Daily Archives: April 30, 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