It’s Mother’s anniversary today – eleven years on.
She adored poppies and this one was in her garden.
She gave us an undying love for nature which I see as one of the most precious gifts any parent can give a child.
Long before anyone was talking about mindfulness, she had us engrossed in our little plots in the garden, lost in the joy of bird-watching, merged with the moods of the sea, enraptured by fleeting rainbows….
Yes, she ensured that her presence would live on through natural beauty and it is a presence that never fails to make me smile.
There is no point denying it. This week feels very raw … still … It is the week during which my Mother had her final stroke eleven years ago, just 45 minutes or so after being told that Father was dying downstairs in the Emergency Department of the same hospital she was in.
It was the stuff of absolute nightmares to witness. I don’t think of the final week of Mother’s life all that often but come May 24th, it hits me every time from the depths of memory. Dad wasn’t dying, as it turned out, and it still plays on my mind how she felt she could die, given that she wouldn’t be leaving him alone.
They were extremely close and it would have been fitting for the two of them to have gone together but, for me, it was a blessing to have Dad around for another 16 months. He was sad, he certainly was, but being him, I think he knew he was doing his fatherly thing by being there to share the sadness with me and to bring me right into his life and share memories which are now a great source of solace and joy.
The sun is beating down, just as it did that last week of Mother’s life. I am drawn to the garden where I want to tend my precious plants and introduce new growth. I am also drawn to the sea, the sea that Mother and I soaked in, in every sense, all our lives.
I know that this sense of ‘that week’ will subside again when we get to June. In the meantime, I think of people who have been unfortunate enough to have to go through both parents dying within days of each other from Covid. Their hearts must be shattered. I just hope they have the possibility of being able to come to a time when memories will not be about the dying week but of shared times of joy.
Now, to the garden to inspect the progress of the new seedlings and the blooming of ‘Happy Dream’ rose as well as the blue geraniums …..
I have been spending a lot of time over the last few years, while I was away from here, sorting through my late father’s photographs.
They bring me all over Ireland and to some other European countries. They bring me more pleasure than I could ever describe and I hope that there are still many more years worth of photos and slides to ponder on.
This one of Mother was taken on the farm where she grew up and where we used to visit my grandmother up until the house and farm were sold when I was about ten.
This particular shot makes me smile as Mother hated having her photograph taken in any kind of formal way so one of her taken from behind is just perfect.
It also reminds me of a day when I wandered off on the farm and found what was like a little fairy house. I knew I was gone beyond my boundary but just had to tell Mama all about my adventure. She got me to tell her every detail and listened intently. Then, she said that she had spent endless hours reading in that little house in the woods when she was about my age and that she was delighted that I loved it just like her.
Right up to the end of her life, she used to remind me of that day and how radiant I was when I was telling her all about my discovery.
I guess we all have secret places but I’m not sure how many of us are lucky enough to share the same ones with our mothers.
The term ‘eye candy’ is one that I came to late in life but I’ve always been a glutton for colour.
Mother had a big thing about ‘eye appeal’ when it came to food and always had a pot of herbs on the go to ‘garnish’ plates that she felt needed a bit of a lift. I loved being the one to dash out the back and bring in a sprig of parsley, some chives, feathery fennel or maybe a mixture of everything and watch her transform plain to picturesque.
These memories of Mother are like interlopers on what I intended to write. Funny how that happens. I guess it’s because she appreciated the little things and life is made up of tiny, tiny moments which we need to appreciate as they are so precious.
So, I will just savour this moment and I hope you stop and appreciate a tiny memory from your day, week, life or loved one who has died but certainly not without leaving lots of shared moments to treasure.
I was flicking through some photographs that I took while I was on my blogging break and came across a few from a little expedition up the cliffs near Annestown on the Copper Coast which is about 8 miles from Tramore.
In ways, it’s like another world and to a large extent it’s a place that belongs to other times.
The cliffs remind me of May 1985 when Mother and I stayed in a caravan overlooking Annestown Beach and with views almost as far as Tramore. We were based there for an interim period between moving from Clonmel back to Tramore where Mother and Dad had lived for the first 15 years of their married life and where they lived out their lives up to 2009 and 2010 respectively.
I was supposed to be ‘helping’ with the move but somehow managed to avoid a lot of ‘mullacking’ (hard word) and spent endless hours exploring the cliffs with Mother and just savouring them in glorious Summer weather.
I feel that Mother would be more than pleased to know that I am here remembering those sun-kissed days tonight before I head to bed knowing that her 8th anniversary will have slipped by just before sunrise tomorrow.
We certainly slept well in that caravan ~ as we were getting so much sea air, dining al fresco, going for swims, walking the cliffs and sitting outside with our cups of tea chatting long after the sun had set.
On those nights, just as on the night she died, I would have said ‘Goodnight Irene’ as we drifted into sleep. That was part of our secret code a la Jim Reeves.
It’s strange how things happen. I was only saying to son, Harry, yesterday how fortunate I was to have the mother that I had in that she was so loving, humane, witty, comforting and understanding about everything.
We were driving round a roundabout when I came out with this utterance which arose as a reaction to hearing a lot of heart breaking stories on radio recently about people whose mothers had disowned them or with whom they simply couldn’t get along for all sorts of complex reasons ranging from clashes over arranged marriages, drug abuse, alcoholism, adoption issues, personality differences …
There was a time when I was foolish enough to think that everyone had a great relationship with their mother but over the years I’ve come to know lots and lots of mothers and daughters who have no connection whatsoever and maybe haven’t spoken to each other for decades.
Then, today, I was rummaging around on my desk and unearthed Mother’s red copybook which contains some English compositions that she wrote in 1934 when she was just 13.
The composition that jumped out at me was this one:
April is the last month of Spring. In it the good qualities of both winter and summer are blended, so helping to make it an ideal month. Hunting is prolonged, and hounds meet during the first week or two. Tennis courts are marked, racquets restrung and clubs open once more.
The trees break into foliage. Primroses, daffodils, violets and anemones bloom in wood and garden. The birds build their nests and pour forth glorious melody.
Little lambs frolic in the fields, while their mothers lie apart, watching them tenderly, and seeing that they come to no harm.
The woods are carpeted with celandines and primroses, while violets peep shyly from among the stronger flowers.
Farmers sow their corn and gardeners sow flower and vegetable seeds, which grow and blossom in due time.
Baby rabbits may be seen in the fields or near their burrows, ready to go indoors at the slightest hint of danger.
Here and there, one may see a squirrel jumping agilely from branch to branch. He has been lured out of his winter home by the glorious sunshine.
Easter generally falls in this month and Easter eggs are displayed in many shop windows in towns and villages.
Easter is seldom in March, and never in May; it is in April, which is a suitable time for festivals, for all of the world is in festive garb.
What struck me about this composition was the extent to which it was so much ‘Mother,’ with her absolute love of nature and wild places as well as her observations about nature’s ways ~ for example, the violets peeping shyly from among the stronger flowers.
It also made me think of how much things have stayed the same since 1935 at some levels – like the ‘festive garb’ of the natural world and the lessons we could all take from nature if we took the time to observe.
Clearly much has changed in Ireland and the world since 1935 but, for me, what feels important tonight, are the continuities and that feeling that somewhere Mother, who died in 2009, is ‘lying apart,’ watching her little lambs tenderly, seeing that they come to no harm.’
January 29th will never mean anything else to me except your birthday. It’s far more significant than May 31st ~ the day you died in 2009.
It felt ‘your birthdayish’ from the minute I opened the front door early this morning to bring Stan for a walk. The birds were chirping in the Monkey Puzzle and the snowdrops in the garden seemed to have multiplied a hundred-fold since yesterday.
It was Men’s Final Day at the Australian Open so I planked myself down in front of the fire and the television from 8.30am until around 12.30 and savoured every single rally in a brilliant match between Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal. Federer won in five sets and would you believe Rod Laver presented him with the cup.
I was thinking that you’d have been listening to it on the Radio if you were here and got to thinking then how it was you who got me into tennis in the first place and how it was your father who got you into it. I wonder who introduced him to it?
The game was played in the best possible spirit and Kipling’s If kept coming to mind. Roger even said in his speech that he would have been quite happy to share the tournament with Rafa. You don’t hear that very often and needless to say it had me balling, probably like half the people watching. So much for Dad’s ‘killer instinct,’ for today anyway.
I can’t imagine what on earth it would have been like to grow up in a house where sport wasn’t on the agenda or dogs, gardening, your trifle, poetry, the sea, rules about ‘no sweets before lunch,’ diaries, crosswords, slogans, horses, everyday phonecalls when we never ran out of stuff to say … never, ever, ever …
Harry and I went out to the beach in the afternoon with the dogs and we drew a huge heart in the sand and wrote in it with an old stick – the kind you always managed to find when the situation demanded. We agreed that writing in the sand is much nicer than going to a grave. I’d never given the’no grave’ bit any thought when you were adamant about cremation. It’s not an issue, you’ll be glad to hear, because we always seem to go to places you loved ~ or should I say ‘beaches you loved’ on special days like your birthday. Must be that every day is special cos we’re at the beach every day!
I came across a poem the other day that I thought you’d like and then I wondered if you knew it as it was written by a woman who lived from 1918-2001, not too different from your 1921-2009. Anyway here it is:
At the ship’s bow. It was my eye that drew
the perfect circle of blue meeting blue.
No land was visible. There was no sail,
no cloud to show the mighty world in scale,
no sky and ocean, by my gaze defined,
were drawn within the compass of my mind
under a temperate sun. The engine’s sound
sank to a heartbeat. Stillness all around.
Only the perfect circle and the mast.
That moment knew no future and no past.
It’s strange not getting you a present or even picking your little bouquet of snowdrops. Remember that year we were in Tenerife for your birthday and I got you the post card with the flamenco dancer with the real skirt and wrote it in terrible Spanish from our phrase book?
Well, there’s a touch of that today. I have a photo of a robin that seems to have been waiting for today. I hope you like him. Imagine him singing Happy Birthday; much more melodious than me ~ that’s for sure.
The first sighting of daffodils each year makes my heart sing and evokes the fondest thoughts of my late mother and father, both of whom adored the flowers, and the poems associated with them.
Well, today was the day of days. I was driving from Passage East into Waterford City and there on a bank on the side of the road the gleam of yellow had me enthralled, with all thoughts of the political crisis in Northern Ireland, Brexit and the coming of Donald Trump disappearing from my cluttered mind.
I’m not sure if anyone can see daffodils without finding themselves quoting line after line of William Wordsworth’s The Daffodils. I certainly can’t as it is a poem that has embroidered my heart since I was a tot and the yellow threads grow deeper each year:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A Poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
I wrote a post on December 17th, 2012 about my experience of having written a ‘Thank You’ letter to my father when he was in good health and how it was one of the things that truly helped me in the aftermath of his death in 2010. I can honestly say that coming up to my sixth Christmas since his passing that I often think of that letter.
The post itself is one of the most read here on Social Bridge. People don’t comment, they just read it, and I hope that at least some of them write a letter while they have time. Far better to write it when your parent is alive and well than writing it after they have died.
Before I paste a copy of the post that I wrote in 2012, I must tell you that I recently came across a photograph that Dad took of the very place that I mention in the P.S. I will add it in at the end:
In 2003, when my father was 84 and in good health, I decided to give him the gift of a ‘thank you’ letter for Christmas. Interestingly, I can’t remember if I gave him anything else to supplement it but I know for sure that the letter meant the world to him then and means a huge amount to me now.
It was a five page letter, written by hand with a fountain pen, and started like this:
This may seem like an odd Christmas present but I want to remind you of all the really ‘fatherly’ things you have done for me since I was born.
It covered happy times growing up and moved on to his involvement in my education:
Another aspect of life was the academic; your willingness to pay for me all those years in Trinity. The PhD was the outcome for me – a lot of money spent the outcome for you! Trinity was my first time away from home. I have vivid memories of you delivering and collecting me from Trinity Hall, driving me to the station, meeting buses. The car was always there and so were you with your warm smile.
There was so much to say and on the last page, I wrote:
In so many ways, it’s been the little things that have been everything – mopping up the cuts, catching the mice, just being at the other end of the phone ….. Nights chatting over cups of tea and sugary hot orange drinks …..
Father never, ever mentioned the letter to me after I handed it to him in a yellow folder on Christmas Day in 2003 but my mother told me that he was deeply touched by it. After he died almost seven years later, I felt a great sense of happiness that I had taken that opportunity to thank him when he was fit and well.
I was rather surprised when I was clearing out his house that there was no sign of the letter. I doubted very much that he would have thrown it out as he always kept things that mattered to him. Then on the day I was handing over the key, I decided to have one last look and there in a special hidey hole, I found the familiar yellow folder. It was well thumbed and I knew that he must have read the letter on quite a few occasions. It has now become one of my treasures and sources of solace.
So, from my experience, I would say: write that Christmas ‘thank you’ letter now and don’t wait until it’s too late.
Oh and there was a PS in the letter:
PS: Remember that magic moment when we saw the deer crossing the mountains in the snow ….
Yesterday was one of those days that overwhelmed me. It was overwhelming in a positive sense but I suppose any kind of ‘overwhelm’ takes a bit of processing.
There were all sorts of juxtapositions involved that were to do with time. The whole thing developed out of a visit to the ruins of a church and an old grave site close to Dunhill Castle here in Co. Waterford a while back. I wanted to learn more about the people who were buried there but couldn’t read the inscriptions on the tombstones.
It felt a bit weird to be going to the Internet to find out how I might get the inscriptions to reveal themselves to me. Maybe I should just leave them alone and let the ravages of time take their natural course. But, there on YouTube, I watched a short clip in which a man showed how rubbing plain, ordinary flour on the tombstones worked like magic in enabling one to read the engravings.
It was a bit on the foggy side by the sea in Tramore yesterday so I thought I would head up to the grave yard with my bag of flour and slink into the mists of time.
The only flour that I had was self-raising flour and as I approached the graves I chuckled irreverently about the possible effects of using this as opposed to plain flour. Secretly, I was pleased that I seemed to have risen above the fog on the elevated site.
I only had enough flour to work on one tombstone. It’s the one in the foreground and as you can see I’d already done the deed by the time I took this shot. The flour does work like magic. I was able to read the full inscription apart from one date on the last line:
Erected by Matthias Phelan
in memory of his Father
David Phelan who Departed
this Life August 16 1781
Aged 63 Years. Also his
Mother Monica Phelan who
Departed this Life February
… 1795 Aged 72
As the words revealed themselves to me, I found myself thinking about all the times I spent as a child with my father in his chemical smelling photographic dark room watching images appear and emerge as clear black and white pictures.
And what of the Phelans? David was born in 1718 and his wife in 1723. What kind of lives must they have led? The fact of having such an ornate tombstone led me to believe that they probably had more money than most. At a time of large families, was Matthias an only child and how did he cope with with deaths of his parents ~ 14 years apart. Losing parents has been going on forever and will continue as long as the world goes on. Matthias’ parents were elderly by the standards of the 1700s.
Even though I had no intention of climbing up the rocky path to the ruin of Dunhill Castle, I found myself being drawn there by the force of history.
For the first time in my life, I climbed up to the top and was peering out through the U that looks towards the church and what I now knew was the Phelan grave. Turning on the small grassy space up there towards the Anne Valley, I was stunned at the reflection that looked back at me:
The castle appeared whole again, perhaps as it looked way back in the 15th Century. The holes that are so glaringly obvious when one is standing on the ruin were rebuilt for those fleeting moments that I stood watching as the sun went down.
What revealed itself to me more than anything yesterday is the extent to which life is made up of moments. David, Monica and Matthias Phelan had their moments in the sun and the setting sun; I am in the process of having mine. These are moments to savour, to use wisely, to share with love. They are fleeting and fragile but they have layers of colour that we can have a part in defining.