Tag Archives: sisters

Riding on the shirt tails of my sister…..  

As people I believe that we all have our own strengths and weaknesses, including the gifts that we bring to the table of life. Some we are born with, and others we cultivate as we grow and mature as adults. I have often wondered is humour and wit inherent or do we learn it? I know that I practiced being funny as a child in order to be liked and included.

Growing up in a large extended family there were always lots of social occasions with siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. As children we were expected to get along with our many cousins and I think that we did most of the time. We gathered in packs at particular family events throughout the year, and while the adults partied, the cousins did so too in different ways. Looking back I believe that it was actually a training ground for me in how to move comfortably within my extended family and how to perform in a particular way.

I was an overweight child/teenager and I learned to hide my true self or to make funny rejoinders about ‘fat’ people in order to deflect any hurt that I might have felt if a disparaging joke was made. Humour was harsh and critical back then with none of the political correctness that is so prevalent today. I was the family clown.

I had a very well developed personality that people commented on. I was considered outgoing and full of life and laughter. I didn’t appear shy, and I functioned really well at all these family gatherings.

As I became an adult I had good friends and enjoyed socialising, conversation, and the general banter that carried me through job interviews, friendships, relationships and eventually meeting my husband, marriage and children.

My sister Annie was ten years younger than I was. I doted on her as a child and there are hundreds of stories as to how we were as sisters growing up. She was also part of that extended family training ground, although times had changed subtly by the time she became a part of it socially.  We became close friends as adults when I moved back to Dublin in my 30’s (married with kids) and Annie was in her 20’s.

We began to socialise and to mesh our pals. We went out. We hung around with each other and spent a lot of time together. She was still living at home with our mam, but spent a lot of time with me and my family in Lucan. She liked hanging out with us.

She was so witty and very very funny. She simply sparkled. We laughed a lot, yet we had serious in depth conversations about countless things, and I trusted her completely with all of my secrets. There was a beautiful lightness and frivolity to our relationship that I recognised and loved. It was always present. She was inherently humorous and had a sharp wit just like my mother’s.

My children adored her. She was the ‘Cool Aunty’ when they were teenagers, and I clearly remember my daughter Jayne, sitting on the bathroom floor gazing up at her as she swept her blusher brush across her cheekbones before we went out one night. I didn’t use makeup, so my daughter learned this skill from her.

I also remember the time my son Andy ‘came out’ and told us that he was gay. Annie was so supportive and cracked on about how the two of them would ‘go on the pull together’ chasing men all over Dublin. And they did.

She spent a lot of time with us, and was here at the end of nights, at the beginning of mornings, mid afternoons and evenings. She sat and joked, giggled and provided fun, humour, merriment and a general lightness of being that we all basked in.

When she married Mark, had Alex and moved to Lucan, she was even more present in our daily lives.

Of course she had bad days as we all do. She could be as grumpy as hell, but when she smiled and chuckled, we all joined in with her. Her laughter brightened our days.

When she died a light went out of my life. It sounds like a cliché but it’s true.

In the short term all laughter disappeared. All joy disappeared. All lightness and frivolity disappeared. All joking disappeared.

As time moved on, I learned how to be without her, live without her, function without her, and eventually laugh without her. I am only realising now that for so many years I rode on her shirt tails. I relied on her humour and her vivacious nature to disguise my own shyness and my inability to be myself. When I was in her company we were a double act. She was the funny, witty, fabulous girl that I never really was, but could somehow be when I was with her.

Since her death so many people tell me I have changed. They tell me I am quieter, less funny, and less witty, but I realise now that I actually never was. She instinctively possessed those qualities, and unknowingly I assumed that I was the same as she was but I wasn’t.

At the ripe old age of 54 I believe I am ok. Annie and I worked as a twosome throughout many happy years together, and without her I am continuing to live and manage life just being myself. I have my own talents, yet like so many of us I am a bundle of insecurities. I also know that without her, I am actually quite a shy person who doesn’t really like the limelight although it may sometimes appear otherwise. I also realise now that I am not that funny or witty, but am ok knowing this and I am not trying too hard to be otherwise. My kids (now adults) can be the most critical of all when I attempt to be droll or humorous… They simply tell me that I’m not – although they are not being unkind. They simply know the difference having known my sister.

Destiny can be the longest road travelled between wit and wisdom, but with laughter and joy to sustain us, that journey can be made a lot easier with the people we travel with.


My darling girl – “Annie” – 7/11/1970 – 13/2/2009

As long as I am alive her touch will be remembered.

Her smell, her voice, her kiss,  all locked inside me.

Treasure that comforts.

When I am gone so she will be too, though her image will remain in photographs.

Yet who will remember her soft skin, her luminescence.


Making Military Triangles out of Crisp Bags….

Have you ever watched state ceremonies on TV where people of importance have died and were accorded huge funerals with flags draped over their coffins? I have. I like the way that the flag is removed from the coffin and folded tightly into a small triangle and handed to the chief mourner afterwards.

Learning to fold the flag in a certain way, and reducing it to a small triangle is a skill not known to many. My sister Annie learned how to do this with large scale flags (from her time in the Scouts) and somehow managed to transfer this skill into reducing “crisp/chip bags” into mini triangles with similar military precision.

We loved crisps Annie and I. Potato chips/crisps are a part and parcel of the staple Irish food chain. A whole generation were reared on ‘Tayto’ crisp sandwiches, and believe that the essential part of a picnic/day out is missing if there are no crisps in the basket to mash in between two slices of buttered white bread.

It’s an Irish thing…. Crisps are eaten by the bucket load in Ireland by all and sundry. ‘Tayto’ cheese n’ onion flavour is the biggest seller with ‘King’ following closely behind. ‘Walkers’ (the blow in from the UK) are gaining in popularity, while ‘Pringles’ are attempting world domination with a million flavours to tempt the pallet. Dubliners who were reared on crisps know what they like and are very traditional in their choices. There was a time when youngsters went into a shop and asked for a bag o’ ‘Tayto’ before branding was even heard of. (They were just asking for crisps!) Nowadays in a shop one can’t ask for a bag of crisps, but an assistant asks, “What brand, what flavor, and what size”!

Anyway I digress….

My sister Annie had many talents but this was a thing that marked her out because it was so unique. Back in the day when pubs allowed smoking, there were always ashtrays on the bar where people deposited their cigarette butts along with any other litter – like drink receipts, and empty crisp and peanut bags.

One would munch on a packet of crisps after a few drinks and then dump the empty bag into the ashtray. As it was big and unwieldy it usually ‘sat’ on top. This meant that ciggies could not be tapped or squashed out easily, because the ashtrays were always full of crisp bags.

This is where Annie’s talent came into the fore. As the empty crisp/peanut bags were dumped by everyone all around her, she would take them up and without breaking the conversation, twist and fold them until all that was visible was a tiny triangle of cellophane neatly squashed into a manageable piece of litter that could comfortably fit into the ashtray along with the cigarette butts.

I used to watch her do this and wonder at her dexterity, until I eventually asked her to teach me too. She painstakingly took me through the many folds and tucks that eventually resulted in the neat tiny triangle. It was a process that was repeated again and again over many nights out until I eventually perfected it.

It became a ‘marker’ of things that we did when we were out together. In local pubs, friends who arrived at the bar when we were outside having a smoke knew that we were present because they saw the little triangles in the ashtrays even if they didn’t see us.

One night when my fireman hubby was working a night shift, Annie and I were in our local bar from early until late. We eventually rolled home to my house, sneaked into our beds and snored our heads off delighting in the knowledge that we had had a night out with my hubby being none the wiser as to our exploits. Unfortunately our escapade was rumbled as my hubby finished his shift early, called into the bar for a pint on his way home and caught sight of two or three tiny triangles sitting on the bar, testimony to our ‘sneaky’ girlie night out. Imagine being betrayed by folded up crisp bags!

My children who are now adults make these ‘triangles’ automatically when they eat crisps no matter where they eat them. They learned from the master/mistress who was my sister. I smile every time I see them do it and remember Annie’s talent. She is constantly missed and we speak about her all the time, but it’s lovely and very amusing to see her being remembered unconsciously in the neat disposal of an empty crisp bag.

I can hear her (in my head) asking me sarcastically if that’s ALL we remember about her!

As if……

Destiny can be about mirroring tasks that are taught by others as a way of keeping their memory alive.

Surviving loss….

What makes a person get up and face into repetitive everyday tasks? I ask myself that question a lot. Life can be a struggle at times and there are days when I do not want to get out of bed and face the day ahead.

There are days when a deep sadness and melancholy can sweep out of nowhere and paralyse me in my efforts to greet each new day and accept my responsibilities. I usually push through it. What other option do I have?

This melancholy has been ever present since the death of my darling sister Annie four years ago this week. Now it is coupled with the added loss of my mother who died four weeks ago. It is always present but usually below the surface where not everyone can see it.

I realise that mourning is part of life and we all lose people that we love. However I expected the feelings of loss after my sister’s death to have passed at this stage but they have not. They have changed, and I can now carry on a conversation about her without crying openly, but there can still be a physical lump in my throat when I speak her name and recount stories about her. I can laugh about funny things that she said and did some days, but other days I don’t want to laugh because the feelings of loss are still so raw.

This loss is acute, yet I never felt that I wanted to die after her. My life is completely different now and the sections of our lives that overlapped with joy and happiness have gone and I miss that.

I miss the things that we shared and the trust that lay between us. I realise that we were lucky in our relationship and I am a better person because of her. Her honesty and diplomacy were the things that I valued the most, and yet her carefree happiness is something that I can picture in an instant. I can still hear her laughter.

Losing my mother has added another layer to this sadness and I recently found myself looking at pictures of us as a family together. There were seven of us then and now there are only four. It can be difficult to see us smiling and laughing in a captured moment and realise that we will never be together again.

At times I want to cover up all the pictures and not be reminded of how things used to be because it just makes me unbearably sad to look at them. Other times I pore endlessly over images remembering happier days and family events. It’s hard to find a balance.

People have their own ways of coping with grief, and well-meaning friends have given me countless books to help me along my journey. I think that we all find our own way through loss and I believe that it will come organically for me rather than by a particular formula taken from a book. I just didn’t think that it would take this long. Was I being naive?

Sometimes I am comforted by poetry, and as I read I realise that I am not unique. I am not the only person in the world who has experienced the loss of a loved one, and I am not so narcissistic as to believe that my feelings are more deeply felt than others. People in different places and times have survived greater grief than mine.

Yet loss is my constant companion for now and never leaves my side. Although I have many special people in my life who love me and are loved in return, these two women, my sister and my mother will be missed and mourned for as long as I am alive.

I will laugh and enjoy life and go out and socialise, yet these two wonderful women will be in the shadows beside me all the time. How can it not be so when I am such a part of them and they are such a part of me.

Annmarie O’Neill Miller 7/11/1970 – 13/2/2009
Monica Furlong O’Neill 27/4/1930 – 11/1/2013

Letting go and saying goodbye.

We say good bye to people all the time. Every time we leave our home we call out good bye to who ever has been left behind. We say goodbye to people that work in shops that serve us as we leave, and in turn people say goodbye to us as they depart from our presence and the space that we have occupied together. Saying good bye is usually said with the unconscious belief that we will see that person again. It’s the greatest presumption that we will-and we continue to believe that nothing terrible will happen to either of us in the meantime, and that we will get to see each other again soon. That’s the way we go through life. We expect to live indefinitely and when death comes to call unexpectedly and cruelly there is often no time to say good bye.

My darling younger sister died shockingly 2 years ago, 9 days after giving birth to twin boys. Her death was as a result of an undisclosed aneurism that ruptured between the central lobes of her brain. The medical staff in the emergency Dept that she was rushed to after she was found at home collapsed and unconscious, could not stem the bleed and she remained on life support for two days until we- her family took the decision to turn it off. We said our good bye’s that moment and over the blur of the next few days before she was eventually cremated.

Tonight while tidying out a press I came across an old mobile phone. I had changed my phone to a smart one shortly after her death and must have put this one away. I charged it up to see what was on it – and shockingly and unexpectedly there was my beautiful sister. All our texts to each other prior to her delivering her babies- reports from the hospital gagging over the unsavory food- the thrill of coming back home with her new boys to greet her 5 year old (whom she adored and called her “Prince”) and settling in back home with her 3 beloved children and husband. This time was short lived and 3 days later her aneurism ruptured.

Finding all those sweet messages that we shared before, during, and after her hospital stay really made her come alive for me briefly tonight. The texts from her friends and family were all still there too, and although it was heartbreaking to read them, it also allowed me to reflect and recall that terrible time and to say goodbye privately to her from my heart. We were very close and I loved her so. Her love for me was evident in those messages too and I am glad that I had the opportunity to read them again. I know I must have read them when she died, but I was crazy with grief and don’t remember doing so.

My dear and much loved sister may be gone from this world- but her beauty lives on in her children and her kindness lives on in the many people who were the beneficiaries of her generosity. Goodbye to a wonderful sister, friend, companion and confident….. I miss her every day, and although life continues it does so in a different way. I believe implicitly that she is part of my ultimate destiny, and I too held onto that simple assumption that we would see each other again and that we would share the joys of watching her children grow. I was wrong.