Category Archives: Promises

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….

Advertisements

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…..

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…..

Are virtual Internet friends real?

Growing up in the 70’s all of my friends were people that I knew intimately. That’s what the word ‘friend’ meant to me. This ideal remained unchanged throughout most of my life and the people that I called friends were physical people that I knew and socialised with.

Meeting new people who have shared interests and that you ‘click’ with has always been difficult for me. I have been bored many times by friends of friends on nights out who prattled on about stuff that didn’t engage me, and then again there have been spectacular conversations with casual strangers who have been on the periphery of the company that I was with on particular nights. I often wished that I was brave enough to ask some of these people to meet up with me again so that we could continue the conversations and discussions another time long after the night was over. My own insecurities gagged and stopped me. Half of the time it was probably just as well. Morning sobriety has its own way of negating the previous night’s ‘stimulating conversation’.

Meeting people that we are compatible with is so hit and miss and random. It seems to be reflected in the proliferation of ‘Date/Mate sites’ that are all over the Internet, attempting to match people with similar interests together. In the past ten years because of the Internet and on line social media, the idea of ‘friends’ has become much more complex in one way and yet more fluid in another.

There are places on the Internet where people who have shared interests can gather, relate and chat. This can be a cyber/virtual place where your actual global location has no bearing or relevance to the conversation or interaction that is taking place. I adore this relatively new medium.

As an avid Scrabble player I have discovered and found new friends with common interests on the World Wide Web. I have played games with people who drift in and out of my life and disappear, and I have also made friends with others who I play with regularly and who I have conversations with about stuff that is personal and relevant to our lives. Although I may not recognise them if I met them on a street like I did growing up, some of these people have become very dear to me and are as important to me as the friends that I see on a regular basis in my daily life in Dublin.

I have been an enthusiastic user of the Internet since its origins and I believe that I can distinguish the good and the bad that lies at the heart of it. One of my first online cyber conversations was with a widow called Sally who hailed from Kansas and whose local Council had bought computers for all the far flung people in her locality so that they could chat and keep in touch with each other. They had also provided lessons for these neighbours on how to use the computers that were a life line to this scattered community. She was 76 years of age and was so thrilled to be type chatting (slowly) online with someone from Ireland. She had always wanted to visit, but sadly never got to make that journey. We stayed in touch for years. We had a lot in common as women and we never ran out of conservation when we were on line. We gossiped like old pals with shared history, and I got to know her and her family through our many chats.

The internet has opened up new ways of making friends for me. I have ‘met’ delightful people throughout the world, and I have had the most wonderful stimulating and complex conversations that would not have been possible without this medium. It has illuminated me on subjects, locations and histories that I lacked understanding of, but that have come alive and understood through the conversations that I have had with ‘virtual friends’. This has added a richness, colour and diversity to my life in ways that I simply cannot articulate.

This week I am welcoming a ‘virtual friend’ to my home for a visit. We have been friends for about five years. We have shared life’s ups and downs on line in the same way that I have shared the same events with my physical friends here in Ireland. We have laughed and cried about events that have shaped our individual lives although we have been thousands of miles apart when these events took place.

We started out playing Scrabble, and then we graduated to Facebook and regular on line chats. This weekend we will finally meet face to face. I am so looking forward to hugging her and welcoming her into my home as I do all my friends.
Without the Internet we would never have become pals. Without the Internet I would not have the relationships that I have with many people stretched across the globe.

Growing up in Dublin I had friends that I recognised by their faces, but this has changed. My many online friends may not be facially recognisable to me, but they are part of a global network that is as meaningful and relevant to me as are the people that I interact with physically on a day to day basis.

Friends are people who understand and love you regardless of where you are in the world.

Destiny can be about making real friends in the most unexpected places….

Valerie’s Gallery.

This was a phrase coined by Mark my brother in law in response to the amount of photos, posters and personal memorabilia that I have displayed in my downstairs loo. He said going to the toilet in my house was like walking into a gallery.

I figured that people who ‘used the facilities’ would ‘sit for a bit’, and if I could make their visit more memorable then I would. Inside this room there are photos of family & friends, posters, art work, and the general tack & tat that we all love to collect and which remind us of particular good times.

After Mark inaugurated the space about 10 years ago, my hubby Dermot had a handmade tile made for me as a gift and we stuck it on the door. ‘Valerie’s Gallery’ was born although there was no grand opening, and I didn’t invite guests to a cheese and wine reception.

This tiny area contains so many captured images of my life, and people who come to my house and ‘use the room’ are constantly surprised by how I have utilised this space. They remark on its colour and content and all the bits inside.
As they emerge they might ask ‘who is that in the black & white picture in the small car’ or ‘I love that pic of your sister and you’. It is a real conversation starter and I never tire of conducting tours although it can be exhausting with all that walking around!

Like in a real gallery there are some exhibits that never change, but every year I try to add to the collection although space is at a premium. It’s difficult to remove a picture or thing, but time moves on and this is reflected in the images that are featured.

I personally love sitting and contemplating all the people who surround me and who have been encapsulated in the smallest room in my house. I often gaze in wonder at all of these photos and paraphernalia that represent my life, and are beloved by me and mine. I have post cards, photos, billboards, and watercolours. In my view all the necessary ingredients that make up a good gallery.

Come pay a visit to my house and let me show you around. If you want to know me and my family- they are all there on the walls of my downstairs loo. Visiting hours are random and there is no fee. All are welcome.

Destiny can be about being surrounded by your past whilst still being able to see a future.