Category Archives: Parents

Sink or Swim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy Fathers Day Dad.

Dear Dad,

The sun is shining and Dublin looks lovely today. I drove down to the Pigeon House at the South Wall, and walked to the lighthouse as we always used to do. Nothing changes here; it is as it always was, breath-taking and beautiful. The day was young so I headed out to our regular swimming spot in Seapoint. I remember striping off my clothes as a child shivering in the cold whilst dashing down the concrete steps with you and plunging into the sea. We would emerge blue and freezing but in your words, “invigorated”. By the time we were dressed, we were already warm and ready to cool down with a Teddy’s Ice cream.

The drive to Dún Laoghaire is minutes away and the ice-cream is still like no other. The regular swimmers were out in Sandycove. I watched them recline in their towels with their backs against the granite wall, sharing together the contents of their flasks and hot toddies. I licked my ice cream as I watched them, staying warm in the car. This community of swimmers is unchanged Dad, people of all ages come and go and the 40 foot swimming area is now populated by women as well as men. I remember as a child when you would not let me advance beyond the entrance to the 40 foot. You were so afraid that I might see a man swimming naked.

Driving along the coast, Dalkey Island Hotel has gone now and apartments face onto the island. Do you remember the hire boats on Sunday afternoons? Happy days. To be able to leave an island and row to another island was a big thing back then wasn’t it? Or it was to you. The road to Killiney is still as beautiful. Having been to Italy I think that our Sorrento drive is equally as stunning. The beach still shelves away steeply and we would be out of our depth in five steps when we swam there.

Skimming stones here reminds me how you thought me how to bend, and lean in close to the water’s edge to make the stones jump’. Five jumps is my record, although yours is seven.

Bray is still heavenly. Dawson’s amusements, although now closed were always open on Sundays. If it was raining and I didn’t want to swim, pushing penny’s in cheap slot machines kept me smiling. The hurdy gurdys and ghost trains were an exotic alternative to sea swimming off the beautiful prom and stony beach.

Greystones was one of our favourite places to swim. It’s still lovely. There were lots of people out there today for a charity swim. I remember that Christmas morning when we went searching for water all along the Dublin coast as the tide was out. We had to go as far as Greystones to get some depth and that newspaper photographer guy caught us on camera. We were in the paper long before it became fashionable to swim on Christmas day. We were the trend setters in my mind, never the trend followers.

The city and coastline were showcased through your eyes as I grew up Dad, and I still celebrate and enjoy its splendour. I am so thankful for the time that you spent showing me how truly beautiful Dublin is, and I wish that you were here again to see the places that make this city so great. If I could only have you again for an hour. We could retrace our steps and take that coastal drive again. You would see places and people that largely remain unchanged despite the passing of 25 years.

I miss getting up early on Sunday mornings not knowing where we would go, or what we would see. I miss our swims. I miss the little journeys that we used to take together. You were the best tour guide ever and you filled a small girl’s world with adventure and fun. I miss you all the time Dad, yet every time I visit these places you are always with me. Dublin city is my home and you are everywhere in it.

Love Valerie

Memories of a Dublin childhood…..

Growing older brings its own rewards. I tell myself this all the time and I truly believe it. It brings wisdom, confidence, and a settling in to one’s self that was largely missing for me in my younger days. Being middle aged doesn’t mean that I am on the scrap heap of life though, I am anchored in life with friends and family and I am fortunate to call Dublin my home.

Home is different to everyone and we all carry our own traditions and histories, but I believe that I am privileged to have grown up at a time in Dublin when communities felt real, and where people mattered to each other.

My childhood neighbourhood in Drimnagh was full of houses that were small and where families were large. My own house had two parents and five children. We were similar to other families that surrounded us, some having more kids, others having less. One house around the corner had seventeen children in a three bedroomed terraced home, plus two parents and a grandmother. They were lovely people, and I often wondered how they happily fitted inside the small rooms that were characteristic of the houses that we all lived in at the time.

My house in my opinion was squashed full of people, and the only places that I could comfortably exist in were my bedroom (shared with two sisters) and the living room (shared with the whole family). The ‘good room/parlour’ was out of bounds and I was only let in there with special permission.

This parlour had an opulent chesterfield suite in it that I was not allowed to sit upon on a daily basis. The room and all its contents were for guests and visitors, and I grew up peeking inside it, wishing that I could relax on the softness of the couch instead of sitting on the floor in the family room, or sharing a fireside chair with one of my siblings watching the TV which was the center point of the room.

My father was a skilled craftsman who could have knocked the wall down to make a bigger family room for us all, but my mother didn’t want that. She liked having a special room for very rare visitors and guests. That was her family tradition.

We had a little fancy telephone table in the hall, and although the telephone was cut off several times during my childhood through non-payment of bills, the ‘dead’ phone was always polished as was the table…. Keeping up appearances was an integral part of living in those days. Lots of our neighbors had ‘dead phones’ too.

As children we were always in and out of each other’s houses. The mammies made jam sandwiches for us when we were hungry, and the daddy’s played with us and taught us how to kick balls and make stuff like bows and arrows out of branches from trees.

They swung us around and praised us and kissed us when we did well. There was a simplicity to living that was innocent and precious, and I have wonderful memories of the kind and loving neighborhood dads that I grew up with.

There was a trust between us as neighbors that was never tarnished, hurt or broken.

The Daddy’s of my pals were all working class men, who loved their children and who made time for them and me after a long hard day’s work. I remember so many of them with extreme fondness and these memories will never fade.

Sadly I now only get to meet my childhood pals at the funerals of our parents and old neighbors, where we hug each other and ask about our own children and how they are doing. We recount our shared memories that we have about the people that we grew up with, and we tell ourselves how lucky we were to live in a time when lives were simpler and people trusted more.

We were lucky. We lived lives where most of us were cherished and beloved.

I realise now that there must have been many difficult domestic issues happening behind closed doors when I was growing up, and most of us were more poor than rich, but I am thankful and forever grateful that my childhood was not scarred by any type of abuse or inappropriate behavior by any of the wonderful men who were the fathers of my childhood pals. We have spoken about this when we meet at funerals and we have recounted how fortunate we were. Everyone that I knew had lovely men as fathers.

Looking back, there is always the possibility that rose tinted glasses are in place to gloss over the grimness of Dublin in the 60’s and 70’s, but as I embrace middle age I can honestly say that those glasses add a shine and luster to my childhood that will forever be pink and pretty, and nothing will ever dull the memories that I share with my childhood friends growing up in Drimnagh. I truly loved most of the fathers of my pals and I remember them with great affection. I realise how lucky I was to have a childhood that was simply about being a child with nothing else to tarnish it.

Destiny can be about looking back and wishing that you were looking forward again…..

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……

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…..

Is this Destinydelivered…..

There is something deep inside of me that is loosened by alcohol. I am not sure if it is a feeling of inadequacy, shyness, or reluctance, but I recognise that if I have a glass or two of wine, and I am near my computer- I am compelled to write my thoughts down.

Since I began blogging last year (July 2011) I have wanted to record and write so many things… It started out as a kind of living diary for me and for my already grown up children… I wanted them to somehow ‘see’ the person that was inside their mother….

I wanted them to separate the familiar ‘mammy’ that they knew and grew up with, from the woman that I was before they were born and who also lived a parallel life while they were children.

My ramblings were not intended for them to scrutinise in the ‘here and now’- they were for after I was gone.

This was the shyness, or the reluctance that stopped me from publically posting my blog for such a long time. I was afraid of being questioned, afraid of being ridiculed, afraid of being judged.

Becoming a blogger in the past year, I have learnt that writing personal stories, thoughts and histories, and sharing them amongst friends and family has actually been one of the most liberating experiences of my life.

It can sometimes be difficult to articulate fears and inexperience, to flounder in the face of adversity, and in front of people who expect that you will always perform to your optimum.

Blogging has allowed me to share how unsteady I have felt in my past, and also how I recognise that my future is not mapped out and assured.

I began writing this blog as a life diary for my children so that they could somehow know me after I was gone, but in writing it, I am getting to know myself more so than I ever thought possible by simply recounting my life and recording it.

Is this Destinydelivered?

At the end of the day………

It’s such a commonly used expression –

Irish people use it all the time. We throw it around casually in conversations….. “At the end of the day she was acting the maggot and I will NEVER be friends with her again”… “At the end of the day the score was even and the ref was SOOOO right”. “At the end of the day he was such a fecker that I dumped him”.

“At the end of the day” is a colloquialism- a part of the popular Irish vernacular, and although a lot of people use it frequently in conversation, I don’t honestly believe that we think too much about what lies behind the words that we are saying.

Circumstances have a way of making you sit up and take notice of what was once ordinary become extraordinary…….

At the end of the day on Wednesday I learnt that my mother’s terminal cancer had spread to other organs in her body…

At the end of the day I realised that her treatment had not halted this terrible disease despite medical interventions and chemotherapy….

At the end of the day I was alone with her as we were told that the results of her recent scans did not herald good news…..

At the end of the day we were sitting together quietly in a hospital room hearing words that extinguished all hope….

At the end of the day I was sitting with my mother the moment that we realised that the actual end of the day was coming sooner than we thought….

 

I am currently confused about the meaning of Destiny…..