bags.

One would munch on a packet of crisps after a few drinks and then dump the empty bag into the ashtray. As it was big and unwieldy it usually ‘sat’ on top. This meant that ciggies could not be tapped or squashed out easily, because the ashtrays were always full of crisp bags.

This is where Annie’s talent came into the fore. As the empty crisp/peanut bags were dumped by everyone all around her, she would take them up and without breaking the conversation, twist and fold them until all that was visible was a tiny triangle of cellophane neatly squashed into a manageable piece of litter that could comfortably fit into the ashtray along with the cigarette butts.

I used to watch her do this and wonder at her dexterity, until I eventually asked her to teach me too. She painstakingly took me through the many folds and tucks that eventually resulted in the neat tiny triangle. It was a process that was repeated again and again over many nights out until I eventually perfected it.

It became a ‘marker’ of things that we did when we were out together. In local pubs, friends who arrived at the bar when we were outside having a smoke knew that we were present because they saw the little triangles in the ashtrays even if they didn’t see us.

One night when my fireman hubby was working a night shift, Annie and I were in our local bar from early until late. We eventually rolled home to my house, sneaked into our beds and snored our heads off delighting in the knowledge that we had had a night out with my hubby being none the wiser as to our exploits. Unfortunately our escapade was rumbled as my hubby finished his shift early, called into the bar for a pint on his way home and caught sight of two or three tiny triangles sitting on the bar, testimony to our ‘sneaky’ girlie night out. Imagine being betrayed by folded up crisp bags!

My children who are now adults make these ‘triangles’ automatically when they eat crisps no matter where they eat them. They learned from the master/mistress who was my sister. I smile every time I see them do it and remember Annie’s talent. She is constantly missed and we speak about her all the time, but it’s lovely and very amusing to see her being remembered unconsciously in the neat disposal of an empty crisp bag.

I can hear her (in my head) asking me sarcastically if that’s ALL we remember about her!

As if……

Destiny can be about mirroring tasks that are taught by others as a way of keeping their memory alive.

Gazing back and looking forward…..

After the recent death of my mother and the subsequent preparation for the sale of her house, there have been many photographs unearthed in her belongings that have never been viewed before. Looking back over a history of so many moments/instants captured and preserved on paper has been quite emotional.

On one hand it is poignant and sad looking at images of people who are no longer present in my life, yet on another, it is simply wonderful to gaze at them and reflect and dream about how each image was caught and preserved during a particular time.

We currently dwell in a modern age where digital images saturate and bombard us every day. Street surveillance, mobile phone technology and digital cameras capture us instantly as we go about our daily lives, and we have come to accept this as being normal as we view ourselves constantly on social media networks and various other online platforms. We can change our captured images to reflect how we are feeling at any particular moment on any particular day. We have the capacity, the skill and the ability to do this. In monetary terms, there is little cost. We can be who we want to be at any given moment and we can reveal ourselves in many guises.

This is contrary to the way that images were captured in our recent past. The photographs that I have been looking at were mostly ‘group’ shots, where people who were together for special occasions  posed for a ‘snap’, and this unique moment was then captured by someone who was fortunate to have a camera, could afford film, and who took the trouble to have it processed afterwards. This resulted in the myriad of black and white photos that have recently been discovered amongst my mother’s things.

There is something visceral about looking at these snapshots that tugs at my heart in a way that modern images fail to do so.

I found myself gazing at unknown faces, looking at particular features and wondering if I somehow ‘belong’ to them, and if my own genetic makeup was inherited from them. Some of the photos have names and places written in faded ink on the back of them identifying faces and places, others are blank. These are the ones that are the most intriguing. I don’t know who these people are, and if they are connected to me somehow down through time and history.

It has been a journey of discovery as I attempt to identify a whole generation of people that I never knew, yet that I can somehow recognise in particular features that live on in me and my family.

I have a marked crooked little finger on my right hand that is a throwback to my mother’s family. Growing up, she had two sets of twin siblings, and one of each twin was marked by this mutant crookedness. One of each set has a crooked little finger or a crooked little toe. This was a means of identity when they were very small, or so my mother said when I questioned my own ’disfigurement’. My maternal Grandmother told me that this crookedness was present in her own family too, and that instead of being embarrassed about it, I should embrace the fact that my descendants had passed this unique feature onto me. (She was probably fibbing, but as a small child I believed her and grew to like my alleged ancestral difference.)

I will treasure these recently found photos that were discovered amongst my mother’s possessions, and although my own adult children have grown up in an age of disposable digital images, I will encourage them to appreciate this photographic hoard as being precious and part of their own family history, albeit without the mutant crookedness so far…..

Destiny can be about gazing backwards and using history to help us move forward….

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.