Dear 87-Year-Old Me

Co. Waterford


November 7, 2014

Dear Jean,

I hope you’re in good fettle and not too surprised to be getting this letter.

I decided to write it as everyone seems to be writing to 30-year-old -me and I feel that there’s a lot to be said for addressing the future ~ 30 years on! You know the way we had that tendency, especially before Father died, to feel that we couldn’t look beyond that point ~ as it seemed like an end-of-the-world prospect.

The world didn’t end then and I’m wondering what you’re thinking 30 years on. What are your hopes, your regrets, the things that you can see as having been truly important with the benefit of hindsight.

Path of Life

I would like to think that you’re still physically active and that you can get to the beach everyday. Hopefully, you’re still swimming and getting that buzz we’ve always got from being immersed in the seawater, with the waves splashing our face.


Speaking of face, how are your teeth? Please tell me that the gum operation I’m dreading so much was worth it all and that the wobbly tooth is still there, solid as a rock.

Writing to you feels like having the framework of a huge jig-saw pretty much in place but needing to figure out those tough bits, especially those that are all the same colour. We certainly had plenty of practice at jig-saws when we were small, didn’t we? Remember the time we stayed in Jigsaw Cottage high up in the Wicklow Mountains. That was a happy night ~ and we managed to find one piece to fit that 5,000 piece jig-saw. I wonder did they ever get it finished?

Have you added many pieces to our jigsaw or have you dumped it and taken a whole new turn in life? I quite like the idea of a whole new you: someone who has cast away worry; has got tidier; is gallivanting around the world on some sort of crazy, creative mission; is full of hope having ridden the storms of this recession and presumably a few more that lie ahead of me now.

What I would hate is if you are socially dead ~ remember David Sudnow’s Passing On and ‘social death’ in Second Year in Trinity? That book has never left me and I can’t imagine it has left you either. I couldn’t bear if you were just languishing in a day room of some nursing home ~ a sort of waiting-room for death.  I can’t imagine how something that feels so not ‘me’ could have become okay for an older ‘me.’

I’m here thinking that life is about quality ~ to love, be loved, to laugh, write, read poetry,  soak in nature, be at peace, have hope and, of course, health.

I know that we won’t live forever. Do you still feel that way? Do you still think of Cicero and On a Life Well Spent?

Our Tramore!
Our Tramore!

If I’m absolutely honest, the reason I came to write to you was because I’ve been seeing lots of lovely wintery sunsets and you know the way I’ve always associated death as being as natural as the sun setting.

Lots and lots of love,


PS. I hope you still have a dog in your life and not just memories of all the beauties we’ve shared thus far.

Sophie and Me
Our Sophie






Cashel Co. Tipperary ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 232

Cashel, Co. Tipperary is very much associated with the wonderful Rock of Cashel, which is one of the major tourist attractions in Ireland and I would recommend everyone to visit this historic site.

I ended up in Cashel last night and into the early hours of this morning with a car load of  young fellas who were playing in the Senior Open Tennis Tournament which is in full swing there this week.  Two of my contingent battled it out to win a three hour doubles match which went to a third set tie-break and ended sometime after 1am!

Earlier in the evening, I treated myself to a lovely Chinese Meal in The Orchid Garden in Friar Street which is at the top of the main street in the town. I was the lone diner but there were lots of calls for takeaway food.

I had a seat by the window looking down over Cashel. It’s a town that I visited quite a bit in the 1980s and it still has a real charm about it.

The wall paper in The Orchid Garden captivated me totally, especially as we are moving from Summer to Autumn and I wished that I had my camera with me. Suffice it to say, it had leaves of all hues interwoven with each other in a way that made me think of the seasons as Circero (50 BC) described them in On a Life well Spent.

There I was in Cashel in the early Autumn of my life with a group of lads in the early summer of theirs.  As I waited for their long, long game to finish, I couldn’t but think of a night so very like last night when I played a tennis match in Slane Castle as part of the annual Stackallen Tournament in Co. Meath.  It was a humdinger that lasted hours and one that I would happily replay over and over ~ Castle to one side and the flowing Boyne to the other. Meanwhile, a tenacious opponent and great sport who rejoiced in the whole experience as much as I did.

The lads were in flying form as we drove home along the carless roads from Cashel via Waterford to Tramore, where the sea was humming.

I  am certain that they will always remember tonight ~ just as I remember that evening in Slane Castle and I have a feeling that I will never forget tonight either and those leaves spilling down in so, so many senses.

Oddly enough, I had only been thinking earlier about how people these days might describe ‘a life well spent.’ For me, tonight had many of the ingredients but I know there are lots, lots more ….. 

Sense of Place ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 221

Were you ever so full of inspiration that you felt you could barely write? Well, that’s how I am today. It’s all because I’ve been soaking myself  in what I consider to be my Tramore ~ and I haven’t even been for my daily swim yet!

Tramore has lots of different faces and many of these have been beautifully captured at two exhibitions that are running in town.  My first port of call was the Church of Ireland Hall where I viewed the annual exhibition of a group of extremely talented artists.

It’s well over 30 years since the Art Group started exhibiting and the paintings seem to get better and better every year. The stand-out painting for me at this year’s exhibition was called One Misty Morning by  Jimmy O’Brien-Moran that captured the historic and atmospheric Promenade here in Tramore.

I went straight from the Art Exhibition to a solo Photographic Exhibition by Sinead Boyle. It is being held at Tramore Coastguard Cultural Centre ~ which has a long history of its own, having once been the local Garda Station among other things.

The Coastguard Cultural Centre, Tramore, Co. Waterford
The Coastguard Cultural Centre, Tramore, Co. Waterford

I first met Sinead Boyle back in the ‘big snow’ of 2010 at sunset on the Victorian Doneraile Walk which overlooks Tramore Bay. We were later to be co-students on a Postgraduate Certificate course on Heritage/Tourism: Sense of Place run by the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (2012-2013).

I was completely captivated by Sinead’s exhibition which is called A Photographic Journey through the Lens: Sense of Place. She had told me soon after meeting that she had taken up photography as a teenager and was totally inspired by seeing a number of exhibitions that my father held in the 1980s.

The Metal Man, Tramore, Co. Waterford. Photo: Frank Tubridy c.1986
The Metal Man, Tramore, Co. Waterford.
Photo: Frank Tubridy c.1986

I had quite a sense of deja vu looking at the moodiness of Sinead’s photographs today. I just love the way she has included images of Tramore Bay in every conceivable light, at different times of the year and also both in its nakedness and fully clothed to host the thousands of visitors we receive each year.

I had lots of favourites, including Winter Solstice that portrays an elderly man walking on the beach as the sun was setting on December 21st. In so many ways, the image reminded me of Cicero’s book On a Life Well Spent that sustained me greatly through the last sixteen months of Father’s long life.  Another was one called Indian Summer which portrays the Life Guards’ Hut when it was painted a striking  and most vibrant orange.

Interestingly, though, I think my very favourite is a black and white photograph of the Promenade at night in Winter.  To me, it epitomised Tramore in very much the same way that Jimmy O’Brien Moran’s painting had just an hour or so before.

Sinead Boyle’s exhibition runs for another week until August 17th. Don’t miss it!

Sinead Poster

Safe and Quiet Harbour ~Gatherings from Ireland #17

The Pier, Tramore, Co. Waterford
The Pier, Tramore, Co. Waterford

Harbours have always been very special places to me and none holds more significance than the Pier at Tramore, Co. Waterford.  I just love the way harbours have such strong, secure arms that offer safe haven. Yesterday evening, I was drawn to the Pier in Tramore at high tide after spending some time watching huge waves lashing onto the beach. The Pier was as calm as could be as I suspected all the many harbours around Ireland probably were at that time. It wasn’t drawing any attention by virtue of its very peacefulness. As I stood there watching the sun set and the full moon playing with the floating pink clouds, I couldn’t but think of Cicero’s memorable words, from On a Life Well Spent, about dying in the winter of life.

 … the nearer I draw to my end, it seems like discovering the land at sea, that, after the tossings of a tedious and stormy voyage, will yield me a safe and quiet harbour. (Cicero)

Do other people, in Ireland and beyond these shores,  have the same affection and strength of feeling about harbours as I do?

Winter of Life

In the last few days I have been very conscious that now December has arrived we are truly in winter in this part of the world, anyway!

Cicero in his book, On a Life Well Spent, which he wrote around 50 BC, equated winter with old age or the last season of life. I like this seasonal approach to life but, like Cicero, I certainly don’t see winter or old age as being all darkness and gloom. In fact, I see it as having some wonderful attributes and would like to share some quotes about ageing which really appeal to me.

When Goya was eighty he drew an ancient man propped up on two sticks, with a great mass of white hair and beard all over his face, and the inscription ‘I am still learning.’ (Simone de Beauvoir)

Those who love deeply never grow old; they may die of old age,  but they die young.  (Sir Arthur Wing Pinero)

The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven’t changed in seventy or eighty years. Your body changes, but you don’t change at all. And that, of course, causes great confusion. (Doris Lessing)

Doris Lessing (1919- Present) (Nobel Prize for Literature 2007)
Doris Lessing (1919- Present)
(Nobel Prize for Literature 2007)

Remembrance Day, 2012 ~ Write to Remember

Remembrance Day, November 11, has become very precious to me over the last few years. It is a day which evokes memories of special people in my life who have died. Two years ago, I presented a lecture on Remembrance Day  in Alexandria, Virginia, on the subject of  Losing Elderly Parents. It was entitled: On Lives Well Spent: Coping with Losing Elderly Parents.  I look back now and wonder how I ever managed to give the lecture as it was only two months after my father had died.

The main thrust of the lecture was about the extent to which Cicero’s book,  On a Life Well Spent, written in 50BC, had helped me enormously in coping with losing both my parents within a period of sixteen months.  I found great comfort in Cicero’s seasonal approach to life and his view of old age as winter. I also loved the way he wrote about death in terms of finding safe harbour after the tossings of life.

Cicero was a person who found huge solace in writing as a way of coping with the death of his daughter and I can identify totally with this as writing has been extremely therapeutic for me in grappling with the flood of emotions which are associated with losing loved ones.

Door of Remembrance ~ Watercolour by Jean Tubridy

This year, I decided to run a workshop, here in Co. Waterford, called Write to RememberOver the last two years, I have become more and more convinced that celebrating the lives  of loved ones who have died, through various forms of creativity, such as writing, painting, gardening, photography ….. can be very therapeutic. There is no easy way to lose someone you love but feeling his/her presence in everyday life and embracing that can be so comforting and inspiring.

Finding the ‘right’ venue for the Write to Remember Workshop on Sunday, which runs from 3pm-5pm, was crucially important to me. It takes place in the Copper Coast Geopark Centre in Bunmahon, Co. Waterford.  This is a restored church along a stretch of the most beautiful coastline in the world and, yes,  I will be stopping en route to look at the waves on Annestown Beach  and the arms of the harbour at Boatstrand, places where I spent so many happy times with my parents over their long lives.

‘Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.’ 
(Christina Rossetti)

The Seasonality of Life and Losing Elderly Parents

Ripening Apples

I saw these two ripening apples the other day and couldn’t but think of Cicero’s description of death in old age as being like ripe fruit falling without a hand to touch it.  The apples looked beautiful as they hung from the tree soaking in the sun. I looked down and saw one windfall ~ obviously very recent and knew that soon these lovely fresh apples would also fall just as night follows day or the tide ebbs and flows.

It all reminded me so much of my father’s last months (in the summer of 2010)  when he was clearly very close to death. We knew not the time nor the hour that he would succumb  and I found Cicero’s reference to fruit very useful in terms of dealing with the uncertainty of those last few months up to his death in early September.

Cicero’s wise words were also very helpful in trying to explain to children that we just don’t know when an older person is going to die. Yes, it is inevitable but no one knows exactly when the fruit will fall, maybe a tiny gust of wind will come in the middle of the night or there will be a bigger storm that will knock the  fruit from its branch.

What is also helpful is to know is  that trees will bear more fruit in future years, bringing colour, beauty and hope into our lives.

A simple but profound message from Cicero in his book, On a Life Well Spent.  I hope it helps you in coping with the loss of your elderly parents as much as it helped me.