Dear Mother …..


Dear Mother,

It’s Christmas Eve ~ and, to me, this will always be our day. I think it’s ever since you were more than happy to hand over the kitchen to me that Christmas when I was eighteen and wanting to have a go at cooking the whole Christmas Dinner myself.

I can’t remember much about how the dinner turned out but I still have vivid memories of you going off for a walk with Dad and Tiffin like as if you’d just been released from prison. Thing is I really appreciated the fact that you had faith in me ~ or, at least, pretended that you did.

The very best part of Christmas Eves after that was the way we’d chat in the kitchen while I peeled the vegetables. You seemed to find it hard to understand how anyone could actually like peeling potatoes, carrots and sprouts and I don’t think you realised how much it was to do with the company and the way I associated the whole thing with us being together. Nor do I think you realised how much I loved hearing about your Christmases when you were small. The bit that always caught my imagination was your description of Aunt Florrie arriving on Stephen’s Day with a big parcel of books specially chosen for you.

I’ve broken totally with tradition this year on the basis of  your advice about ‘changing a losing game.’ Christmas just hasn’t been Christmas since you died in 2009 and has some pretty awful associations. Christmas Day 2009 was a miserable affair and it was the last day that Dad got up as normal.  He wasn’t himself that day and didn’t even want Plum Pudding. I think it was a breaking point for him that you weren’t there and the idea that he was in bed for another ten months after that is almost impossible to comprehend.

I tried to stick with ‘tradition’ since he died in September 2010 but it’s been rough and this night last year was horrific as we ended up having to bring poor Sophie to the vet at all hours and it was obvious that her life was fast drawing to a close. I missed you and Dad so much as both of you understood more than anyone how much Sophie meant to me ~ and how losing a beloved dog brings absolute heartbreak.

So, I decided to draw a line in the sand this year and take a break from Christmas and pretty much everything to do with it, especially the cooking. I’d wondered if it was going to be a disaster but today has been brilliant so far.

Harry and I were out from daybreak to sunset with the dogs. The weather was divine; I went for a swim and he lay on the beach as if it was mid-Summer. We drove out along the Copper Coast to get every last ounce out of the setting sun and I couldn’t but notice how his hair was every bit as burnished gold as yours always was.

We’re tired now ~ that lovely outdoor tired ~ that I associate so much with long Summer days as a child.

Even though I’m not peeling sprouts, carrots and potatoes; making bread sauce and brandy butter and all the rest of it, I can feel the happiness of those evenings  we shared as I write now.

Needless to say, I can still see the bags we always put at the end of our beds ~ my red straw one, especially ~ and it feels like Santa will be calling to Granny’s like he always did to collect our presents from her on his way to us. And remember that Christmas Eve night when we were coming home from Ballybay to Castleblayney when I was about five and we all saw Santa’s sleigh high up in the frosty sky. I still don’t understand that!

Yes, I am thinking Wordsworth: Happy days they were for all of us; for me it was a time of rapture! 

All my love,






Presence and Undying Love ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 38

In recent times, there have been lots of searches to my blog relating to ‘losing elderly parents.  I know that January is a time which sees many very ill and frail  people  passing on as somehow it seems that another year is just too much.

As I have said so often before, there is no easy way to lose an elderly  parent, especially a mother or father with whom one has been extremely close. For me, a key word in coping with such loss is ‘presence’ and the sense that a beloved mother or father remains very much with us through all sorts of memories ~ however banal they may seem. All I have to so is look at a saucepan that I grew up with and I can hear my late mother say, ‘Remember, never put eggs in the milk saucepan!’ 

I have been thinking a good bit recently about the notion of ‘undying love’ and I think that somehow parents, whom we loved and who loved us when they were alive, are the epitome of ‘undying love’ as their presence remains with us in all sorts of ways.

Last night, I finally took down the holly and mistletoe from Christmas (late, I know, but the timing was never a huge thing in out house) and burnt it in the fire as Mother did for all the years I can remember of her long, long life.


I felt like she was with me gathering up all the berried holly and the sprig of misteltoe and the warmth that came from the fire was just like the warmth of her smile as we would look forward to spring and the coming of the snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells.

I have no idea if burning the holly and mistletoe is part of an Irish or global tradition but it is certainly a part of my Irish upbringing and one that I intend to continue and pass on to the next generation.


Christmases after Losing Elderly Parents ~ Something Old, Something New

Over the last few weeks, many of the people who have arrived here at the door of my blog have used search terms that related very clearly to trying to cope with losing elderly parents and I presume that Christmas has heightened that sense of loss. This is something with which I can fully relate and I just wish that I could somehow take away  the sadness that comes through with these search terms.

This is my third Christmas since my father died and my fourth since Mother passed on.  In all that time, the best piece of advice that I got was to both celebrate Mother and Father’s lives at Christmas and also to so something totally new ~ that I had never done when they were alive.

This year my act of celebration of their lives involved working my way through a mountain of photographs relating to their lives and sharing this with my brother and sister.  I felt ready to take out all the photographs and it has been lovely to spend time putting together a sample which shows them at different stages of their lives. Yes, a few tears but many, many smiles remembering happy times that we shared and tales that they told of their childhood and young adult lives.

Mother and Father in 1940s(Earliest Photograph of them Together)
Mother and Father in 1940s
(Earliest Photograph of them Together)

As for the ‘something new. Well, I went for a swim at sunset this evening out at Garrarus Beach and loved every second of it. This is the first Christmas Eve on which I ever went for a swim and I hope it won’t be my last. It was absolutely divine.

Swim at Sunset at Garrarus Beach, Christmas Eve, 2012
Swim at Sunset at Garrarus Beach, Christmas Eve, 2012

I’m headed now to prepare the vegetables for Christmas Dinner tomorrow. For some, this might seem a drudge, but for me, it is something that I have long  loved about Christmas. Seamus Heaney wrote about the connection he felt to his mother when peeling potatoes . Seamus Heaney When all the others were away at Mass. Well, for me, it is carrots and sprouts that spell Christmas and somehow grounds me in the happiness that it always brings. The colour and texture of the vegetables and the lovely fragrance from the hyacinths blooming on the window-sill in the kitchen brings me into an ageless moment in which I can feel both the presence of Mother and Father and the ongoing wonder of Christmas.

I know everyone is different but I think the advice about doing something ‘old’ and something ‘new’ is well worth thinking about. I’d love to hear if it works for you and what you choose to do.

Dear Dad ….. Giving a Thank You Letter as a Christmas Present to an Elderly Parent

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:

Dear Dad,

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 ….