Category Archives: Promises

Friendship.

My close friends are jewels, full of colour, joy and happiness. They are like emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds. Precious gems that cascade through my life with a brilliance, beauty and special individual quality that makes each and every one of them exceptional. They are like a treasure trove that lift me up and add sparkle when I need it, and I am never disappointed by the quality that they bring to my life.

Destiny can be like being a pirate and finding that special pearl.

What a difference a year makes……..

It is a year (approx.) since my two adult children left home.
One year- 12 months- 52 weeks- 365 days- 8,670 hours – 525,600 minutes.

Time has unglued us from being one complete unit into becoming separate people living apart. This has led to many changes in our individual lives.

Learning to live without the constant ebb and flow of my children coming and going has been difficult. It has brought a new quieter rhythm to the house and one that has not always been welcome. I miss the noise although I appreciate the quiet. I miss the mess although I love the tidiness. I miss the gangs of pals although I relish the choice of seats in the sitting room in the evenings. I miss their late nights out although I realise that I can relax and sleep soundly and not have to wait to hear a key in the door. I miss waking up during the night although I don’t worry now if the house is in darkness as I realise that I turned the last light out and there is no one else coming home.

This is the melancholy side of things….
On the flip side there is a whole new order.

Being able to come and go without having to be there for formal meals is a huge freedom. Our family tradition had us all at the dinner table every night at a particular time having dinner and discussing the daily national and political news. While I always loved that part of the day, it is far less interesting when there are only two voices in the foray. It can descend into a major disagreement in no time.

My dinner time routine has changed.

Sometimes my hubby and I don’t even have dinner! We have the freedom to up and go to mountains, lakes and seaside destinations and we do so regularly. We go to restaurants, pack picnics and are generally less rigid in our evening routine than we have been in the past. We absolutely love this new independence although I am usually the driver of moving beyond the kitchen table.

I particularly love weekends. I am a volunteer with a national charity and my chosen slot is an early shift in Dublin City Centre on Sunday mornings. I finish around midday and my hubby usually collects me afterwards and we take this opportunity to make the most of the day and to enjoy the freedom of not having to be home for dinner. We go wherever the fancy takes us, and we stay out as late as we like. We have no one to please except each other and this adds a fun element and unpredictability to our lives. We are learning how to be a couple again after being parents for such a long time.

Our children still live close by and are welcome visitors all the time. They pop in unexpectedly for chats and impromptu meals that are conjured up in minutes by their Dad. They also come by for more formal ‘invited‘ dinners where the traditions are observed and the topical arguments continue. These dinners are special and very precious. Time tick tocks in the background as our lives move on independently but with habits and rhythms that bind us to each other.

I arranged to meet my daughter today and we spent two leisurely hours bantering and chatting over a delicious lunch in a local restaurant. If she was still living at home I don’t think that this coming together would have held the anticipation and ultimate pleasure of her company that I enjoyed for that short space of time.

Who knew what changes a year would bring.

Destiny can be about rearranging the jigsaw of life and seeing a different picture.

People- and the way they touch our hearts and minds….

Meeting someone pivotal in your life is often not greeted by cymbals and drum rolls. Sometimes they just slip in unnoticed and non-assuming, yet they can subliminally change how we think and act in quiet and unobtrusive ways. People like this are like jewels. Colorful treasure in a sometimes grey, monochrome world that can make us sit up and take notice of the beauty and sparkle that is inherent in life.

I met a man twelve years ago who changed me, fundamentally and quietly without his knowing. We met weekly and exchanged thoughts, philosophies, visions and ideas. He was older than I was and had a broader life experience and education than I had at the time. He spoke to and listened to me, and encouraged me to believe in my aspirations, beliefs and hopes. He supported me as I took the first tentative steps to thinking beyond the person that I was at the time, and he shaded my dreams with pencils of colour and substance.

Looking back, I recognise that I was at a crossroads in my life. My children were in their late teens and were on their own paths of discovery. My job at the time was well paid but I hated it. My husband had his career and was working hard at it. I was approaching my 40’s and I truly didn’t know who I was or where I going to. My life was predictable and mostly enjoyable, but it was lacking something that I couldn’t articulate or name.

This man encouraged me to read the works of great philosophers and writers, and to think deeply about the things that produced joy and happiness for me. He believed in the power of silence and self-reflection and taught me not to feel afraid in the quiet of my mind. Through our weekly discussions we explored what the universe had to offer us as humans and what we could give back.

We debated and argued back and forth about what was meaningful and relevant in a world gone mad with consumerism and greed. We agreed that it was people and how they felt that mattered most when it came to actual living.

I looked forward to our meetings and I was rarely disappointed. We were in a work environment so not all the time was spent chatting, but I loved having time out with this wonderful man learning something new in almost every encounter. He made me think in a way that I had never done before.

Trying to help my husband and children understand the monumental shift that was occurring inside me was difficult, as I was learning to think, to do things differently, and to reflect on where I was on my life’s map. I was also menopausal at the time which may have contributed to their lack of engagement with me as they all thought I was going nuts anyway. My new “Airy Fairy” way of thinking and my constant quoting of this man’s viewpoints made them laugh and dismiss me a lot, although they were never deliberately unkind. They just didn’t get what I was getting.

They didn’t understand the effect that this man was having on my consciousness. Although they listened to me, they didn’t really hear me or understand my new way of thinking. I knew that he did and I simply loved him for it.

I eventually emerged from the menopause mentally intact (although my family may disagree on this issue) and began to slowly build a new individual way of being, hugely influenced by this gentle man.

My thoughts and practices are different now and have been since I knew him. His gentleness continues to affect me in how I view the world and his wisdom will never be forgotten.

I do not see him now and have not for many years. Our paths diverged and we are not in contact. He has absolutely no idea how he influenced and changed my life.

I remember him with fondness, thankfulness and a deep and abiding love. He provided me with a space that allowed me to express my feelings, my doubts, worries and dreams. He listened to me and never judged me. He encouraged me to be quiet in myself and to appreciate the silence that lies within us all. He taught me to accept people with all their frailties and vulnerabilities and to recognise that I have those feelings too.

He has been a kind of guru for me in how I live my life although he would hate to have that title. He believed in the sharing of life’s philosophies, education and knowledge, with the implicit acknowledgement that we have no ownership of them as they were never ours in the first place. I learnt from him that wisdom, kindness and understanding that is passed on is the greatest gift that we as humans can share.

Destiny can teach us about people and the unconsciousness power they have to individually shape our lives.

Date night for older people….

Tonight was “Date Night” with my hubby. We agreed some time ago to meet in the sitting room of our home every Wednesday night- share a sofa – have a glass of wine (for me) & a beer (for him) while viewing something on the TV that was agreed by both of us in advance. It could be a movie, a pre-recorded programme or a DVD. We have such opposite tastes in books, TV, movies and culture- that we had to find a place and time for common ground. “Date night” was born although this concept is largely a youthful one.

Tonight we watched the movie “The best exotic Marigold Hotel”. It’s a Hollywood take on the issue of old age and retirement and the attempts of a group of people to escape the predictability and depression of being retired and aged in the UK.

It was a yarn located in India, directed by the talented John Madden, and it featured exotic locations, humour, pathos and clichés to beat the band. We sat back in the comfort of our living room- on our shared sofa and watched this movie about the depiction of the unsexiness and uselessness of being old.

The movie featured character actors of a certain age and their performances were finely scripted. Despite the “feel good factor” and the “happily ever after” scenario depicted in this movie I was left feeling a bit dispirited and dejected about the whole Hollywood notion of aging and how it is handled. I didn’t like it. It was too full of clichés, Viagra and the Kama Sutra etc…

It did leave me thinking about my own life though, and about where it is going. I too have reached that particular age where I no longer feel youthful and full of vigour as I have done for most of my life.

The world is full of young energetic creative people, and I felt a part of that world for so long. Age creeps up on us when we are least expecting it and although I have lived a full and largely happy life, I am feeling the encroachment of older age and am acutely aware that suddenly I am outside a life that I was once at the centre of.

This is manifest in the surveys that I have been doing for years on line. Suddenly I am in the “over 50’s group”. I may still feel that I am younger in my head and heart with my habits and ideas, but according to the marketing people who make their living predicting trends, I am not even asked the same questions that younger people are asked. A pal of mine who does the same surveys is 10 years younger than I am and is offered many more surveys even though our demographics are very similar. Age is the only thing that separates us.

Many years ago when I was 16 years of age during the 1970’s I fancied a busker who played in the Dandelion Market in Dublin. Dusty was his name. He sang like Bob Dylan and had the longest legs poured into the tightest Levis. He was simply gorgeous. I hung around that market like a love struck teenager all through the summers of ’75 & ’76 listening to him, hoping that he would suddenly notice me and we would fall in love and make music forever…. (I know- It was teenage fantasy stuff- but I had a vivid imagination and a steadfast belief that I was irresistible!)

Anyway….. One Sunday afternoon my maternal grandmother who was in her 60’s at the time came for dinner to our house and afterwards we took the bus into the city for the afternoon. We were just rambling around the streets as shops didn’t open in those days so the city was quiet. I surreptitiously directed her towards the Dandelion Market but Dusty wasn’t there… We wandered around inside the market for an hour or two and eventually headed down Grafton Street to catch our bus home.

I clearly remember the moment I saw “him” walking up the street towards us… I must have made a sound like a gasp or a sigh, for suddenly my grandmother said “would you have a look at that lad- isn’t he something”.

I remember being horrified by that note of lust or admiration that I heard in her voice and I (unforgivingly) rounded on her and replied “What do you mean? How can you say that? You are an old lady”!

This was a pivotal moment in my life’s history and I have told this story hundreds of times. My wonderful gran, Sis Keogh grabbed me by the shoulders in the middle of Grafton Street as I shuddered with horror at her noticing MY Dusty….and she said to me….. “I may be an old lady on the outside- but inside this body I am still 18 years of age and I think he is GORGEOUS”.

We talked the whole way home on the bus and we had the most honest conversation about attraction and sex that I could NEVER have with her daughter- my mother. I didn’t realise at that youthful age that “inside” we don’t grow old, and I gained a valuable insight that day that I have never forgotten.

Watching that movie tonight left me feeling that despite the politically correct notion that people should not be discriminated against by age, stereotypical movies like this actually reinforce ageism and have disguised it as a “feel good movie”. I believe that it actually adds to generalizations about older people and I won’t be recommending it on.

Getting older brings many things up for me. Amongst them is an acceptance of where I’m at on life’s stage, confidence in what I believe in, and an acknowledgment that while I may not be full of life, vigour and sexiness- I am nonetheless a worthwhile person who the marketers are seriously underestimating if they think that I have no opinion.

I am outspoken, passionate and articulate. I say what I want to say, but I always hope to be sensitive and aware of other people’s feelings and beliefs. Age does not hold me back. In fact it allows me the confidence of life’s experience to be more vocal and determined to have the voice that was largely silent when I was younger.

Growing older may not be all that and a bag o’ chips in the youth driven society that we currently live in, but I appreciate the freedom and confidence that I have now that was so lacking in my younger days. I always have my dear Gran and her wise words in my head as a reminder to me that getting old is only on the outside, and that inside I am still and always will be eighteen years of age.

Destiny can be in knowing where you are on life’s map and recoginising the things that are relevant and meaningful to you.

Care and kindness in unexpected places

According to all the current reports in the newspaper and on the TV, our Irish National Health Service is in shambles. There are stories featured almost every day about the heartbreak and suffering that vulnerable people have to endure at a time when they need care the most. There seems to be little praise for the services and for every bad story that is heard, there are another five waiting in the wings for their day in the spotlight.

I realise that no newspaper ever refused ink, and that good news rarely makes the front page, but I am heartened by my own recent experience with the Health Service and particularly with St James Hospital in Dublin where my mother is currently a patient.

I brought my mam (who is also terminally ill) to the A & E department of James Street hospital in Dublin late on Monday night June 18th on the advice of her GP. Her condition didn’t appear to relate to her current illness, but her GP quite rightly didn’t want to take any chances. From the waiting room she was triaged within five minutes and was admitted almost immediately. The care and attention that she received during the next few hours was of an exceptionally high standard, and was in contrast to previously heard stories about this particular department.

Despite being overcrowded with patients on trollies, there was one cubicle that was constantly kept empty during the night. Trollies were moved about by the staff with the dexterity of chess pieces as doctors came and consulted with, and diagnosed their patients. Each patient was wheeled into this empty cubicle in order to have complete privacy as doctors examined them. When the consultation was over, they were wheeled back out again leaving the cubicle ready for the next patient.

All this movement/ shifting/ wheeling/ tugging/pushing was carried out by the staff with constant cheerfulness and maximum efficiency. My mother was wheeled into that cubicle three times during the hours that we were there before she was eventually transferred to a ward. Being the beneficiaries of such a high level of privacy and dignity in the middle of a hustling busy A & E dept. was so welcome and so totally unexpected given the horrific experiences of other patients that are constantly referred to by the media. The current health service is hugely criticised most of the time- but my mother’s recent experience was one to be highly commended.

The unit that she is still on is staffed by dedicated people who look after her with diligent care, kindness and professionalism. Her every need is catered for and we are so lucky that her care team are so thorough in their work and expertise.

Since she was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year, the care and attention that my mother has received from the medical staff in St James Hospital has been nothing short of excellent. Her treatments and appointments run like clockwork, and she has always been present at the heart of every consultation and meeting about her illness.

Kindness, affection and good humour are the added bonuses that the staff provide, and my mother and the rest of my family are so grateful that she is being looked after with such compassion, thoughtfulness and consideration.

I have nothing but praise for all the health care professionals that surround us at the moment as my mother struggles to remain upbeat and as well as she can be given her fragile state. I have no doubt that while the Health Service in general is struggling and needs reform, St James Hospital as a centre of excellence is currently demonstrating how best practice can actually work as my mother and consequently the rest of our family are the recipients of this care.

Destiny can lie in the hands and hearts of unexpected people who come into our lives when they are needed the most.

Tradition.

Being part of a family and having a sense of belonging that comes with the knowledge that I am loved is something that I can take for granted. I feel very fortunate. Living in modern times where people can be scattered across the globe, I realise that as a family we are not so different to many others who find themselves split up and divided.

One of my brothers lives in the sunny soaked Island of Tenerife with his wife, while another lives here at home in Dublin. My sister lives with her close extended family of children and grandchildren in Great Britain. As a result we don’t get together as a complete family too much these days and when we do I simply love it.

When some of us gather, our meetings have particular flavours and habits that have been replicated so often over time that I don’t think we really know how to do it any other way.

I suppose we learned this from my father.

As I have already written previously, my Dad was a lovely man. He loved his nights out dancing with his “burd” (my mam) in the days before they married, and for several years afterwards too. He enjoyed socialising in pubs in the city with drinking buddies but never drank at home. When he was present he was as attentive as a Dad could be. He checked homework, disciplined when necessary, and brought us on wonderful childhood adventures all around Dublin City on Sundays after Mass. We swam in the sea, we frequented museums, and we took long train rides to far flung places like Greystones and Malahide. Dublin was a lot smaller when I was growing up than it is now.

He loved his home and surprisingly for a man of his time he also loved cooking. He experimented with flavours and recipes all through his life, and I clearly remember going into school aged ten and my friends telling me that my breath was rank! Garlic had arrived into Ireland and into our house. The year was 1970. He was a trail blazer, and although we had never seen this mysterious bulbous vegetable before, we were game to try any meal that my Dad created as he was so much better at cooking than my mother was.

My maternal Gran and Granddad were regular visitors to our house and he loved them. He had lost his own parents very early in his life and he and his only brother had been reared by an aunt, so he loved the closeness that he shared with his “in laws”. My grandmother in particular loved and cherished him and they had a great relationship that was a joy to behold.

He loved when they came to visit and he would always cook and push out all the stops for them. He experimented with all types of foods and ingredients and served them up with the expectation that they would be well received. If they bombed he would just try harder the next time. They were easily pleased but loved the attention that he gave them, and relished tasting the exotic dishes that he concocted in his efforts to please them.

After each meal with my Grandparents, he always served Irish coffees. It didn’t matter what time the meal finished at or on what day. It could have been an ordinary meal on a Tuesday evening or it could have been the Christmas feast of many dishes served over hours. The meal always ended with the beautiful mix of coffee, Irish whiskey, sugar and cream. This particular drink is very Irish and was “invented” by a lounge steward in Shannon Airport many years ago when welcoming American visitors on a chilly cold night. This creative steward added Irish whiskey to the coffee being offered to the new visitors in the arrivals lounge and the legendary drink was born.

I watched my Dad prepare the warm glasses, add the ingredients, stir the mix and expertly pour the dairy cream over the back of a spoon so that it rested on the top of this beautiful dark liquid from the time I was about seven years of age. I think he allowed me to try making them at the age of ten. He was a great “get stuck in and see what you can do” kind of man. I soon became expert and assisted him frequently in the preparation of these after dinner drinks for his guests.

Imagine inviting children to mix alcoholic drinks these days…. It would be considered to be child abuse! It’s amazing how the modern landscape of parenting has changed. My Poor Dad- He would be ridiculed and castigated. Although I helped create them, I never tasted the elixir that was the finale of so many remembered meals until I was well into adulthood and I recreated them myself in my own home.

Tonight I was in my younger brother’s house in Dublin after he had prepared and served a wonderful meal for some of our family. My Mam was there, her sister, my son & daughter, her boyfriend, my husband and my sister in law. Following on in true O’Neill tradition my brother asked me to make the Irish coffees….. I asked him why he didn’t make them himself and his reply was “sure no one can make them like you can”. Praise indeed.

Each and every time I make Irish Coffees for my family I remember my Dad and how I learned at his hand. I remember his pleasure in cooking, and how he loved to please people rounding off each meal with this special tradition. This is such a part of how we enjoy being together as a family, and my Dads custom is something that will be continued as long as I can still keep on making them.

Destiny can lie in tradition and how it shapes our continuing lives.

Matriarchs.

Mam & Dad circa 1955

Most Irish people in the past 50 years have grown up in households where the matriarchal figure was the most powerful force in their lives.

“Irish mothers”. They are legendary, and many stories, plays and movies have been written about the archetypical version that so many of us are familiar with.

My mother didn’t fit into that category. She had a different outlook on life and one that was at odds with most of the other “mammies” that I was surrounded by as a small child growing up in the suburban streets of Dublin.

My father was a lovely man but he was also a man of his time who believed that he was entitled to nights out with boozy pals while my mam cared for myself and my other siblings at home. This was a ‘normal’ landscape for many couples in Ireland during the 1950’s/60’s.

Unlike the mothers of my friends that I was familiar with, my Mam simply believed that she was born to dance. She practiced it with vigour alongside her sisters as they were all growing up, and she was a regular “girl about town” in her day before she met my Dad. During their days of courtship they danced in every dance hall and every ballroom in Dublin. When she could, she would dance five or six nights a week.

My mother’s looks were stunning. She looked like a movie star. A “Maureen O’Hara look alike” she was. She had beautiful red curling hair and a figure that was “Pure Hollywood”. She was a great dancer too, so she was popular and was never a wallflower. She had many a suitor but was never inclined to ‘go out with’ anyone who couldn’t dance.

This is what defined my mother as a young woman in the post war years of Dublin. She lived her days working in a local factory making cigarettes, and when her beauty was noticed by a senior manager she was plucked from the obscurity of the factory floor to become a guide, taking tours of visitors around the production area explaining the process involved in the manufacturing of cigarettes. By day she conducted endless tours of the factory earning her wages, but by night she donned her sparkly shoes and clothes and  danced until the early hours of the morning when my Dad would walk her home, or give her a cross bar on his bicycle when her feet were too tired after a nights dancing.These are her stories relayed down through the years.

When she married, the law in Ireland of the time meant that she had to give up her job.

The reality of being stuck at home after a honeymoon baby must have been a culture shock for her, and I have often wondered at how different her life was as a young married woman compared to her previous carefree existence as a single girl.

My early life is full of images of her getting ready to go out. I remember sitting on her bed as a child watching her getting dressed in beautiful clothes with sparkling jewelled accessories. I realise that there were days when she was washing clothes and ironing to beat the band, but my most vivid memories are the ones where she was fussing and excited, and these were all associated with dancing and going out with my father.

She was animated on those nights and made sure that dinner was over early and that the baby sitter was organised. I believe that because of her beauty she got a lot of attention in social settings and when she went out she was able to revert to being that young and carefree girl and dance the night away with my father, leaving behind her life as a wife and mother.

These days were the days that my mother loved. In reminiscing and talking about times past she would speak of how people loved what she was wearing and about how exciting the Dublin social scene was. It was all about the clothes, the jewellery, the dancing and the attention from my father. Looking back at old photographs I know that she was telling the truth, and there are so many captured images of her looking vivacious and happy, surrounded by laughing people who never looked quite as beautiful as she did.

Times change and the ballroom scene in Dublin changed during the 1960’s. The music changed too. The great show bands of that era were replaced by a new pop culture and I remember her hating the Beatles and all the new groups that were emerging during those times. The music that they produced was not music that she could dance to, and she yearned for the halcyon days of her youth and the crooners like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Ella Fitzgerald.

As her family grew larger, her nights out became rarer and eventually they stopped altogether. By the time my younger sister was a teenager my mother and father no longer danced together.

Raising a family of five children meant that a lot of her days were filled with washing, cooking, cleaning and other mundane chores that were hallmarks of life during the 60’s and 70’s. By the time my Dad died when she was a young woman in her early fifties, she was still rearing teenagers and worrying about future finances as my father had left no pension or nest egg to make life comfortable for her.

She was the most terrible cook !

Her philosophy of food was that “she ate to live -unlike most people who she believed lived to eat”! She dieted constantly and maintained her pre marriage weight through discipline and denial and “kept her figure” throughout her whole life. As children, we suffered burnt, horrible and unsavory meals and we were encouraged to” eat bananas” if we didn’t like what was on offer. She still considers banana sandwiches to be a “meal”, and despite her loss of appetite recently she still gets through at least one a day !

Her determination and vitality were instrumental in her going back to work full time after my Dad died and she continued working until she was into her mid seventies long after all my siblings had left home and built their own lives.

She has enjoyed wonderful holidays to many countries with close friends, and her two dear sisters who remain a huge part of her life. She has travelled the world visiting relatives and has clocked up more air miles than I have. She has kept a loyal circle of old school pals close to her heart throughout her life, and has had to deal with heart-breaking loss as three of them have died in recent times.

At eighty two years of age she still enjoys watching dancing programmes on TV and it’s still all about the dresses and the jewellery.

She is a punchy little woman who is much admired for her indomitable spirit and unflagging energy. Her recent terminal illness has made many people realise how old she actually is and how her life landscape has changed so radically.

She has had a good life filled with music, dance and love, although her time is now taken up with hospital visits and treatments in the hope of gaining some extra time. She has a large extended family of siblings, children, grandchildren great grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins. She is loved and respected and is a true Matriarch although she never quite fitted into the archetypical role of the “Irish Mammy”.

Now is a time to celebrate her life and to look back at all it was. A life filled with dancing, beauty, fun, love and laughter. She possesses a determination, energy, stubbornness and an incredible quick wit that is unique to her. She has suffered the unbearable pain of losing her husband and her youngest daughter to untimely deaths, and yet she still has the strength and resilience to get up each day and live.

I may not say it often and sometimes it’s hard to recognise something special when it’s up so close to you, but I love her- and I fervently wish that she had more time to do more things, to go on more holidays, to laugh more and to live more.

“Stay with us as long as you can Mam- because no one will fill the hole that you will eventually leave behind”.

Is this feeling of living loss part of my Destiny?