The Dead Nun

I was passing a convent the other day and a car load of nuns in ‘civies’ was coming down the avenue.

For some reason, the scene brought me back to another convent and other nuns ~ these ones dressed in black, black habits and veils with those white pieces blocking even a strand of hair from straying down onto their foreheads.

I was six or seven at the time and had yet to encounter death.

Innocent Me!
Innocent Me!

An announcement was made in class one morning that one of the nuns had died the previous evening and prayers were dedicated to her memory.  She must have been elderly and frail as none of us had ever seen her around school or the grounds of the convent.

Just before lunch, we were told to collect our coats from the cloakroom because we were going to the school church to ‘pay our respects’ to the nun who had died.

As we entered the church, a shudder passed down the orderly line as it transpired that the nun was laid out in an open coffin up near the altar and we were all to file past, stop, and say a little prayer for Mother X who had died.

There was no backing out, no running away, no choice. The rules had to be obeyed. I was absolutely terrified, probably not helped by the horror stories that my brother had told me about ghosts and headless horses, and my little knees were knocking as I tried to walk up the aisle.

The sight of the dead nun was even worse than my worst imaginings and left me with an absolute phobia about dead bodies, a phobia which has never left me.

My mother’s reaction to this whole affair was to go to the school and complain about us being forced to view the dead nun. The response she got was that death was natural and that it was part of our education to see dead bodies.  Mother, furious at this stage and thinking of my shivering and shaking at home, asked if it was the nuns’ policy to bring six and seven year olds along to see babies being born.

I always smile when I think of her having this exchange and her description of the absolute shock with which her question was received.

I wonder how I’d have been about ever having a baby if the nuns had followed through on her suggestion?

Do You Want to Live Forever?

A couple of key issues that relate to  ‘longevity’ have cropped up in Ireland in recent weeks and now everywhere I look I seem to be seeing things about people wanting to prolong life and try and evade death by hook or by crook.

Irish people (like those in other developed countries) are living a lot longer than they used to and very little provision was made for this. So now we have a situation where older people are ‘clogging up’ beds in acute hospitals because they have nowhere suitable to go. Home care packages just aren’t sufficient and there aren’t enough nursing home or supported-living places.

The idea of being stuck in an acute hospital, not in the best of health, worrying about ‘where to’ next is something that fills me with dread. I witnessed elements of this with my own parents when they were in their late eighties and their quality of life was declining.  However, they were fortunate to be able to remain in their own home, with care, and this mattered hugely to them both.

The vast majority of Irish people want to die in their own homes but only a small percentage actually achieve this goal.

For me, there is a key question about whether people  want to live on because they don’t want to die ~ either because they fear it or because they don’t want to leave others behind.

I feel that quality of life is key and having to  ‘exist’ when the mind and body have essentially outlived their time is a form of cruel imprisonment than no one deserves to have to endure unless s/he chooses.

I realise that this is controversial territory but maybe it is a debate which society badly needs to address.

What’s your view on the matter?


Light and Shade by Turn but Love Always

Light and shade by turn but love always are the words engraved on the Temple at Mount Congreve Garden. As I read them this morning, they seemed to sum up every emotion I was feeling.

Today, May 24th, is my son’s nineteenth birthday; it also marks the last day I saw my late parents together as they sat in their porch at sundown in 2009; and it is the anniversary of the death of Ambrose Congreve who died, aged 104, in 2011.

Yes, life is full of light and shade; joy and sadness; and love is what we need to sustain and nurture us through the rough and the smooth.

Today, I feel especially grateful to Ambrose Congreve for creating a garden which brings such peace and allows for such connection and reflection. My parents adored Mount Congreve and it is a place in which I have shared many, many precious hours with my son.

Here are some of the key images that particularly captivated me in Mount Congreve today as they seemed to highlight themes around the seasonality of life, lives well spent, and, of course, love: