Vision and Verb

I felt very honoured to be asked, some time back,  to write a guest post for the inspirational global blog

The closer the date came, the more edgy I got about identifying the topic, the words and the image I would use.

I guess it’s all to do with having a whole new audience and being pulled out of my comfort zone here on Social Bridge.

Anyway, here’s the link to the post, Turning Points  which was published today.

The more I do in the way of guest posts, the more I feel they are a very good idea and I they are something which in which I would like to get a lot more involved ~ both as a hostess and and an invitee (if anyone will have me!).

What do you feel about guest posts?


101 Ways to Cope with Losing Elderly Parents # 9

Dreams and Nightmares seem to be part and parcel of the process of losing elderly parents. Obviously everyone is going to have their own versions of these, depending on their unique circumstances but I guess most people can be very unnerved by the vividness of the dreams and the disorientation that can be associated with them.

Recurring nightmares can be hellish, especially when they re-play a part of the journey that one has manged to ‘forget’ or  somehow deal with in waking hours.

The only way that I have found of  stopping recurring nightmares is to bring them out into the open and tell a supportive person about them.  Bottling them up seems to be a recipe for disaster whereas confiding can well serve as the key to dealing with them successfully.

101 Ways to Cope with Losing Elderly Parents #8

One of the most difficult issues that can arise with elderly parents revolves around driving the car, or perhaps I should say ceasing to drive the car. 

For a person who has been driving for 60+ years, the car tends to be a crucial symbol of life, living and independence. However, it can also become a very lethal weapon if driving skills are impaired by symptoms associated with failing health.

While there are legal requirements for older people to be medically certified as being fit to drive on an annual basis, situations can arise where family members become aware that a parent’s ability to drive has diminished after a further health setback and that they have definitely reached a point where they are a a danger to themselves and others on the road, even though they may only be driving very short distances to local shops and the like.

In ideal circumstances, the parent will be the person to take the decision to hang up the car keys. If not, the matter has to be taken in hand by the family, either directly or through a third-party, like a family doctor.

Whatever the case, it is crucial to recognise the significance of the car and to identify other means of transport so that the parent doesn’t feel trapped. For example, the point can be made that savings on ‘not driving’ can be used to take taxis for both essential outings and what may be perceived as ‘luxuries,’ like a drive along a much loved stretch of  coastline or a trip to visit family or friends.



101 Ways to Cope with Losing Elderly Parents # 4

The experience of losing elderly parents is one that tends to bring moments of heightened stress and anxiety. People deal with stress and anxiety in different ways but I think it is extremely useful to make a list of stress-busters that help YOU.  Having a written list provides a menu at a time when you may feel unable to think straight and the mere sight of it can help to bring calm.

Ideally, the list should include activities that only take a minute or two, like deep breathing or visualising a place that is totally associated with calm, as well as more time-consuming activities.

My list included the following:

1. Taking long, deep breaths

2. Visualising  lying on the warm sand at Garrarus Beach hearing the gentle rippling  of tiny waves.

3. Playing with the dogs

4. Going for a swim in the sea and feasting my eyes on the horizon

5. Having a luxurious bath with a scented candle glowing.

6. Going for a long walk, ideally by the sea or in the woods

8. Having a nutritious smoothie with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables

7. Writing about my feelings

8. Getting lost in taking photographs

9. Gardening, especially planting bulbs.

10. Sitting by the fire sipping a hot drink

11. Dipping into books of wit and wisdom that make me laugh.

12. Reading poetry

And walk among long dappled grass

And pluck till time and times are done

The silver apples of the moon,

The golden apples of the sun.

(from: The Song of Wandering Aengus by W.B. Yeats)

101 Ways to Cope with Losing Elderly Parents # 1

I consider ‘losing elderly parents’ to include the time from when parents become frail to the years after they have died and my aim in this series is to identify what I see as key ways to cope with that journey which is so common, yet so unique.

The suggestions that I will be making are not intended to come in any particular order but are all ones which I see as being important from my personal experience of losing my mother (88) in May 2009 and my father (91) in September 2010. Please feel free to comment as you see fit. I really want this to be a place where there is interaction and a sense of community and learning from each other.

Make time to spend time with your parents while they are alive ~ be it through face-to-face conversations, phone calls, letters, emails ….. Where there is a will, there is a way!

Nesting Time, Cove Road, Tramore, Co. Waterford.

A Post I Thought I’d Never Write …

I am very conscious of the fact that the majority of the search terms that lead people to this blog relate to Losing Elderly Parents and there are times when the fear, angst and sadness of those who are searching is painfully palpable.

I honestly can’t remember but I suspect I was one of those searchers back when my parents were in failing health and in the weeks and months after they had died. There is absolutely no easy way to lose one’s parents and there are times when it can seem overwhelming and totally unmanageable. I say that in relation to both the period leading up to their deaths and after they have passed on.

This time three years ago, I was trying to deal with what would have been my parent’s 62nd wedding anniversary and it was just two months after my father had died. Mother had died 16 months before him.  I have the most vivid recall of driving out to Maguire’s Garden Centre to buy spring bulbs to mark the occasion.

Maguire’s was a place that Mother and Father always loved and we spent many, many happy hours out there buying bulbs, plants, garden furniture ….. That day, three years ago, I pulled up in the car park and was so overcome with grief that I just sat in the car sobbing and ended up driving straight home without being able to go in.  I felt that day that I would never, ever be able to set foot in what had always been a haven of happiness.

Although I’ve been back to Maguire’s quite a few times in the last two years,  it’s  never been on special occasions.  So, today was a first and the memory of that day sobbing hit me when I got to the car park. However, the sense of hopelessness and loss didn’t descend. Rather, I was able to think about the happy times we had shared there; smiled as I thought of Father teasing me when I went out there with him shortly after I’d finished a gardening course and thought I knew everything there was to be known about plants; was immediately drawn to the snowdrops which were always Mother’s favourites …..

Back home, I spent about three hours at total peace tidying up the rockery and flower beds and planting the spring bulbs and heather I had bought.  It was like Mother and Father were with me and all sorts of memories drifted in an out of my mind ~ the little patch that I had in the garden from when I was about three; Mother’s saying which she had picked up from her father: While you’re resting for supper, be sweeping the yard; Father’s absolute love of daffodils and the bunches of windfalls that he would bring in to decorate the house …..

Yes, all has changed, ‘changed utterly,‘ as W.B. Yeats wrote, but it’s not a terrible beauty  that has been born.  I would describe it more as a  sense of oneness and presence,  and something which I would wish for all those who are in that state of turmoil where I was three years and more ago.

Marking Special Days in the Lives of Parents who have Died

November 15th was always a special day in our house as it was my parent’s wedding anniversary. They got married in 1948 and lived to see their 60th anniversary. They were never into mad celebrations and parties but the anniversary was a very significant day in the family calendar and they exchanged gifts, often went out to lunch, talked about their wedding day and we kids gave them presents from when we were tiny.

So November 15 is a date that is etched in my genes, memory and heart and I feel it is important to prepare for such days, as they  inevitably bring a flood of memories which could be sad or which with a bit of pre-planning can be harnessed and celebrated.

Mother and Dad walking towards Marriage!
Mother and Dad walking towards Marriage!

I had a little brainstorming session about possibilities while out for a walk in the lovely Anne Valley here in Co. Waterford early this morning and here’s the menu that emerged to celebrate what would be their 65th anniversary.

1. Pay a visit to both the Catholic and Church of Ireland Cathedrals in Waterford City, which were designed by renowned architect John Roberts ( 1712-1796). My parents got married in the Catholic Cathedral but Mother remained very much a member of the Church of Ireland all her life.

2. Have a coffee in the Majestic Hotel in Tramore where they held their small wedding reception.

3. Plant Spring bulbs in the much-loved blue pot which they bought in the gorgeous Kiltrea Pottery Shop near Enniscorthy in Co. Wexford many years ago.

4. Google November 15th, 1948 and find out what was going on around the world that day.

5. Go ahead and sign up for Tango Dance classes after all these years! Father would be all for it as he was a whizz on the dance floor and Mother would laugh and say: Enjoy yourself and forget that you had a mother with two left feet!’ 

So, how do you celebrate special days in the lives of  loved ones who have died?

The Concept of Future in Memory

It’s almost  a week now since I read an excellent article by Julia Molony entitled ‘ Breaking Bragg’  in last week’s Life Supplement of the Sunday Independent here in Ireland.

It relates to Melvyn Bragg whose  stunning book, The Adventure of English,  had totally engaged me a few years ago. I confess that I knew little or nothing about Melvyn Bragg’s life until I read the article last weekend and one particular point that he made in the interview has been rattling around in my head all week.

He was talking about the death of his mother at the age of 95, almost a year ago,  and the article ends as follows:

And, of course, there is great future in memory, he goes on. ” My mother is secure, in the future, in my memory. And she’ll be secure in my children’s memories. And  although she might fade in their memories. I’ll be secure in their memories and I’ll carry that memory and it will pass on like that. So there  is that sort of future, which is interesting to think about.”

Yes, it is interesting to think about especially as ‘future’ and ‘memory’ can seem like proverbial ‘apples and oranges’ which just don’t  fit in the same box.

But, for me, anyway, Melvyn Bragg’s words resonated completely especially as they relate to how I  feel about my late parents.  I tend to use the word ‘presence’ a lot to try to convey how I feel that loved one’s who have died remain with us, through their legacy of love, sayings, humour, passions, uniqueness. But I’m wondering now if Melvyn Bragg has summed this up in a much better way?

Daffodils ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 100

The Daffodils on the Annestown Road, Co. Waterford.
The Daffodils on the Tramore- Annestown Road, Co. Waterford.

Today is Daffodil Day in Ireland. It is a huge day in terms of collecting funds for ‘Daffodiil Nurses’ or nurses who provide palliative care. These nurses are like ‘angels’ to people who wish to live out their last days at home. Only last week, I was at the funeral of a dear friend and the lone tear that was shed by the people speaking from the altar was in connection with thanking the Daffodil Nurses who had been so supportive and helpful to both my friend who had died and his family who had cared for him at home where he so badly wanted to be.

Anyone who follows me will know that daffodils have huge significance in my life as they remind me so much of my late father with whom I was fortunate to share many, many evenings in his last months reading Wordsworth’s  The Daffodils.  He especially loved the lines:

And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

I am very aware that this is the 100th posting of  my ‘Gatherings from Ireland’ and I really wanted it to be extra-special.

That  I can write it on Daffodil Day and remember Father with such love makes it immensely special to me.

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.