Category Archives: Meaning

Life in a goldfish bowl

 

Living life in a goldfish bowl you are contained in a very small space. This can be a good thing as you can feel protected from influences outside the bowl. As a metaphor for life though, it’s a wakeup call (for me), as life in the goldfish bowl also inures you against the wonders and challenges that occur in the world outside the bowl.

If you were accustomed to living in the ocean for years, you developed strategies that protected you against predators and danger. Your survival skills were at the ready and you were always prepared to protect, react, and survive. Life outside the bowl also taught you how to communicate and help others who assisted you in being a member of the community of swimmers who were part of the greater ocean and who faced the daily challenge together and collectively.

By my own admission I retreated into a goldfish bowl. Loss and inertia overtook me and I retreated into a small and lovely goldfish bowl. I have inhabited it for five years now.

It’s easy to delude yourself into believing that you are living a life inside your gilded goldfish bowl, because there are no challenges. Life just goes on with the same beautiful plants and landscapes that are always lovely and unchanging, but I am slowly dying of boredom and stupor.

Terrifyingly I am attempting to crawl up the sides of my bowl and cast myself back into the ocean. I am older, slower, and not as vigorous as I once was, but I believe that with a bit of support from the greater swimmers out there, I will make it.

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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.

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.

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……

Living with Epilepsy…..

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

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

But….

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

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