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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?

Investigating Fairies

Memory can be tricky, and sometimes when we tell a story we can embellish it slightly to make it more appealing to the listener. If the bones of the story remain true then there is probably no real harm done, particularly if it is a good or amusing tale. When something happens that is remarkable I want to remember it, and I have often wondered why I didn’t write things down at the time so that I could remember every little detail and nuance of what it was that I wanted to remember. Life happens and interrupts all these good intentions and resolutions, and sometimes memories fade and are lost.

Tonight I was gazing into my back garden looking in wonder at the solar sparkly fairy lights that my darling sister Annie bought for me before she died three years ago. They were shining brightly in the darkness despite the years that have gone since she died, when suddenly I remembered a fairy story from my own past.

It involved my then six year old daughter Jayne and her first baby tooth which had fallen out during the day. At the time I told my children (like many other parents) that if the child put their tooth under their pillow at night time, the fairies would come and take that tooth, carve it into toys for the baby fairies, and that they would leave money in its place under the pillow. This story needed little embellishment and most children knew the drill and minded those precious tiny teeth until they could be safely stored under the pillow in return for cold hard cash.

During that day Jayne wandered around the house with her precious tooth rolled up in a wad of tissue paper clutched tightly in her little hand. She was noticeably quiet, and a few times as she drifted past me during the afternoon I clearly remember asking her if she was alright. She was vague, but replied that she was fine. I watched her doing the strangest things like sitting on the floor in the sitting room, gazing up the chimney for a long long time. Our chimney was manually blocked up as we had gas central heating but there was a working fireplace in the house that we didn’t use. She also stood on the top of the sofa in the window area in the sitting room and opened and closed the windows! When I asked he what she was doing, her reply was “I’m just checking”…..

She spent a long time in the downstairs toilet and she flushed it several times while the door was open and when I asked her again if she was alright, she reassured me that she was “fine”. All through that afternoon she checked exterior doors and windows. I was highly amused but as I was busy with household chores, getting dinner ready etc, I really didn’t pay too much attention or press her on her investigative meanderings and never linked her behaviour to the recently “lost” tooth.

While we were sitting having dinner that evening she was quietly munching away when she put down her knife and fork and announced that she had “finally worked it out”. “Worked what out?” I replied.

In one of the sweetest moments of my life my little six year old daughter told me that the whole day she had been worrying as to how the fairies would get into the house to take her tooth for their fairy baby’s. She had checked the windows and doors and as we lived in a City she knew that they would be well secured when we were asleep and in our beds. She had checked the toilet and knew that they couldn’t get in that way and the chimney was blocked so that was not the entry point for sure.

She smiled with the conviction of Agatha Christie as she told me that there was not one fairy that arrived and took the precious tooth and left the money, but that there were in fact seventeen fairies involved in the operation. “Really” I asked humorously, “how have you worked that out”? Her reply was “Well I figure that it takes sixteen fairies to open the letterbox (which was a tightly sprung brass fixture on our front door) and only one fairy to fly up the stairs to collect the tooth”!

That was a beautiful and special moment. A moment that will be forever etched in my memory as I looked upon her innocent little face, so pleased with herself having worked out the miracle of how the tooth fairy accomplished the swap.

I promised myself that I would write it down, but I didn’t. I remembered it though with clarity throughout my life as I promised myself that I would record it. Perhaps that childish logic was the basis for her scientific persuasion and her eventual career in the police force, who knows. I am just glad that finally I have written it down and can faithfully attest that it is the absolute truth with no embellishments. This is the way that it happened.

Was it part of her destiny to establish the facts or was it part of mine to wonder at her innocence. Who knows, but I believe that it’s a great story that needed to be told.

Spring brings life….

February can hold the chill of winter, but can also herald the promise of spring. I believe that it’s a time to look forward, and to observe all the differences that the changing season brings. A very dear friend of mine recently and sadly said good bye to her beloved mother after nursing her through a debilitating illness that took its toll on her and her whole family. Her death was dreadfully sad, but my friend who has great faith, believes that her mother has gone on to a better place where she will be reunited with loved ones and will not have to endure the struggle of the past few months. Her funeral was a celebration of her life and was attended by the many people who loved this quiet, gentle and lovely lady.

While relaying the sad news of her demise earlier to another friend I was reminded of the youthful and carefree days of my youth where death only happened to “old people”. I remembered the scorn that I poured on my parents habitual reading of the local death notices and how often they would speak of someone who had recently died and their constant attendance at local funerals. They seemed to be forever speaking about dead people and although these people were their contemporaries they were so far removed from me and my young untroubled life that I had little interest in their lives and/or their subsequent deaths.

Now that I have reached a certain age I understand it all now. I am now the same age my parents were when I was a callow youth, and I too feel that sometimes I am surrounded by the never ending rituals of death and funerals. It is the constant never changing cycle of life.

In my youth I believed that life would go on forever- as we all do, and it is only as we get older that we realise that it is not so.

How we make that jump is down to life experience and age, and although it brings its own sadness as we lose those we love, it can be a hugely life defining chapter in our lives if we only realise it and use it to our advantage.

I am so sorry that my dear friend’s mother Mary Sweeney has died and will not see the spring that is coming. I will mourn her loss and I will support my friend through her sad and long bereavement. My own mother is dying so that loss is coming down the tracks for me too.

But I also want to celebrate the fact that I am alive and I am looking forward to this New Year despite the losses that it will inevitably bring.

I am glad to see the crocus bulbs pushing up through the soil, and I am glad to see the early daffodils shaking their beautiful heads as depicted in the wonderful Wordsworth poem… I am glad to see the local birds nesting and feeding their chicks, and I am glad to see the frog spawn in the local ponds. I am glad to see my adult children come to visit me and eat, chat and laugh, and I am glad that I have my dear husband of many years still beside me as a true friend and confidant despite my irritating habits and foibles. I am glad for the many dear friends that I cherish, and I feel beloved by their kindness and affection in return.

Death does surround us and it can be overwhelming at times as we journey through life- losing people that we love. We are the ones that are left for now, and in turn we shall die and be missed and mourned by the callow youths of today.

Life is for living and we all have our day in the sun.

My destiny may be written in the stars-but I haven’t yet worked out its meaning.

New Year – New Beginnings…..

Like many other people I embark on the New Year with a raft of promises to myself and the wider world. “ I will eat healthier food- I will lose weight- I will be kinder to my loved ones- I will learn something new”- etc. etc. etc. Each year begins with heartfelt promises and determination to see these endeavours through to fruition. Some years have started better than others and some promises have been kept. Others have fallen by the way side, but I don’t beat myself up over not keeping them. No one is keeping an eye on me and my promises, they are mine to keep and I am in sole charge of me.

Simple things please me and some of my promises to myself are easy to keep. I always try to remember to say “thank you” to people and to look them in the eye when I am saying it so that they know that I really mean it. It’s a very small thing and takes little effort but I believe that it’s important to acknowledge when someone does something for you that you appreciate and a simple “thank you” is sometimes all that is necessary.

People who work in the service industry are bombarded by rudeness every day, so taking a moment to thank someone and to tell them that you appreciate their kindness is something that I try to do every day either in face to face transactions, on the telephone or via email. There are obviously times when situations do not go according to plan and where difficulties can arise. When speaking with people on telephones who are dealing with queries and the outcome is not what I expect or want, I try to remember that they are only doing their job and may be restricted by particular company policies or rules. I always try to remind them that if I get angry that it is not with them personally but with the restrictive rules/policies of their particular organisation. I think that this is important and I believe that many times it has produced a better outcome than if I had been ranting and raving blaming that person on the phone for not giving me what I wanted/deserved/was entitled to.

We humans are simple creatures. We respond to kindness and love. As children we blossom when we are praised, and with encouragement we strive to be the best that we can be. Telling someone that they have been kind or attentive can produce a feeling of appreciation and an acknowledgement of the effort that has been made for you. This small action can change how we interact with people and can make every positive exchange a better one.

My continued resolution for 2012 is to remember to say “thank you” and mean it, and to tell people how much I appreciate the things that they do for me. This includes my family, my friends and anyone else that I may meet on a day to day basis. I will acknowledge when they are kind and tell them so and I will endeavour to communicate to them how their love/help/assistance/expertise/ has made my life that little bit better.

The American poet Maya Angelou once wrote “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

We can all effect change in ourselves but we can be truly altruistic in how we acknowledge others and how we communicate our thanks to them. Simple words that carry a wealth of meaning can make the difference.

Destiny may be shaped by our own hands and hearts…….

Emigration – Ireland & Me….

Reading newspaper articles on the emigration of Irish people in recent times, I have been caught up in the many tales of heartache and separation that occur when such a drastic step is taken. Many of the stories are about economic emigration because it can be difficult to see a future in the harsh landscape of Ireland in the post Celtic Tiger gloom of the present. Other stories are about bravery and vision and a belief that life will be better away from this small Island that has a huge history in shipping out its talent and youth and sending our best to the far flung corners of the globe.

When I was engaged to be married a life time ago, I had the opportunity to go to Chicago in America with my fiancé. He had an uncle who would sponsor us and we were assured of good jobs, accommodation and a loving family member who would be thrilled to watch over us and to help in any way that he could. My fiancé wanted to go but I didn’t. I loved living in Dublin at that time and being a young and naïve 19 year old, I didn’t want too many challenges or to be separated from my family and friends. My argument was that we would go, work hard and have a life, but would never be able to afford to come home for our parent’s funerals if they died. Travel was expensive in the early 80’s and this was a valid argument in my mind. We didn’t go and the dye was cast on our life in Ireland.

We stayed here, married, raised a small family and lived a small life surrounded by the people that were important to us. We educated our children and hoped that they would eventually acquire the skills needed to become independent and to continue to live here and not to be included in the statistics of people who emigrated and had to leave Ireland’s shores. We wanted them here with us and I believed that I was rearing them to become the new generation of Irish people who were going to continue into the new century with pride and a skill set that was worthwhile and valuable. Sustainable living in Ireland was our hope for them and I never gave a thought to them leaving this country.

My children are grown now and are independent and working. They are maintaining their own lives and homes against a backdrop of savage austerity and hardship. Tax cuts are biting deep and there are harder days to come. There are Increases in the cost of living, health insurance, fuel and other day to day products as well the introduction of stealth taxes on property and other items that reduce their disposable income every day. There seems to be no good news on the horizon for Ireland and for this new generation of citizens the emigration figures are climbing higher and higher.

Looking back at my own opportunity to emigrate, I realise that I was young and scared. I was afraid to take a step into the unknown, afraid to take a step into a different country, afraid to leave behind all that was familiar, afraid simply to take a step. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t been that way, and I really admire the people who have taken the plunge and have gone on to make lives for themselves and their families in so many places far from this land. They possessed the courage that I lacked.

As an Island state, Ireland cannot continue to sustain its population indefinitely and so will continue to provide the rest of the world with educated young people who will search out better places to live and to settle in. I will always want my children close by, but I am beginning to see myself as being selfish in not wanting them to go where life offers better possibilities. They have not mentioned emigration, but it’s something that I may yet have to face.

Home is somewhere that you carry in your heart and distance cannot change that. I always want them to be happy in their choices and not to be scared like I was when I was their age. If emigration calls them I don’t want them to be shackled to me or to the past, I want them to look to their own future and to find that special place that they can live and prosper in no matter where in the world it is.

I will also have a few bob put aside for them just in case they need to fly home for my funeral!

Destiny can be about evaluating the past and reshaping the future……

New View…..

When I was recently having surgery to insert intraocular lens into my eyes I was worried about my eyesight. Would I see things differently afterwards- would I see colours as I remembered them- would this surgery restore my sight to what the experts promised it would be? These questions were the biggest things on my horizon when I embarked on a journey that was frightening and uncertain. My distance vision has been impaired since I was about 15 years of age and so I’ve worn glasses all my adult life. This has never bothered me at all.

In the past few years however my near vision has deteriorated rapidly, and as I was not suitable for varifocal lens more radical steps were required. I have since had the surgery and have had a revolutionary procedure that has resulted in my distance vision now being better than 20/20 and my near vision being restored. I can now see the world in a sharper and clearer way.

I still had the bandages on one eye when my mother got the news this week that her cancer is terminal. Her breast cancer has spread to her lungs and as she is a frail 82 years of age, her surgeon sees no point in putting her through the trauma of the originally proposed mastectomy. She will be treated with oral chemotherapy to try to contain the disease to her lung and breast in the hope that it will not travel further.

Bravely- she asked the question about how long she had to live- and unhesitatingly her Oncologist answered. Two years.

Facing an uncertain future is something we all live with but we push it away and pretend that we have years ahead…. My mam is now faced with a finite date on her life and is determined to be as strong and upbeat for as long as she can be. She is wilful and stubborn and I realise that she will do it her way and not mine or my sibling’s way because she is an independent strong woman and despite a million and one rows that we have had over the years, I wouldn’t have her any other way.

Thinking about my own eyesight fears seem so petty and small compared to the struggle that my mam is going through and I wish that my new eyes didn’t register the worry and uncertainty that I saw on her face today. I wish I didn’t see the tiredness and I wish I didn’t see the effort that she was making to chat and remain upbeat.

I collected her and her sister to bring them to lunch and I kept an eye on her through the drivers mirror as I drove along. She was in the back seat of the car chatting with her sister when she leaned through the seats and said “I never realised how beautiful your cheekbones are- I never noticed them before because you wore glasses”.

Compliments from my mam are rare and treasured. Today we both saw each other differently and I wonder how that view will change in the coming weeks and months ahead.

Destiny is a path that changes all the time….

The circle of life.

I have recently embarked on a new adventure and although the ride is bumpy, I am loving each and every corner that I turn. I am currently taking a Post Graduate H Dip in Adult Education & Community Development and part of my own learning is getting ‘out there’ to get the experience of working with other new learners in a teaching environment that I am supported in.

I have been so lucky to be included as a facilitator/lecturer on a programme that is being delivered at a local level to new learners who are taking their first steps in Adult Education. This programme is accredited learning from the National University of Ireland on the National Framework of Education and carries weight and distinction.

Meeting the new learners on my first night was nerve racking and throughout that day as I prepared for my new class I wondered if I was cut out for the job. Would I appear stupid, would I get things wrong? Would they all see through me and realise that I hadn’t a clue and demand another person in my place? These were the fears that I had as I drove to the venue where the classes were being held.

Meeting these lovely people who were all there for different reasons was a wonderful experience. They had decided to ‘sign up’ to make a difference to their own lives and to the lives of their families and communities. During break time I met several who told me personal stories about themselves and what had prompted them to embark on this new Adult Education programme. Each and every person had a story about adversity, inequality, bias, marginalisation- and some more extreme. Like the new immigrant who was finding the cultural shift between their own country and this new Irish one so difficult to embrace and to feel a part of, and the person who was campaigning vigorously to establish addiction services in his local area to eliminate having to travel miles to a needle exchange.

Delivering material and being a part of the group during that first class was one of the best moments of my life. I looked at the eager faces sitting on chairs around that room and realised that only a very short time ago it was me in one of those chairs with that hungry look on my face. It was me who raised my hand up with questions about things that I didn’t understand. It was me who gazed in awe at the lecturer and wondered how he ever learned all that he knew. It was me who joined in group discussions and was vocal about the subject that we were tackling that particular night. It was me- It was me!

Speaking with one of the lovely new learners at the end of the night, she told me that she wants to go further in education and that this course is her stepping stone to her future. She is sure footed and knows the steps that she has to take and is determined to succeed. I was humbled to hear her speak about how tough life has been for her, yet her sparkle and intelligence shone through her words and I believed her sincerity in wanting to make a difference to her own life and to those that she loves. Telling her that I was in her chair not long ago and that I too had started my return to learning in a similar fashion broke down any barriers that may have existed between us, and she reiterated her belief that this experience was going to be life changing for her.

“The circle of life” is a cliché that fits in so many ways to my thinking, and it was reinforced for me that night as I realised that the very first steps I took on my own personal path in Adult Education are being repeated by the people in my group of new learners. They in turn will go on and continue to bring education back to the people who constantly seek ways of wanting to make this world a better place to live in.

Education is a powerful thing and I am so glad to be able to share my own learning and experience with this new group as I have no ownership of the knowledge and material that I have received throughout my own educational journey. It has been a life changing experience for me and passing it on is the greatest gift that anyone can bestow on another.

Destiny is often shaped by others when we least expect it.