Category Archives: Mortality

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.

Growing older…..

Every time I hold my face in my hands I am aware of my skin. It is loosening. I rub cream into it daily as I moisturise. I don’t need to look into a mirror now; I just do it habitually as I have done for most of my adult life. I am aware that I am ageing and that my skin, once taut and firm, is no longer the skin and face that held a thousand dreams and thoughts as I planned my life as a teenager when I first started to moisturise and gaze at myself in mirrors back then ….

I sit with my face in my hands frequently. I rest my chin on my upturned hands and cup my cheeks. The little fingers of each hand effortlessly slot into the wrinkles and creases around my eyes. This is a comfortable position for me. I read a lot with a book on a table, or read online at my computer.

I acknowledge that I am growing older although most of the time I still feel like a youngster inside this aging body. My bones creak. My knees hurt. My shoulders can sometimes be sore when I wake up in the morning. I move slower and check steps before I walk down or up. I carry weight and I am conscious of it. I don’t want to fall or break any bones. It is a fact of who I am now. When swimming I enjoy the weightlessness of being a water baby, floating, light and carefree.

I love jewellery, but I especially love rings. I used to wear a variety of them when going out socially. Different colours, on different fingers. The more outrageous and unusual, the more I loved them. I particularly liked flower rings; daisy, lily, rose, in a variety of colours – white, pink, mauve. I wore them all happily and with complete confidence. People noticed my rings and complimented them all the time. I was known in many circles by the fact that I wore outlandish rings. I enjoyed this eccentric other part of me outside the more usual boring and predictable me. I shopped for rings all the time and my friends did too. They would produce rings for me that they loved to look at but would never wear, knowing that I bravely would. I received many gifts of rings as a result, and still have a lot of them despite the years that have passed since I received them. I have given a lot of them away to friends who have admired and loved them over time and have no regrets about doing so at all.

Recently I was getting ready to go out, and after slipping on my watch I thought about which rings I would wear. I don’t go out much socially these days, and I lead a much quieter life now than I did in the past so I don’t get the opportunity to dress up and wear jewellery on a regular basis.

I opened my ring boxes and gazed at the contents. I have so many, over 100.  I have a ring or three for every occasion, and one of every colour in the rainbow. Some were expensive, and others were dirt cheap. All are gorgeous. Matching them to particular clothing is not a problem. I tried on a variety that night but couldn’t find one that I was happy with.

After a while I noticed that I was not really looking at the rings on my fingers, but was looking at my fingers with the rings on them and how they looked.

I looked closely at my hands with their blunt rounded nails and short fingers, and I realised that these hands, like the rest of me were showing their age. I sadly acknowledged that these hands of mine that I used to unselfconsciously adorn with rings to be admired, now have loose skin and wrinkles on them where before there were none.  I recognised that these aged hands were no longer an easel of youthfulness where beautiful rings complimented my fingers.

I didn’t wear a ring that night and I haven’t worn one since. The rings belong to a younger version of me, a more frivolous me, a more carefree and flamboyant me.

It wasn’t vanity that stopped me wearing a ring out that night, but just a realisation that fashion/accessories are age appropriate (in my view) and rings are too.

I have not thrown them away and never intend to. I have tried them all on at home and gazed at them and remembered particular fun nights wearing them with different people. Friends still ask to browse and borrow them for particular occasions and I am always glad to see some of my lovely rings having a night out even if I am not wearing them.

We cannot stop the thief of time, but we can ignore or embrace the changes that it brings. I choose to embrace and acknowledge it, as I look towards a future with more wrinkles and aging skin. I am alive and glad to be so. Rings are unimportant in the grand scheme of things, and although I may not wear them out socially, I daydream amongst them and am happily reminded of joyful times when my rings made a statement and helped to define the person that I was back then.

Destiny can be looking at the jewels of yesterday and bringing their colour into the future in other ways with no regrets.

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……

Unforgettable moments…..

Dublin is a place that I am lucky to call my home. It is a city that is steeped in literary history and is beloved of many of its inhabitants. Writers have captured Dublin in many forms, but none greater in my opinion than James Joyce in his short story collection “Dubliners”.

This collection is evocative of my city during a particular time, and his stories capture life and society in such a way that I can imagine, smell and feel. Loving a particular author and the way that they write is always subjective, but the way that Joyce captures Dublin is the definitive account of that period for me.

‘The Dead’ is the last story in the collection and recounts the events of an annual party that takes place during the first week in January 1904 in the Morkan sisters house on Ushers Quay in Dublin.

The story provides insights into the guests who come to the house that night to join the annual party, and the central characters are Gabriel Conroy, his wife, and his Aunt’s (the Morkan sisters).

While the story is beautiful, the setting is equally so, as Joyce describes in detail the house and its environs in relation to the city centre.

I have a cousin who lives in a Gothic type Georgian house in County Wicklow. I am fortunate to be a confident and friend of this cousin who is a composer and musician and who, like the Morkan sisters hosts an annual party every Christmas.

Similarities to Joyce’s literary accounts are accidental, but the setting for this yearly party is resonant of the Morkan sister’s in a grand Georgian house with sash windows, high ceilings and candle lit rooms.

Last year I was again at his Christmas party along with the other annual visitors. I feel like a very special guest at this gathering, and I always clear my diary to make myself available. We only ever meet the other guests at this annual bash, but we have all become familiar with each other over the years, and conversations can vary from the easy, to the radical political, and the shouting each other down kind. We know each other well enough now not to take offence.

There are lots of different personalities at that annual table, but music is the common factor that binds us all.

When the cigars were lit after dinner last year, another cousin’s husband (who is a world class concert pianist) took to the piano while we were all still sitting around the candle lit table and began to play……

In a moment that will be forever etched in my memory, he played Clair De Lune by Debussy.

Listening to that beautiful music, whilst sitting in a Georgian room lit by candlelight, surrounded by friends and loved ones, I was transported to Joyce’s Dubliners. I was moved to tears in that moment by the beauty of the music and company that I was in. I pictured myself in the Morkan sister’s house, and realised that while 107 years had passed since Joyce had written about that particular incident, I was having my own pivotal literary experience right there in that moment.

I have revisited this night so often in my mind in the past year, and find solace, peace and tranquillity in the memory, and in the beautiful music that was played and shared amongst the other attending guests.

Life is made up of so many moments, minutes, hours and days. Some are memorable for a variety of reasons, and some are best forgotten. When things happen that bring me pleasure I usually remember them with clarity in the short term, and resolve to record and write about them so that I can reread the details of the event and somehow try to recapture that feeling, that joy that made the particular moment special. I rarely do what I set out to do in this regard, and many moments of pleasure have been lost in the murky clouds of my past. I wish that I could dredge them up like treasure from an ocean bed, to view them once again, but sadly most are lost having never been recorded.

Lessons learned late in life:

1) Record as many events that have occurred in your own lifetime that have made you happy in a diary that is written in your own handwriting.

2) Start a blog in an attempt to recapture those special moments so that they are not lost forever.

Option 2 is the only one available to me at this stage.

The memory of that beautiful night is etched in my mind, and I hope that I will never forget it. I have now faithfully recorded it here so that I can reread it again in the future in case the memory of this wonderful night fades.

Destiny can be about thoughts, feelings and experiences, that without a deliberate attempt to record them can become lost in the moments that slip away….

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…..

The flip side of the coin…

“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family”. The opening words of the iconic monologue from the 1996 movie ‘Trainspotting’.

But what choices do we really have when it comes to living?

I believe that life can be a series of accidents and opportunities that are constantly dependent on outside factors that we have absolutely no control over at all.

Take that great job interview that you recently did. You know that you ticked all the boxes. You know that you are qualified for the job. You have the expertise. You presented well on the day and you answered all the questions correctly.

You didn’t get the job.

Outside influences may have played a major part. The Interviewer may not have liked the colour of your hair, or she may have had her best friend’s daughter interviewing later that day. You will never know the reason.

You will go over and over what it was that you did wrong, and never find the answer because it was nothing to do with you, it was to do with someone else making a decision that might affect the rest of your life.

You had decided on a particular path assured in the belief that if you completed A you would progress to B and then on to C. Mapping out our lives is something that we all do. We have goals and aspirations to aim for, and we hope that they will be realised as we all work toward personal fulfilment.

Achievements are celebrated and greater goals are set as we attempt to pilot our way through our lives, providing for our families, setting example by our standards and generally expecting that things will work out the way we want them to because we have worked so hard to make it happen. It’s what we have been taught to do. I cannot visualise my world without order, hope, expectations and dreams.

But life is actually so arbitrary. I realise this now, and it has taken me so long to understand it.

I realise that no matter how qualified I am for a particular job, it’s someone else’s decision as to whether I get it or not.

I realise that being an obedient citizen guarantees me nothing.

I realise that actions and decisions take place that impact on my life all the time and that I have no hand in them.

I realise that most of life is chaotic and unplanned, despite our belief that there is an order to the events that affect us.

I realise that no matter how much I try to protect the people that I love, I cannot keep them safe from harm.

I realise that I have to let go my feelings of desolation because life didn’t work out quite as I had planned it would.

I realise that life can be explained by the simple metaphor of a coin toss.

Heads you live – Tails….

Destiny can just be about flipping the coin of life and accepting where it lands.