Monthly Archives: April 2008

For Jo

On my piece last Friday ‘The light went out…’ there were many comments. One in particular begged an answer.

Jo said

I know that people are meant to go, and have to go but I don’t know how we’re meant to find peace with it. I really don’t.

You are an inspiration, it’s true, your blog speaks of the pain of your loss but also so much of the joy you find in your life.

How do you stop a death like this from tinting every happiness afterwards with a little sadness?

Coming from a large family circle we had plenty of hatching, matching and dispatching. The first death that I actually remember was in 1955; our next door neighbour had a stroke and died a week later. They had no telephone so our number was given at the hospital for emergency contact. It was suggested that May the wife, might telephone every morning for a progress report (back in those days visiting was very restricted and children under 14 were not allowed). May arrived at our house every morning before 8am and we children had to stay in the dining room out of the way for the duration. May wailed like a tragic opera singer and refused to make the phone call, mammy had to make the call and pretend that she was May! My parents were loyal and supportive in every way. May died in 1992. She never stopped wailing and instead of bringing support it had the effect of turning people away. That left a mark on me.

My father was called on at times of family bereavements to make the funeral arrangements and he involved me in the practical arrangements. I learned the importance of making the ‘Lists’ they might take 10 minutes, but it saved time and hassle further down the line. I learned how to deal with, and in which order, the undertakers, the clergy, the press and the florists. Most important of all I learned how to tell people over the phone calmly that someone had died, remembering that I was giving them shocking news. That taught me to harness my emotions.

Over the years I have known and watched many people die, from elderly grandmother, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins to a baby niece who was a victim of sudden death syndrome. I have lost many close friends as well. Not all death effects on you in the same way. Some people leave a special indelible mark on your heart.

When my maternal grandmother died, mammy, daddy and I were with her. Later that evening daddy gathered my siblings and we went en-famille (sp?) to pay our respects. We gathered around the bed where granny was laid out, looking very solemn with her hands joined. We spoke in whispers. Why do we do that? Daddy told us to kneel and led us in prayer. Suddenly from the far side of the bed one of my younger brothers burst out laughing! Daddy frowned and continued with the prayer. Brother No.3 continued laughing and indeed got worse. Daddy stopped and asked for an explanation. “I keep thinking that Granny will open her eyes and say ‘Hah! I fooled you!’ said Brother No.3. That was Granny in a nutshell, and soon we were all laughing. Laughter of love not disrespect.

Jo, my husband was ill for six years. This gave us time to prepare, to say all that had to be said. Those six years were not all suffering and grief. The time was limited so we made the most of it. We had some very precious moments, the memory of which will live on in my soul. Jack was a good teacher of how to live; he had come through some difficult times in his life’s journey, I spoke about them here and here. I might not have felt like living on when he died, but I had Elly to think about and if I was to live as long as my mother and grandmother before me, I had 30 years or more to go and that is a long, long time to stay miserable. Misery breeds bitterness in my book

Those years were not all sunshine and roses either. My mother died eighteen months before Jack and Elly left the nest for University six weeks later. My good neighbour and friend faced surgery and chemotherapy I helped with her day to day care when she was feeling ill or low. I washed and creamed her feet each evening and this gave her great comfort. When we learn to wash each others feet, we peel away barriers and build friendship (I am beginning to sound like a preacher here!).

People suffering from loss or heartbreak find their body and mind reacting strangely even in normal situations. They experience mood swings. They sometimes avoid places and people that bring up nostalgic memories and can make them weep uncontrollably. Even when you can’t have your loved one back, you may still be able to move on with your life and become a stronger human being. The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it. The best tribute we can pay a loved one is to LIVE!

“Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

EMOH RUO

Emoh Ruo was a name plate I saw regularly as a child. Being slow at the reading I thought it might be a foreign language. By the time It dawned on me that it was Our Home backwards, I was to big to to admit it to anyone. Mind you I though it was still a stupid name for a house.

This came to mind while chatting to Will the other day. Our conversation travelled through a myriad of topics and how we came to house names I have no idea. We wondered if a name had any effect on the atmosphere within or attitude of the residents. Will ‘Wotton Hatch’ be less prickly than ‘Holly House’, or ‘Sunflower Cottage’ be more soothing than Mere View’?

Does your house have a name and did you pick it? If yes, do you use it? Is it of the ‘Salerne’ variety – a mixture of Sally & Ernie?

Now for a little game:

Name this house.

1.

Estate Agent sees my house

This is how the Estate Agent might see my house.

2.

My Buyer sees my house

How a buyer sees my house.

3.

The Tax Man sees my house

How the Tax Man sees my house.

4.

DSCF0001

Ok, I know the name of this one, but do you?

Blog Awards the Novel!

No! I am not writing a book or dishing the dirt on what happened on the couch with Twenty! We had witnesses and if I pay them enough they will say nuttin, right Conn? Steph?

I can report that there is an new addition to my family. The family of Toyboys that is. Another fine young man he is too. We met on that wonderful night of glitz & glam 1st March. He was so bowled over by me the enthusiasm of the bloggers that he raced home to take part in the fray. The result is AJ@Lecraic

Now Alan fell so deeply in love that night he wanted a permanent reminder, and the result of his labours can be found here:

http://www.lecraic.com/2008/04/27/irish-blog-awards-the-book/

It is an online book about the awards with a page for each of the winners. Alan wrote to all 21 of us, but you know how it is, people are busy and put things on the long finger. So this is called 1st edition and hopefully those winners unable to find their page can get in touch with Alan and the page will be added.

If you are feeling lazy Grandad has it on his site so you can flick through the pages quickly.

Food Monday ~ Quiche with Celery & Cheese

This one has a back story. On a beautiful sunny Sunday morning early in July about 15 years ago and I was sitting in church in good time for the morning service. I was aware of a couple moving into the row behind me. Turning to greet them I saw that they were visitors. I welcomed them among us and from their accents realised they were on holiday. Chatting I discovered they were from Canada and participating in a house swap with friends of mine.

This gave us something in common and they were pleased to have suggestions for places to visit and things to do throughout the Province. As the service drew to a close I wrote my name and phone number on a piece of paper and gave it to them before we left, inviting them to come for afternoon tea some day during their vacation.

The very next day I had a call, saying they would be free in the afternoon and evening and hoped to go to Dublin by train on the Tuesday. Thinking fast I suggested they join us for our evening meal that day and I could tell them about things to do and see in Dublin. We chatted on for a few minutes, I suggested a time and I gave them directions to Grannymar Gables.

As I was about to hang up the Gentleman said “Oh by the way, did I say we were vegetarian? But we do eat eggs!” “That’s fine.” I lied. Back then I was not used to preparing vegetarian meals. A couple of minutes panic and I grabbed my pen & notebook (long before the internet entered my life), Jack handed me the healing cup of coffee and I racked my brains…

A quick list and a trip to the supermarket and we were sorted.

Quiche with Celery & Cheese
Preheat oven to 190°C

Pastry:
5ozs Plain Flour
A pinch Salt
3ozs Butter
1oz toasted Nuts
1 tablespoon Water
1 Egg Yolk size 3

Filling:
1 small head Celery
4ozs Blue Cheese
½ pint Single Cream
3 Eggs size 3
Salt & Black Pepper
A few Nuts to garnish

Put flour, salt & nuts in a food processor and blend for a few moments. Add the butter and blend well. Add egg yolk and water and mix to dough. Roll out on a lightly floured surface & line flan tin. Chill for 30 minutes. Wash & slice celery and cook in boiling salted water for 10 minutes to soften. Drain & cool. Crumble cheese and stir in half the cream. Lightly mix the eggs with the rest of the cream, and add to cheese mixture and season to taste. Arrange celery over pastry base, spoon the cheese mixture and spread level over the celery. Arrange the nuts on top.

Bake for 40 minutes until the filling has set. Serve with salad and/or chips.
Serves 8-10  

To freeze: leave to cool, when cold over-wrap in foil and place in the freezer.
Thaw overnight & warm in the oven for 10 minutes.

Island in the Sun

Paddy Bloggit has presented me with this Desert Island

desert_island

Now we all know that there is no such thing as a free lunch…

Well with my island comes a list of instructions

Given a list of categories, choose one item for each.

In addition a person to accompany you must be chosen and 3 other items.

This is the ‘list’:

A CD: Under Milk Wood – BBC(1963) full-cast drama of Dylan Thomas’ poetic play for voices starring Richard Burton.

A book: Notebook (and pencil* because a notebook is not much good without something to write with).

An item of technology: A Laptop with mobile broadband

A Film: DVD of the Original Forsythe Saga by John Galsworthy Produced by BBC

A Game: A skipping rope to make up my own games

An item of clothing: A kaftan & large Sunhat (I need protection from the sun).

A Photograph: Jack & Elly

Who would I take with me? Richard Clayderman – with a Piano.

Three other items I would take:

A wind up radio

My sewing box (well I could sew leaves together to make a fabric)

A hammock

* Thanks to Bernie “topgold” Goldbach

What and who would you take onto your desert island?

Sleepy Sundays

Some days the words are tired!

Maxine will say it all.

buy drinks first

Note to self: Add case of Booze to the shopping list!

Max - boobs

I tried walking on my hands for an hour a day but it made no difference!

noname

Now that’s scary!

IT ARRIVED…

Today the letterbox did not clatter, but the doorbell rang!

Postman Pat had a package for me! I love packages. It was all neatly wrapped and it came from way down south. I opened it slowly and carefully…

Would you like to see what it was?

Ok, ok.. be careful or it might break

My Blog Award

Well I had to take the picture myself and if I was not in the picture you might not believe me!

DSCF2186

Now I can christen it and open the Bubbly. Cheers!

Again, thank you King Damien and all those who helped me achieve this accolade.

No, I am not making another speech!

Shake Hands

Are your hands a useful appendage or a means of reading a soul?

What Your Hands Say About You
You are logical, analytical, and rational. You have good verbal skills.

Flexible and broad minded, you can fit in to any situation. There’s no telling where your life will take you.

Consistent and reliable, you like to count on structure and routine in your life.

Your emotions tend to be well though out. You’re willing to wait out a bad situation, and you’re never too quick to act.

The light went out…

Suddenly all was quiet. No intake of breath, just stillness and silence. Not moving I let realisation sink in.

Slowly I pushed back my chair and stood up; the man to my right stood and moved to wrap his arms around my shoulders and he wept. He held me close and both our bodies shook with the depth of his sobbing. I was numb, unable to shed tears; it was not the time to give way to my emotions. There would be plenty of time for tears, a whole lifetime; I had work to do first.

Canon J released me from his grip and I realised he looked exhausted, a true friend and caring pastor who despite a busy parish and wider church commitments, found time for almost daily visits in the difficult days, months and years of illness. The door opened and a nurse stepped into the room. She touched my arm and spoke quietly for a few minutes. Her patient of nine weeks suffered no more.

Having almost lived at the Hospice for the nine weeks, the last three spent day and night in the chair beside Jack’s bed, I knew the routine. We moved to the room set aside for patient’s families and tea/coffee was brought to us. The phone was on the table waiting…..

I had to make the most difficult phone call of my lifetime, to tell Elly that her Dad the light of her life had died. Elly was at University in Scotland facing 2nd year exams. In the previous six months we had several scares that the end was close and she travelled forward and back across the Irish Sea. The last time she came and stayed three weeks but Jack, levelled and lingered. In his lucid moments he kept asking why she was not at school, and this distressed him. It was a very difficult time for her and we talked it through. It could go on for weeks, months even, or it might be a matter of days nobody knew. She wanted to be at home with her dad and me and yet if she missed any more time the year would have to be repeated. Elly made her decision and having said her goodbyes she returned to Scotland and study. We spoke twice a day but she knew I would not ask her to return until the funeral. That time was now.

In the previous weeks I spent long hours alone by the bedside as Jack slept. His only living blood relations apart from Elly were two cousins and their families in Co Durham in England and I had no relations in Northern Ireland, so visitors were few. Knowing I was facing the inevitable, I used my time to make preparations. One day I paid a visit to the undertaker and made all the arrangements for the funeral, leaving me with just a phone call to set things in motion when the time came.

I made lists.

I wrote down the name and telephone number of everyone that needed to be contacted. I sub-divided these and arranged with my siblings who they would contact for me.

I wrote a potted history of Jack’s life.

I wrote details for the funeral service, hymns and prayers and suggestions of who to ask to do the readings.

I wrote a non urgent list of people to be notified e.g. the GP, district nurse, the bank, pension providers, utility suppliers, and noted things to be cancelled like passport, driving licence etc.

I decided what clothes I would need for the funeral, polished my shoes and left them all ready in my wardrobe. I made up beds for whoever might be staying over and washed all the extra china in readiness for a houseful of callers.

Once the lists were completed the notebook was put away in the bedside locker and not touched again until needed.

Early that morning it was obvious I would not be staying in this room much longer, so I packed our few belongings into the fold up travel bag that I kept in the locker. The idea of walking out of the building with a plastic carrier marked Patients Belongings in bold print gave me the creeps.

The phone calls were made; I said my final farewell to Jack and had a quiet word of thanks to the staff, then out into cold sunshine to find my car at the door warmed up with the engine running. Working on automatic pilot not knowing how the remainder of the day would go I remembered thinking it was days since I had a proper meal, it was now lunchtime so I called at a restaurant on my way home and had a solid meal. That gave me the energy to keep going and deal with what ever the day threw at me.

When I pulled up in my drive the undertaker was waiting for me. He had all the details that I had given him. In Northern Ireland, unlike the South of Ireland, a death must be registered before a grave can be opened or a cremation booked. Since this was a Saturday we could only provisionally book the church etc. The Registrars office would not open until Monday morning and as next-of-kin, that visit was down to me.

Elly phoned with arrangements of her arrival and two of my brothers came to be here for her when she reached these shores.

The next couple of days were a blur of constant visitors. Someone did my food shopping for me and my good friend & neighbour Liz who, at that time was in remission from cancer, appeared in my kitchen a couple of minutes after any visitor crossed my threshold she made tea & coffee and cleared up after it, before disappearing the way she came. The funeral & cremation went as planned and everyone returned to get on with their lives.

Elly went back to face her exams and we continued to talk every day.

I had to learn to eat, sleep, grieve, talk and interact normally with people again. It was a slow process. Three weeks and the general phone calls stopped. It was not that people stopped caring, oh no, they were over the shock and getting on with their lives. My journey was only beginning….

I realised at noon one day that I was sitting tearful still in my Pj’s, I gave myself a severe lecture, weeping was doing me no good, it was wallowing and I was insulting Jack’s memory. Behaviour like this was not his way. No matter what life threw at him, he picked himself up, dusted himself down, and got on with life! I would learn to do the same. I had a shower, did the hair and put on a face. I set a goal to walk up the town and back. Alas, the first person I met was a vestry member of the church! “Look at you all dressed up!” she said. She made me feel like a painted Tart! Inside I was screaming – ‘Jack died not me’ – I ended the conversation as quickly and politely as I could and moved on.

You think that was bad! Within the first five weeks of widowhood I was asked or told:

“I suppose you will be going home now”? Yes in these parts that is a question! The questioner was not referring to the home I lived in with Jack for all our married life, No the ‘home’ referred to was DUBLIN!

“Will you get married again”? Come on! Jack’s ashes were hardly cooled.

You will need to go out to work now? I did go back to work, but that was for my sanity, to fill in hours and to have the opportunity to interact with people.

“I know exactly how you feel!” This came from a lady who while standing in front of me had her arm linked through her husbands!!!

“I know exactly how you feel, my dog died last week!” OK I understand that people become attached to their pets, but Jack was no dog, he was a wonderful caring and loving soul mate!

I slowly picked up the pieces and went back to work. Over time I became a charity volunteer, joined a rambling club, travelled and made new friends. I went to the theatre and Concerts I entertained and went out for meals, it was not the life I chose but I always wore a smile. Going home to an empty house is difficult, no welcoming voice or smile and no hug of welcome. I find it most difficult when I have happy news to share and nobody to share it with.

Alas the hand of fate struck once more, and my health problems prevent me from working. I am out of the flow so can easily be bypassed. My friends do still fit me in every couple of months, pity they all want to do something in the same week! I make the best of my lot because all around me are people with a bigger cross to bear.

1924 John Parker

Today on the tenth anniversary of Jacks death, I will raise a glass to his memory and count all the blessings that knowing and loving him brought to my life.