It’s seven years ago tonight that I sent that text to the kind woman who was sitting with Mother in hospital. It read: Say ‘Goodnight Irene’ from me.
That’s how we always said ‘Goodnight,’ and it didn’t surprise me to hear later that Mother, who had suffered a severe stroke four days before, definitely responded when the message was read to her and that she then settled and passed away peacefully.
Seven years is a long time in some respects and no time in others. Mother’s presence has remained constant throughout as I do even the most mundane things like washing up. Most of all, though, she is with me when I’m lost in nature; nature that she loved and appreciated more than anyone else I’ve ever met.
What’s changed in the seven years is how I see her passing. All the horribleness of being cooped up in hospital has been swept away by the intervening storms and now it’s like she strolled down a May time path festooned with a blaze of nature’s colours.
These are the paths that she craved from her childhood growing up on a farm; paths that she walked with us when we were kids, teaching us about trees, flowers, wildlife; paths that she journeyed in her memory when failing health held her back.
So many paths come to mind but this one in our beloved Mount Congreve seems just right as I think of her now with a loving smile:
It’s been a topsy turvy week with highs, lows and little or no time in blogland. I apologise for being so lax and for not interacting much at all.
The major high of the week was a delightful swim yesterday with the sun beaming down.
The major low was the death of a dear, dear friend who was a part of my life since I was born and who was a treasured link to both my parents.
It’s hard to say ‘goodbye’ but it is so good to see a person with such a heart of gold being given the chance to die at home in the loving care of devoted grown-up children and supportive home care medical professionals.
A very high percentage of people want to die at home but by no means all are afforded this opportunity.
I sincerely hope that we can work towards enabling everyone to have a choice about where they live out the final years, months, weeks, days and hours of their lives because it matters hugely to both the dying person and his/her family.
I’ve been gathering pebbles from all the coves and beaches around me over the last few weeks with a view to trying some ‘pebble art.’
I poured my loot out onto the table in front of the fire this afternoon and waited for inspiration.
Before I knew it, I was tracing my hand and thinking of the power of the sense of touch. Touch can be so electric and sensuous. What kept coming to mine was the way in which touch is so central to our relationships with other people.
Recently, I was getting my hair done and found tears streaming down my cheeks as the hairdresser was towel drying my locks. I simply don’t like when strangers touch my hair. It feels all wrong to me and I crave the gentle touch of my mother running her fingers through it when I was a child.
The towel drying tears quickly turned to a watery smile as I thought of how we’d all run from Father’s offers to dry our hair after swims as he had such thing about making sure that we didn’t get colds and almost tore the heads off us with his vigorous towelling.
The first touch in a romantic relationship can be so special with fingers meeting fingers. What can be so bittersweet about the ending of a relationship is that even one little finger touching another that was so familiar becomes off limits.
How easy it is to take the sense of touch for granted and it’s often only when it’s gone for whatever reason that we appreciate it.
Being a hoarder has its moments and this morning brought one of those.
I unearthed pages of a quote-a-day calendar that my mother had kept from 1983. There are just thirteen of them so she was pretty selective about what she kept.
Reading through them is like hearing Mother speak to me and I’ve picked out the ones that spell her to me:
A wise old owl sat in an oak,
The more he saw the less he spoke,
The less he spoke the more he heard,
Why can’t we all be like that wise old bird.
Anonymous: Punch, 1895
Owls were among Mother’s passions and I still cringe when I think of how I broke her precious owl vase while practicing my tennis indoors one wet day.
Laughter is not at all a bad beginning for a friendship, and it is by far the best ending for one.
(Oscar Wilde 1854-1900)
This makes me think of her absolute insistence that all rows in the house be made up before sleep. “Never let the sun go down upon your anger.”
People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading
Logan Pearsall Smith (1865-1946)
It would be impossible to overstate the importance of reading in Mother’s life. She was an avid reader from a very early age and books like Pride and Prejudice were on her agenda when she was eight or nine years of age. Mercifully, she passed on her love of reading to all of us kids.
And how often did I hear her quote these lines when I was asking her for advice about ‘big’ decisions:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
And, it’s always good to find jottings on things. (That handwriting of hers is so, so familiar). Here’s another of her choices but with her note-to-self (and now to me) added on to it:
And I simply have to add in this one as it maybe solves the mystery of why she and Dad had such differing views about dandelions on the lawn. He saw them as a scourge and she loved them:
You fight dandelions all weekend, and late Monday afternoon there they are, pert as all get out, in full and gorgeous bloom, pretty as can be, thriving as only dandelions can in the face of adversity.
Hal Borland (1900-1978)
I think I’ll get myself a quote-a-day calendar for this year and stash away my favourites for posterity. It could be a lovely gift for Harry one January day when he would like to re-connect. Oh, and I’ll be sure to make a few jottings as I go along.
There are many milestones associated with losing elderly parents and the last few days have brought one to the fore for me. It involves the death of a woman who knew my parents for a lot longer than I did.
She knew my father from when he first came to Waterford in 1943. She was a few years younger than him but they shared a great love of sport and he got to know her parents, sibs, boyfriends, her eventual husband and kids. He often spoke of how, by chance, he happened to be with her the night her mother died and how ‘being a shoulder to cry on’ had been very significant in sealing their friendship for life.
This woman was really warm and friendly and was very welcoming to my mother when she arrived in Waterford to marry father. She was also always very kind to us kids and was interested in all our comings and goings.
After Mother and Father died in 2009 and 2010 respectively, I loved meeting her and having a chat. Her memory was excellent and she regaled me with stories about Father, especially, going back to his single days. It felt so good to know that there were people, like her, who remembered my parents when they were in their prime and who wanted to reminisce about the times they shared.
It was a shock to hear that she had died. Somewhere deep down, I think I thought that she would live forever as she had such a youthful way about her and never seemed to have aged physically in my eyes.
It feels like a wrench ~ both in terms of a bridge being knocked between me and my parents and in terms of the significant friendship that we had developed in our own right, especially over the last decade or so.
Obviously, my heart goes out to her grown-up children who meant the world to her but whom I don’t know. I intend to make it my business to get to know them now!
Six years have now passed since Mother died on May 31, 2009. People tend not to write about anniversaries beyond the first one or two. I suspect this is more out of a sense that they feel they shouldn’t rather than that they have somehow ‘gained closure,’ to use that awful term.
This is the first time since Mother died that the dates and days have come full circle again. I always think that nature tries to soften the early anniversaries by changing the days and somehow confusing the memory.
Here in Ireland, quite a few people, especially in the Roman Catholic Tradition, place memorial notices in local newspapers for years and years after a loved one dies or have a Mass said. That’s never been part of our lives as Mother was a member of the Church of Ireland and neither she nor Father were into these practices.
Also, because she wanted to be cremated and have her ashes scattered at sea, there is no grave site to visit.
None of this means that she has not been very much on my mind over the last few days. This ‘presence’ has two very different sides. One was vivid recall of her last few days. It’s like key aspects have been etched into my memory to the extent that I even woke at the very time in the early hours of yesterday morning that I got the phone call to say that she had slipped away. The fact that there is such heightened awareness of aspects of end of life means that professionals particularly need to be very cognisant that how they deal with each individual death remains very much ‘alive’ for years and years.
On the other hand, there are lifetimes of memories and these relate to her early years as she relayed them to us through chatting, photos, diaries, letters; and secondly, what I’d call ‘the shared years.’
While a very emotional time, it’s certainly not been dominated by sadness. Rather, a sense of all that binds us together and, in many ways, the extent of that only becomes more obvious the more time passes.
Sunset at Garrarus caught me off guard today as it was all about contrasts, light and shade, closing in and opening out.
It evoked thoughts of Turner’s paintings, but even more thoughts of distance and togetherness.
Nowhere is the issue of distance and togetherness more apparent than in relationships where a person has dementia.
The moodiness of the scene made me think of my late father, who used the word ‘moody’ very much when it came to photographs and paintings. He had some form of dementia in his later years. This made for stormy moments but also moments of intense clarity and oneness.
I think of him with intense love as I listen to the great Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem singing The Dutchman.
I wrote a post back on December 17th, 2012 about a Thank You Letter which I gave my father for Christmas a few years before he died in 2010. It’s one of those posts that I wrote very much from the heart and I was a little surprised that it received so little attention at the time.
However, over the last few weeks, it has been the most read post on the entire blog by a long shot and that has made me think a lot more about whole idea of writing Thank You letters as Christmas gifts for one’s elderly parents.
I was fortunate that, for some reason, I was inspired to write the letter to my father while he was in good health and able to appreciate it.
However, I would say that it is never, ever too late to write that letter of thanks. Losing elderly parents, to me, is a process which can begin years before they actually die and goes on probably forever after they have died.
I know now that my mother would have appreciated such a letter but I never wrote one to her. I’ve been thinking, though, that this year ~ the 6th Christmas without her here ~ that I will take time to write to her and say everything I would have wanted her to read.
Writing a Thank You letter to a parent can’t be a token gesture. If you feel that no thanks is due, then don’t do it. But, I guess that most of us have lots of things for which we can thank our parents.
So, I would urge anyone who is fortunate enough to have an elderly parent still alive and well to give the gift of time, thought and gratitude in a Thank You letter this Christmas. It is probably the present which will be most treasured by both the giver and the recipient. And if your elderly parents have already passed on, there is still time to write and the right time will come to you, as you are the only person who knows exactly how you are feeling about your parent.
Remember, there’s no set formula ~ be yourself and dig deep!
November 15 was always a very significant day in my parent’s lives as they got married on November 15, 1948.
They both lived to see their 60th anniversary in 2008 and this is now the fourth since Father died. While there were never any major parties or the like, they always marked their Anniversary by exchanging presents and by going on some sort of outing ~ maybe lunch out or a picnic by the sea if the weather was fine.
I’ve struggled with November 15th since Mother died in 2oo9. It’s a date that’s etched in my life calendar because of the ‘ceremony’ that always surrounded it and the recalling of memories of that day that they tied the knot.
I wrote about possible plans for the day last year but in the end I didn’t do much more than write ~ I simply wasn’t able. I just wasn’t emotionally ready.
This year I felt different and I spent some lovely time today in celebrating a marriage that was fundamentally important to giving me life itself.
I was rather surprised to find that November 15th in 1948 fell on a Monday. I don’t know if Monday weddings were more common back then than they are now. I don’t know of any other couple who got married on a Monday!
So, I made my way to Annestown Beach this morning; had the obligatory cup of coffee, a paddle and carved a little memorial in the sand. It all felt so right and the gorse was in full bloom out around there ~ when the gorse is out of bloom, kissing’s out of season.
Today seemed just the right day to buy my snowdrop and hyacinth bulbs ~ always such symbols of hope and inextricably linked to this time of year, especially for Mother.
On the way home, I decided to call into The Majestic Hotel here in Tramore. That’s where Mother and Father had their wedding reception. The hotel has been rebuilt since those days as you can see from the following photos:
Even though the buildings are different, I half expected to see the wedding party arrive into the hotel as I was sitting there sipping my latte.
Tramore Beach that was so special to both Mother and Father and where we shared so, so many precious hours, days and moments was my last stop.
There is was, just as it was back in November 1948, being watched over by the Metal Man and whispering its everlasting words of love.
In conclusion, I would say from my experience, that the grieving process is very different for each individual and for each death in an individual’s life. Perhaps a good rule of thumb is only to do things when they feel right ~ not when you or someone else thinks the time should be right.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
(William Shakespeare ~ Hamlet Act 1)
I have a fascination with seats, chairs, sofas, armchairs, kitchen stools … of all descriptions so I screeched to a halt the other day when I spotted a pouf footstool at one of my favourite places along the Copper Coast here in Co. Waterford.
It brought me back to my youth when I used to sit on one almost identical to this while watching television by the fire with my mother.
Significantly, the spot above Kilmurrin Cove, where this one was perched, was always a place where my mother used to recall the days when Father’s Morris Minor used to conk out half way up the steep hill. He and Mother would gather big stones to put behind the back wheels so they could get going again without a major descent back towards the Cove.
I couldn’t but think that Mother would have loved a sit down on the footstool after these dramas which were always infused with tension as Father had a major thing about cars breaking down!
I was tempted to pop it into the car and bring it home but decided to leave it for the next comer. I wonder, wonder, wonder who placed it so perfectly at that particular spot.
I often wonder now how I ever thought that my parents would be gone from my life when they died. There are just so, so many memories!