Category Archives: Thoughts

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.

The stolen violin

I started to play the violin at seven or eight years of age. My maternal grandmother’s family were all musically talented, and as my older sister Bernice was already playing the piano, my grandmother decided that I should play the violin. I remember my father buying me my first instrument and bringing it home. I unenthusiastically removed it from the case and made an attempt to play it. It sounded dreadful. It definitely wasn’t love at first sight, but like so many unpromising beginnings, my love for it grew.

Mother Cecily was the resident music teacher in Loreto College Crumlin where I attended school, and I remember happily gathering up my school bag during lessons and escaping the classroom twice weekly for music tutorials of 45 minutes duration. It was many years before music as a subject became an extra-curricular activity which took place after school hours. But while I was I with Mother Cecily I didn’t spend too much time wondering what I missing back in the classroom.

Cecily was an ancient tiny nun, who wore glasses that magnified her eyes so much, that she resembled an owl. She was passionate about music, and most of her pupils adored her. As time went by, I also learned how to read music, as each lesson included musical theory, sight reading and information on great composers and musical artists. I spent many happy hours in her little music room and as I progressed I entered and won several competitions and Feis Ceoil’s.

By the time I was twelve years of age, I was old enough to join the school orchestra. We performed at various events throughout the school year and competed with other schools in orchestral competitions. A couple of years later when we teamed up with the  Castleknock College Boys School orchestra, there was a sudden flurry of teen aged Loreto girls who begged to join the orchestra never having played an instrument before, pleading with Mother Cecily that they could quickly learn to play the triangle or other percussion instruments. Cecily gently insisted that they would have to know how to read music in order to become part of the orchestra, and many hopes were dashed, as being part of this musical ensemble suddenly became very cool amongst my peers.

Travelling out to the boarding school in Castleknock by hired bus every other Saturday was always an adventure, and after practice when Mother Cecily and Father Fehily went to take tea, we had an hour or two to gallivant and hang out with the lovely boys of Castleknock in the grounds of the college. I remember this period in my life as being great fun and I kept in contact with a few of those boys throughout my teen and early adult years.

My father had only one sibling, his brother Tommy who had never married. He was a skilled carpenter like my dad, but he enjoyed making musical instruments as a hobby. One Christmas he presented me with a beautiful handmade violin. It was remarkable. Each peg had mother of pearl and nine carat gold embedded in the wood, and the fingerboard featured an unusual treble clef motif in Ivory. The back of the violin was exquisitely inlaid with a mother of pearl rose whose petals held various hues and colours. It was absolutely unique. Tommy had spent almost a year, sourcing materials and crafting this precious gift for me and I had never owned anything so beautiful.

It didn’t come with a case, and when my father and I went to the music shop Mc Cullagh Piggott’s to buy one, we realised that the instrument was slightly larger than a standard violin so we couldn’t get a case to fit.

When I returned to school after the holidays, I carried the instrument in a makeshift soft bag that I had cobbled out of old jumpers. When Mother Cecily saw it, she rooted out an old ungainly wooden handmade case that looked like a coffin but the new instrument fitted inside perfectly.

As my violin was slightly bigger than a standard one Mother Cecily used me as a viola player when the need arose. We simply switched strings and I became the ‘viola section’ of the orchestra. The viola is the second instrument in the string family, graduating on to the cello, and finally to the double base. Being part of the violin section of the orchestra, I performed with several other players, but when my violin became a viola, I was always playing solo. I enjoyed the deeper tones that the alternative strings produced, and I also enjoyed the magical status that my violin held. It was a two in one and very special.

Because the wooden case was cumbersome and very heavy, I left it on a rack in a school corridor with other instruments and practised at home on my old violin. Leaving instruments on the rack in school was a common practice, and although they stood in a busy corridor, these instruments were out of bounds to pupils and were never touched or moved. On our trips out to Castleknock, it was simply lifted and placed on the bus, along with all the other violins, cellos, flutes, clarinets, oboes and various percussion instruments that were also often left on the rack.

Uncle Tommy only visited our house about twice a year, but the violin was always brought out and I performed for him. He enjoyed classical music and it was a shared subject that we could talk about. I was an awkward teenager, and he was a bachelor with limited experience of kids, so the instrument and the music gave us opportunities to chat and to enjoy each other’s company.

One Saturday in early summer I went into the school to collect my violin as I had a competition later that day. I went to the rack and opened the case, but the violin was not inside. It had been stolen sometime between the previous day when I had had a lesson and that morning when I called to collect it.

Despite a thorough search of the entire school the violin never turned up. Fliers were sent around, and every teacher asked every class if anyone knew what had happened to my violin. No one came forward and the instrument was never found. Sadly the nuns refused to take responsibility for its loss. I felt so bad. My mother believed that I was at fault and had somehow ‘lost it’ or left it on the bus (as I had done a few years previously with the older violin, which was recovered from the C.I.E  lost property office a day later).

When Uncle Tommy came to visit that Christmas, my father and mother lied to him and told him that the violin was in school in the “big case” over the holidays, as they believed that it would break his heart to find out that it had been stolen. I still remember playing my dishonest musical renditions for him on the old violin that Christmas. I felt guilty with every note that I produced and cut short the performance that I usually basked in.

He died the following spring never knowing that it was gone. The heart of playing the violin left me after that, and despite still having my older instrument I subsequently left the orchestra. The old violin was eventually passed onto a younger cousin, along with the sheet music, books, music stand, and other paraphernalia associated with it.

After I left school I took my musical knowledge and got a job in Walton’s music store in Dublin where I worked very happily for over four years. Over the course of those years, many second hand violins were brought in to the shop to trade up to newer instruments. I kept my eyes out, and all the sales staff knew the story of the stolen violin. But I’ve never seen it again.

I sometimes trawl through the Internet in the hope that I might stumble across it. I don’t know what I would do if I found it, I just know that I would recognise it in an instant as there could never be another one like it.

Destiny can often be about still appreciating things that are given with love long after they have gone.

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.

A shrinking life…

Quietly and almost without my noticing it, my life has shrunk and become smaller.

Measured tasks that filled and shaped my days, that ate up the hours and minutes were all unconsciously part and parcel of my life until last January. These moments have become fewer over the past year.

It’s difficult to reconcile the constant bustle that was my life last year with the quietness and inactivity that defines it now. It is a hallmark of how things are for me at this moment in time.

My life at the time was a balancing act.

I juggled classes, studying, assignments and learning, along with family commitments and the on-going care of my then terminally ill mother. Sometimes there were not enough hours in the day to complete particular tasks, so a friend of mine very kindly gave me a “do it tomorrow” book. It really helped me to make lists of all the things that had to be done, and if I didn’t manage to finish them I would just carry them forward to the next day or until they were eventually crossed off the list. There was a crazy kind of order to my days.

Reading back over the entries from that time I can see that life was also sometimes chaotic, and some tasks were carried on for far too long before they were eventually scratched off the list but it was all somehow manageable.

Christmas 2012 was frantic. There was so much studying and research to be completed. I stayed up many nights reading, writing, referencing and cross referencing. I remember the tiredness. I also remember minding my mam Monnie, who had moved into Hospice care by that time. Prior to her move, there were hospital appointments, liaisons with nurses and home care staff, and all the million and one things that had to be done to ensure her well-being. I wasn’t alone in this, and my brother and my mother’s sisters and brothers were on hand providing help and support during this time.

Christmas was both joyous and sad, because although my mam was with me over the holidays I could see that her life was drawing to a close. She died in early January 2013 and suddenly the tasks associated with her care that were such a feature of my life for such a long time ended abruptly. After her funeral there was an emptiness that was not just about her being gone.

The days stretched ahead empty without meaning or purpose.

I recognised this landscape as I had been there previously when my sister died in 2009 but it looked different this time, bleaker and more desolate. I remember speaking to a very kind and wise Chaplain in NUIM after my sister Annie died, and he helped me through that terrible time with his gentle words of comfort and enlightenment of how the world works with the cycle of life and death. I tried unsuccessfully to resurrect his words and tender instructions and to apply them again, but it didn’t work this time. I found myself in a place of utter loneliness that I could hardly understand myself never mind trying to explain it to others.

Throughout my life I have been emotionally strong and it has stood to me during times of trouble. However I can honestly say that this past year has shaken me more than I ever thought I could be.

Losing my dear sister Annie stopped my world five years ago and at times I didn’t want it to start again I missed her so much. Losing my mam last year has made me feel fragile and small in the face of the universe and in the arbitrary way that life/death happens.

In all the sadness and adjustment to my life without mam, I could not bury myself in my studies as I had done when Annie died. It simply didn’t work. I tried hard to keep up, but eventually made the decision to defer my studies until such a time that I could be clearheaded and focused on the subject as it deserves to be.

When this decision was made I found myself in another vacuum, another empty place where routine was gone and tasks no longer had to be carried forward to the next page of my “do it tomorrow” book.

Emotionally, I realise that I needed that space to mourn my mother’s death and to sort out her affairs, which took up so much time in the weeks and months that followed.

I took on a major house renovation which was much needed and very welcome. I became a ‘project manager’ in my own home and this activity took me through the sad spring and summer months. Conversations about colours and textures, wood versus carpet with painters, carpenters, restorers, and electricians coupled with builders and plumbers coming in and out of the house kept me occupied and focused on the job at hand.

Once that was complete I was in a vacuum again.

The ending of so many things has left me in a peculiar place. I am stagnant, still, and unable to move forward. I am bereft of people that I loved and habits that had become an intrinsic part of me and I am unsure of how to move forward. The pages of my “do it tomorrow” book lie empty and I find that days drag on with no purpose or direction.

I believe that I will bounce back eventually, but it’s a tougher road than I could ever have imagined.

I believe that inertia is a thief of time, and that if I don’t move forward, I will become stuck in this place and I don’t want to be here any longer than I have to be.

I believe that life for me will not be the one that I casually mapped out before I lost the two greatest women that I have ever known and loved.

I believe that living is only as good as I make it, and that it’s up to me to create the opportunities that will make it better for me.

I believe that I am more equipped than I realise, facing into my future having had the love and friendship from these two beloved women.

Life has shrunk, yet I find myself filled with hope on a road watching out for the signpost that will point me in the right direction.

 

Destiny is somehow trusting that what has passed will provide strength and hope for my future.

 

 

Taking things for granted…..

As people, I believe that we can all take things for granted without thinking too much about them. Things just ‘are’ in our lives, and we accept them and rarely give them too much thought. So many actions/interactions that we encounter daily can have an emotional impact on us, and I know that I have been guilty of not really thinking about the implications and consequences that they have on me personally.
Life can sometimes be so busy that we can get hopelessly lost in the myriad of tasks that we think have to be completed in order to provide structure and meaning to the day. I realise that with time on my hands I have become much more reflective than I have been in the past. I have a lot more time to ponder as I am not so caught up with a rigid time schedule. The studying and reading that was so focused and time consuming during the past few years no longer dominates my time. Now I find myself deliberately taking time out to consider what pleases me and what doesn’t.

After a year of mourning the death of my mother together with all the ancillary tasks that managing her estate entailed, I began to look for employment as soon as the New Year began. I scrutinised websites and agencies and updated my CV with the intention of going back to work full time after my five years in College. I applied for a couple of positions that I believed would suit me and my particular skill set, and I was so enthusiastic about my prospects that I even purchased new interview clothes. I never even made it to that stage.

While facing into my disappointment I took some time to think deeply about what it was that I was so upset about. Not being given a chance to put myself forward was the biggest difficulty that I had to deal with, but on reflection I wondered if this was about my ego and nothing else. I believe that I have great qualities, but the fact that I never even got to showcase them? How very dare they!

Imagine a scenario where I had been interviewed and given one of the positions that I applied so enthusiastically for. It was a 38 hour week in an area a fair distance away from my home. There would be morning and evening traffic to consider and selective early starts and late finishes.
Sometimes not getting what you want provides a clarity and certainty that you hadn’t considered beforehand.
Not being granted an interview made me take stock of my situation and my current life. While I moaned in the short term, I took time to examine the long term and I realised that I don’t actually want to work long hours and be away from home 40 hours a week and possibly more with travel.

My husband is retired, and while we live a small life we manage comfortably on his pension.

We don’t spend money unnecessarily, drive two modest cars, and we have never been the type that has to have the latest trend or fad.

We take several mini breaks during the year and generally enjoy a life without timetables and rigidity.

We come and go as we please (with kids grown up and flown the nest) and enjoy spontaneous lunches out at the coast and picnics in forests when the humour takes us.

We have our own rhythm and we enjoy it, and although I would like to work I don’t want it to cut into this lovely way of life that we have. I also don’t want to leave him alone for eight hours every day as there are only the two of us at home now. Being rejected for these jobs has made me recognise how precious and special this shared life is, and I am so glad that I have had the time and space to realise what it is that I want, and what it is that I don’t want.

I have taken for granted the absolute pleasure that a day without time constraints can bring.

I have taken for granted the fact that I do not need to work outside my home in a paid capacity to be happy and content.

I have taken for granted the fact that I actually like spending time with my husband even when we have nothing to say to each other.

I have taken for granted the fact that we are financially secure enough that I don’t need to provide another income to our household.

I have taken for granted how extremely lucky I am that I have choices about how I live my life with my dear husband and partner of over 35 years.

I have taken for granted the simple pleasure of simple pleasures.

The past five years have provided me with a top class education and qualifications, but it has also been the toughest time in my life as I have lost my much loved sister and mother. Deciding not to take things for granted is the best way forward for me at this moment in time, and appreciating the simple everyday pleasures that shape my days is the greatest realisation that all this reflective thinking has achieved.

Destiny can be many things and can wear coats of jewelled enticing colours, but it can also be there sitting plainly, quietly under our noses if we could only just recognise it.

Intimate conversations between strangers.

My husband and I decided to go away for a few days holidays this week to briefly escape the dirt and mess in our home as we are currently undertaking some renovation work. We chose a hotel from the Internet completely randomly and with no real knowledge of what it offered, left for our destination in County Mayo. We holiday in Ireland quite a lot but usually stick to coastal villages and towns. This hotel was situated inland on a lakeshore, and in a region that we hadn’t explored with great depth in the past.

 
On checking in we were told our room wasn’t quite ready, so while we waited we went into the hotel bar and had lunch overlooking the beautiful lake. After an hour, we made our way up to the bedroom to find a middle aged housekeeper bustling around apologetically as the room wasn’t quite ready. My husband left the room to get something from the car and I sat on the bed chatting to her as she vacuumed around the room. We started chatting about the weather, the hotel, and life in general.

 
I mentioned that I would have liked to book a particular suite but on checking in found that it had already been reserved. She told me with a smile that she had just let two women into it and said that she had “opened her big mouth too quickly” when she told them that it only had one bed. I asked her what she meant and she replied “sure you never know these days what people are about”. Realising that she was possibly making reference to the women’s sexual orientation, I smilingly suggested that in modern Irish society people could get on with their lives in their own way, and that no one need make any remarks about what they choose to do or how they choose to live.

 
She agreed wholeheartedly and told me about the guest that they regularly had, who ‘came up the stairs dressed as a man, but who came down the stairs dressed as a woman’. She believed in ‘letting live and minding her own business and letting people get on with their own lives without prejudice’. She continued cleaning the room as all this chat was going on and was starting to dust the surfaces on the window sills when she stopped and looked me in the eye as she told me that her husband had attempted suicide a year before.

 
I looked straight back at her and asked how he was now both physically and mentally. She told me of how he had held a shotgun to his heart and pulled the trigger, but that somehow he had missed that vital organ, and the bullet had passed it without damage and emerged under his shoulder. The physical healing had only taken a few weeks, but the mental healing was still on going. She spoke about the lack of local services for people who are suffering with mental health issues and how the monthly appointments that her husband had were not doing him as much good as she had hoped. I asked her how she was coping and she was in the middle of telling me about the support that she had, when my husband walked back into the room.With a swish of her duster and a smile for me, she was off as she wished us a pleasant stay and a restful holiday.

 
When she left I looked at my watch. The conversation had lasted only about four or five minutes, yet she managed to convey so much of herself to me, a total stranger during that time. I learnt about her acceptance of same sex relationships, of possible transgendered men or of cross dressers, and I also learned that her life had been profoundly affected by her husband’s attempt to take his own life. These revelations took place in a hotel room between two people from two different generations, from two different places yet who shared five minutes of incredible intimacy together.

 
I will never know what made her disclose these details of her life, but I am glad that she felt that she could share them with me. I believe that honest encounters between people can be a part of what is lacking in this fast paced world that we live in, and in that intimate exchange in an anonymous hotel room in the West of Ireland we were two women who briefly and cosmically connected with each other.

 
Destiny can be about short encounters that remind us of the fragile nature of human life and how we respond to it.

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……