Beyond Kǘbler -Ross; My grief doesn’t look like that.

( An article I wrote which was used as the basis for a piece published by limerickmentalhealth.ie)

In the months since my brother’s heartbreaking and tragic death in May 2018, as a result of a fall while out with his hiking group, I have learned that only I can be an expert on my own grief. Nobody else can be ‘my expert’ and just because I have experienced my loss caused by the out of order death of my brother, does not make me an expert on anyone else’s grief.

I have found myself researching grief, bereavement, and ‘coping’ with grief online,  in the hope I would find something or some way of ‘managing my grief better’ and some way of reducing the immense pain and sense of loss caused by his death.

I don’t think this is actually possible. There is no roadmap, no prescriptive text that will reduce the quotient of grief or the pain that ensues after the death of a loved one. The best we can hope for is finding a way to honour our love and grief and carry it with us and tend to it in our own individual way.

Grief is the price we pay for love- and one’s grief is exactly that.  Grief is as individual as love. It is as unique as the person experiencing it and the person whose loss they grieve. We may share our loss with many; but we have to navigate our own way within our own landscape of grief.  We have to tend to our grief in our own way which may look similar or very dissimilar to others.

I will be the first to admit that initially my online research was far from in-depth. Fuelled by insomnia, an inability to focus or concentrate for any extended period of time, my cursory online interaction with Dr. Google kept throwing up bite-size pieces of variable quality and benefit.

To be blunt, there is a lot of horse shit written about  death and grief. From pious platitudes and clichés to over-simplified theories further reduced to lazy cut and paste jobs. I found some postings on social media to be very unhelpful… I could not identify with what I consider the tyranny of false positivity.

Time and time again, my late night ventures into the online world of grief would throw up ‘The five stages of grief’. How I started to loathe Elizabeth Kübler Ross (and I mean really loathe)! The pervasiveness of this grief theory that bore little or no resemblance to my grieving reality really infuriated me.

I also started thinking that I wasn’t getting this ‘grieving process’ right. My grief was not allowing itself to move in an ordered timeline capable of fitting into neat sanitised blocks that could be ticked off  like a ‘to-do’ list.

I could not understand why a grief theory dating back to the late 1960’s appears to have so much currency today. Has no research on grief been  carried out since?

Well, there has been plenty!  However, much of it does not appear to have trickled down into the public consciousness quite like the stage theory model has.

 I also discovered that my loathing of Elizabeth Kübler Ross was somewhat misplaced. So let me deal with that first.

Elizabeth Kübler Ross was born on July 8th 1926 and died on August 24th 2004, a Swiss-American psychiatrist.

Her book ‘On Death and Dying’ (published in 1969) was never a study on grief and bereavement. It was based on her work with terminally-ill patients at the University of Chicago Medical School. Neither was it a research study: it is a book based of description, observation and reflection based on Elizabeth’s conversations with people who were dying.  Its central tenet was to communicate how important it is to listen to what the dying have to tell us about their needs.

The  so-called stage theory is openly described in the book as merely a set of common categories or themes which emerged from her interviews with people who received a terminal diagnosis over a two and half year period. The categories were artificially isolated and separately described so that Elizabeth could discuss these experiences more clearly and simply. Her five stage model was really an examination of the emotional states experienced by people after receiving a terminal diagnosis.  She is reported to have regretted writing them in a way that was misunderstood. She also didn’t believe that they happened in a neat linear order for a prescribed period of time.

In her 2004 book on Grief and Grieving (published posthumously in 2004), Kubler states: “They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages”.

Now ‘messy’ is a word I can relate to.

So back to the theories of grief. My search started with entering ‘Beyond Kubler’ in the search engine. It transpires that ‘grief’ is a huge field of study that  has continued to develop and evolve since the days of  Freud.  I am not going to even attempt to go down the reductive route of providing basic summaries as I truly believe that this would be a disservice.

 I am unwilling to do this as grieving is complex and one size of theory does most definitely not fit all. There were bits of some writings I could relate to my own ongoing grieving experience and identify with and some not at all.  I’m still only skimming the surface of the amount of material out there on grief after 9 months of it being my daily landscape. Truth be told it is only in the last couple months or so that I have been able to resume reading anything longer than the back of a cereal box.

 The secondary reason is due to the fact that as these theories come in and out of vogue, an unintended consequence has been that they , are taken up by society and its’ commentators as the norms. They become in effect rules of grieving that attempt to specify who, when, where, how, how long and for whom people should grieve.

 It is hard enough live your life after the death of a loved without feeling judged and wanting too. There is no going back, no restoration of a previous normal.  Ultimately grief is a very personal experience which belongs to the person experiencing it.

 If you find yourself reading this and experiencing grief..I wish you strength to find your own path within grief and one that you feel supported on. Try not worry about other people discomfort with your pain and sadness..it is your time to grieve without the artificial constraints of other people’s ‘expertise’ or expectations.

For anyone who wishes to do their own research, I found Christopher Hall’s,  (MAPS Director, Australian Centre for Grief & Bereavement) publication titled ‘Beyond Kubler-Ross: Recent Developments in our understanding of Grief & Bereavement’;  InPsych 2011, Vol 33, Dec.Issue 6 an excellent starting point.

https://www.psychology.org.au/for-members/publications/inpsych/2011/dec/Beyond-Kubler-Ross-Recent-developments-in-our-und

For anyone wishing to support a friend or family member who is grieving I recommend you read (at the very least) the Appendix ‘How to help a Grieving Friend’  in Megan Devine’s Book  ‘It’s OK that you’re not OK- Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That  Doesn’t  Understand’. I found the entire book helpful for myself. 

On a personal note  I found writing about my feelings, my brother, my loss and grief one of my most helpful ways of tending to my life of  living with my grief. Winter swimming in the cold Atlantic Ocean also provides me with moments of solace and connection.

It is about catching what activities give me even fleeting moments of what I call ‘sad peace’.   Even in the early days of shock and grief,  writing was something that required no effort from me. It was instinctive. It was what helped me and continues to help me live through the various  days of overwhelm, survival/existence days and sad peace hours and days.

  I hope, if needed, you find yours.

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My Lady in Silver

The Lady in Silver

I was one of the first patrons of my daughters artwork. She named her price for the original drawing of “The Lady in Silver” and I willingly coughed up the asking price. It is good to know the value of one’s labour. It is one of my most prized possessions. I fell in love with her from the moment I first saw her as I did my daughter. The lady herself I mean, not just the glorious artwork. As in awe as I am of my daughters talent, not being inclined to even attempt to draw a straight line with a ruler; my love for “The Lady in Silver” surpasses art appreciation. I have always believed she has a story to tell.

Doesn’t she look like she has a story?

A timeless and an universal woman’s story of love,life, loss, joy and pleasure. Battles won and lost.

Is she indulging in a moment of quiet reflection and introspection ? Is she gathering herself after feeling defeated by her day? Is she as serene as she is beautiful? Is she greeting the dawn or bidding farewell to the day? Is she of the present or some bygone era or a world yet to come?

Sitting on my sofa since she first came to live with us, adorning our sitting room wall, I have spent minutes that have gathered themselves into hours wondering about her origins. Since childhood I have possessed a penchant for daydreaming. What is happening beyond her portrait, what’s just out of view?

That is the magical thing about a fictitious character, she can be anyone I like. That is beauty of art. Depending on my mood, her face resonates with different parts of my being. Her story can be woven with the same subtle delicate eye to detail as her kimono or broadstroked like the elegance of the colours in her picture. Simple and exquisite her possibilities are endless.

Vignettes of her backstory float with ease in my quieter unoccupied moments. I have imagined her earlier self and one yet to come. I have named and unnamed her. I am happy to be undecided about her substance, to let her come and go in various guises while she graces our wall space with her beautiful presence, defying any attempts to pin her down to a single narrative. I have resisted the urge to commit pen to paper until now. In truth as I type I don’t know what road she will bring me down today or how long this journey today together will be. It is just one of many and it doesn’t define her. It is but one of her many moments in time.

My Lady in Silver

………..with her make up nearly complete she sat at her grandmother’s old elegant dressing table, idly toying with intricate glass jars that still carried the scent of bygone days. The scent of a woman she loved. In truth her grandmother had been more of a Ponds Cold Cream user. The fancy unguents enclosed in their glass shrines kept for good wear only. They had lasted a lifetime. The cut glass pots kept as things of beauty and being too good to be thrown away. A small veneer of dust rested evenly atop decorating each individual one, muting the coloured lids as if the sun had gone behind a cloud. She unscrewed the lid of one, inhaled and with the edge of her dressing gown she carefully caressed the dust away and with perfect symmetry of movement replaced it to its resting place.

Through the open window, the bird song drifted upwards to her ears and the stream replenished with the previous night’s rain was loud enough in its dance to draw her glance to the source of the fresh watery soundings. A lone butterfly, caught momentarily in her field of vision took brief respite from its flight on the blossom of a rosemary bush completely at ease with its surroundings. Confident of its place in the world, its days as a caterpillar long behind and probably forgotten, it quickly stretched out and took flight on the breeze again.

Resting her chin on her hand, she closed her eyes with the remnants of the butterfly’s image still imprinted on her retina. She was glad she came, the others would be arriving soon……….

I hope that you too have an object of beauty that fills your glance with pleasure and joy.

 

A year and a day.

For the first time in my living memory or at least since I was a very young child, I did not stay up on New Year’s Eve to ring in the New Year. Previous New Year’s Eves have seen me sitting on the stairs in the Cork Road, whilst the neighbours squished into our house for the out with the old and in with the new celebrations. Dark haired men would bring a lump of coal in the back door to help the household have good luck and ‘enough’ in the coming year. Auld Lang Syne would be sang out on the road, big circles of neighbours, arms linked with voices competing with the loud horn blowing boats on the quay. My Dad would sing Sweet Sixteen. I think my love of house parties started at very young age. I have always been sentimental about New Years Eve and like to mark the dawning of a fresh year while already being nostalgic about the one just passed.

This year I found myself in bed between 10pm and 10.30pm on New Years Eve. I drifted off to sleep to the sounds of my daughter and her friends joyously celebrating her 18th birthday. This was the first time that said daughter ( who daily makes my world a better place) celebrated her birthday with her friends on the actual day of her birthday. It’s also been the first time in a long time that an alcohol fuelled gathering took place in our house.

I wasn’t just in bed because I was surplus to the requirements of the party shenanigans. I had made my plans to be in bed and not ring in The New Year as far back as June. New Year’s Day 2019 would mark a year to the day since I last had seen my brother. He had been in Waterford to partake in an early celebration of our Mam’s 90th birthday on Jan 1st 2018, as a return trip for her actual birthday on the 20th wasn’t feasible so soon after the Christmas holidays.

That was the last time I got to speak to him in person, lay eyes on him and get a big brotherly bear hug as we said Goodbye outside the Majestic Hotel in Tramore. A casual “See you later in the year” kind of goodbye. I missed his visit home in April as I was away. Disappointed, as I was that our trips clashed at the time, I was full of bitter regret after his death to have missed his last visit home.

It also was the first new calendar year that he would not be alive to enjoy. There is something bleak about time bringing you further away. Below is an excerpt from something I wrote in my cream hardback in early June. It still holds true.

There is no bargaining with death,
No honed negotiation skills to be brought to bear,
No squaring of this circle in my life.
I feel that each days passing
takes me further away from you.
Each breath drawn is one without you."

Add to this that, one of my closest friends and her family were embarking on their own rough unhewn and raw grief path with the sudden and tragic death of a much loved family member. It had been a tough few days and I dreaded the road ahead of them.
The funeral service had taken place that morning…… Bed was really the only place for me.

Before I took myself off, I sat in my party ready, re-arranged kitchen and listened to the strumming of a guitar and the magical playing of an accompanying ukulele and some very sweet clear voices. I sat where John & I had sat a year before to the day, his last time at my well worn kitchen table. We’ve had some good times around our table.

My heart was gladdened by the euphonious melodies and for the first time in a long time I felt a ripple of simple joy enter my being. A fleeting few moments of peace on dry land.. Sad peace. The singing and the music was beautiful and John would have loved it, not just the music but the gathering. Gatherings have long been a respected tradition in our family and John Quinn was a gatherer of people.

I was also very impressed by the notion that the current crop of 18 year olds would sit together in such wonderful harmony engaged in an activity that I could relate to. I sat in with them for a rendition of ” Winter Song” , sang as a duet and made a discreet exit again before I was completely undone. Sleep came easily with wisps of their music making, drifting upwards and soothing me like a well worn blanket.

I slept through till pre dawn, about five o’ clock and awoke with with a sense of urgency, startled from my sleep by the knowledge of his death.. After a quick tidy up, I then made good on the territorial advantage that early rising had given me and laid claim to the sofa for the day. I slept for large parts of the day too, on the sofa, actually most of it, tiredness providing a numbing respite from the significance of the date.

And so it was, the 2nd day of the New Year, a year and a day since last we met that I was able to let John come unbidden to my mind and let my love and grief intertwine. It was a day of sadness but not of overwhelm. I went to one of our favourite places and found that space between the sea & the sky where I feel connected.

The Guillamenes is where I experience my fleeting moments of equilibrium. Where I can just be, the entirety of everything buoyed up by the ocean. It is where the beauty of the setting puts manners on me, the lure of the sea overcomes my fear of the cold. I yield my resistance and submerge. Immersion in the cold water reminds me of my physical being.

So on the year and the day there was nothing for it but to have the first swim of 2019 as well. In my heart I’m swimming for two.

Writers Block

The sandbags are in situ in preparation for the skies overnight promised delivery of rain which is meant to be biblical in its volume. It is day 5 without our heating working, long story but awaiting a repair man for my much loved and used Stanley cooker which is also our boiler. My children now know the real purpose of hoodies, hot water bottles and blankets.

These are the first words that I have written since late November, it’s mid December now. There have been no scribblings or jottings in my cream coloured hardback book. No transfer of my stream of consciousness onto paper. It wasn’t a conscious decision to stop writing and writers block is not really an accurate depiction either as it implies that I tried to and was unable to write; or was prevented from writing by some internal or external force; like my muse called grief going on a short sojourn elsewhere. No not the case, I just stopped. I let the jangling thoughts free reign in my head. Maybe being somewhat tired of freeing up space for others to take immediate occupancy I thought they could all just squeeze in there together, get on with it and eventually I’d be at full capacity.

That is not really what happened…there was no slowing down in the production of those jingling jangling thoughts. It turns out I have a tardis of a brain which is happy to accommodate as many grief laden thoughts as I can produce and well able to vie for elbow room with thoughts automatically produced by daily life.

So what if I was unwilling to process them through writing? There’s room for them all! Yes there is but I started to feel that I was unraveling, in an abyss like rabbit hole, with only a knot of loss to keep me company. This coincided with some unexpected free time over the course of a week. Free time that for the life of me I could not utilise let alone optimise to my satisfaction in order to reduce the annual long to do list of Christmas preparations. Surprise surprise I need structure. I may resent it but I need it.

Then my heart kicked in and let the overwhelm out and it was not pretty. It was scary, suffocating, lying in a ball on the floor kind of hysterical crying. A keening, crying that makes your stomach retch and cares not about requisite bodily functions. A crying that drags your breath raggedly away from your body, away from any natural rhythm. A crying that makes you ring your sister in her workplace because somehow you know that it is important that you now stop but you can’t until it is heard. A crying that doesn’t have the manners to give your sister room to speak. A crying that doesn’t care if it’s on speakerphone.

My sister murmured softly and let me wail until I and it was spent. There is no real coherent conversation that can follow that type of call, just me saying sorry sorry for ringing her at work, sorry for forcing her to bear witness to my journey down the rabbit hole.

I would love to pretend that that day was cathartic, a turning point but it was not. I know, I will have more days like this and I will have days not like this at all. Do not dare to judge me or my grief. I am ‘coping’ as I should or not at all depending on the day, the week, the hour. I do not have the energy for pretense or the manners to observe that the polite phase for public grieving has now passed.

In the couple of days that followed I wondered why the rabbit hole had beckoned? I knew it wasn’t just fueled by my dread of our first Christmas without my brother John. I knew that although my visit to Strasbourg the previous month had left me hollowed out with longing to see his face, it has also been healing and precious and gave to me as much if not more than it had took from me. But I believe I stopped writing after my visit to Strasbourg because I felt I needed to feel, feel deeply. I think subconsciously that I felt my scribblings were a way of expunging my feelings of grief, subverting them and that by my writings I was somehow diminishing them and casting those feelings aside. Cheating them even. That’s the problem with travelling even a little way down the rabbit hole; it’s hard to see, let alone clearly, in the dark.

So my favored cream hard back with its’ elastic band has been back in use. I’m still choosy about what pen I use. I have re read through it since I reclaimed it from where it laid on the dusty underneath bed floor. Not one single vowel or consonant has lessened the pain and the sense of loss caused by the death of my beloved brother but they have honoured that pain as validly as any day of overwhelm does.

I read somewhere that grief is the price we pay for love, so my book of writings honours my grief and my love.

Tidal Wave

I feel the swell, 
still gathering momentum in my lower gut.
My body is awash with
what were once unfamiliar sensations.
They have somewhat gentled in their approach
but cause the same sharp,
startling inhalation of breath.
Like when the cold crisp ocean
first encounters my feet.
Holding breath,
I let the first fleeting wave of grief
roll through my innards.
It has become unwanted deaths internal caress of my body.
It moves like tumbleweed,
randomly directionless inside my cells.
I hold the feeling in my belly for now.
Letting it roll around,
like sounds roll from my tongue.
Speechless I keep driving,
swallow it back down and breathe.
My head finds itself
involuntarily shaking in disbelief.
My salt water tears bring me back to the ocean.

I can see you there.

July 2018 J.Quinn

Half Way To One Hundred

As I sit and type, Storm Callum is doing his best to live up to his hype, buffeting around the house with the odd violent lash of rain against the windows. The sort of night that makes you put the heating on and be oh so glad to be indoors.  Though I’m persevering with the wearing of shorts even as I type despite or maybe because of my mother’s advice to pay heed to the autumnal weather. Fifty and still rebellious.  I feel a bit like the swimmer I had a lovely exchange with at the Guillamenes. I was there to mark the last day of my forties ” I keep coming out and getting into the water in case this will be the final swim of the season”, he said as we made our congratulatory exchanges, about how great we felt, post a mid October sea swim. I feel the same about the shorts as the swims, I’ll throw them on again today; tomorrow might be just too cold.

Actually I kind of  like the idea that the first night of my new decade has been ushered in by a storm while I’m  still wearing my summer shorts… it seems fitting somehow, I think. I marked the first morning of my fifties the same way I marked the last day of my forties with a swim at the Guillamenes. I love the vagaries of the ocean and the sky overhead, an ever changing palette of colours, light and energy.  Accompanied by a symphony of sea sounds, the vast expanse of water and sky just grounds me in the smallness of my being in a good way.  I am at home there. Structurally the Guillamenes is the same place every time I visit but on another level, it possesses so many alter egos it is always a  bit of a magical mystery tour.

At this time of year, it’s like a reliable friend. One who you know will be there but you’re not quite sure if they’re up for visitors. It’s hard to explain to non sea swimmers but the sea is more than the sum of its parts.  Yes it’s always wet and sploshy and inevitable not warm off any part of the Irish coast, with various degrees of roughness or calmness on display but it so much more. It has texture and taste, which you can only experience when fully immersed in its buoyant delights.

It can be bright and revealing of its depths or grey and murky offering up surface viewing only and  prompting mental strains of “Jaws” to play on repeat inside your head.  Smooth and listless or energetic with a swell. Predictable or erratic, it can be a playground or a fight ring. The sea is well capable of  sweet whisperings as you are enveloped in a silky smooth denseness or it can just as easily spit you out and tell you to fuck off. The wonderful thing for me is either way I feel great. Once my feet have gone numb the rest of my body seems to be able to cope. As one might expect, I do have a grading system.. a one dip, two dip and on the very rare occasions a three dip swim. Yep, sometimes I have to get in and get out very quickly and get in again to acclimatise and catch my breath.

These two last swims have been one dippers, being able to swim on two consecutive days probably helps. Like many things in life, the more you do it, the easier it gets. The Guillamenes has been my sanctuary,  a watery place of refuge these past few months. The ocean gives me brief respite from my grief in ways I find hard to describe.  It is well able to absorb and  provide camouflage for my own salt water offerings.  Submerging yourself in cold water brings mindfulness to a whole new level. The sea demands my attention even when on its best behaviour.  I’ve shared so many swims with so many people I love at the Guillamenes, my brother John included, that I like to think the sea and the rocks share back little nuggets of their love and courage when I most need them. That post swim coating of salty sea residue is like a veneer of protection better than any armour. The camaraderie amongst the swimmers softens my soul.

My birthday on the other hand brought all tangible manifestations of my grief into sharp focus. Turning fifty was not something that phased me at all, turning fifty without my brother alive was something else.

However, in spite of the dread that preceded this years birthday, the day came and went, with cake eaten and presents received and emotionally charged as it was, there were moments of joy too, intertwined  sometimes seamlessly, with the moments of  acute sadness. A card missing a signature but full of love, a book of poems, a bouquet of flowers and gifts in the post. Telephone calls, whats app messages and facebook messages all brightened my day. The company of my family and the simple joy of a shared take away. The presence of love.

It’s not everyday either that your youngest child looks at you with their little face full of wonder and awe just at your continuing existence . As I boiled the kettle for my first cup of tea of the day,  she looked up at me and just for a few seconds I saw myself through her beautiful big brown eyes full of love  “Happy Birthday Mammy..you’re fifty” followed by a bit of a pause “Your half way to a hundred – WOW”. Be in no doubt, there was genuine admiration there.

Finding my Inner Cinderella…. but wearing flats!

I enjoyed fairytales as a child and over the years I’ve had a myriad of views on them. Young submissive girls sitting waiting for their princes to come, passively awaiting rescue…really?   Patience has never been my forte, so I couldn’t get this concept at all.  To be honest, I never questioned fairytales as a child. I didn’t possess a precocious ability to do a post modernist, feminist critique but I always knew them to be unbelievable fantasy. I mean, the only time I was allowed wear any kind of a  fancy dress, never mind flouncy ballgowns, was for mass on Sundays.  After the incident with the neighbours go cart which resulted in a big hole in said Sunday best as it got caught in a spoke,  the wearing of said best was restricted to mass times only. (That hand made go cart/wagon was the business though and could go at a fair speed).

go cart meme blog

 

If truth be told, I also felt that the male heroes were fairly insipid and stupid creatures too…….boring and dull. I didn’t think they’d be any good at bad eggs, knock a dolly or knucks. The boys I knew had an ingenuity, an underlying devilment to them and an ability to seek out both mischief and fun that was never reflected in the fairy tales.

I found the villains much more interesting. ( Yep, couldn’t buy into the waiting for the prince so went looking for the bad boys) The fact that the villains had all the superpowers and magic at their disposal, well  that was quite appealing .It was completely unbelievable in my mind that they were undone by weak heros. As for dragons, I just always had a soft spot for them. There was no doubt in my mind that they would breathe fire in the right direction at my request and I would soar in my dreams on the back of them. I could not find a role model in what passed for the heroines. I mean how stupid do you have to be to eat an apple from an old crone.  We were well warned about taking sweets from strangers when we were younger, but if some old biddy had tried to offer us an apple and not sweets we would have set her straight fairly pronto, given her, her marching orders and told her to do better next time. No point in bothering us unless you have a bag of fizzle sticks, some  fruit salads and black jacks and maybe a Big Time Bar.

There was a brief period where I found Rapunzel relatable as I had long hair down to my bum, and when banished to my bed every night before every other child on the road, I imagined that I would let out my hair and smuggle friends up into the room or better again use my own tresses as an escape route. Given the amount of pain I endured having the hair brushed and plaited very morning, I kind of knew this wasn’t a runner.  It did seem though that all the best games seemed to occur after my bedtime. Oh the shame to have children younger than you still out playing on the road having a whale of a time, with the sun still shining.

The fairytale of Snow -White ( absolutely no relation to your wan who poisoned herself on the aforementioned apple…not even distant cousins twice removed) and Red Rose , did appeal to me .This story of two sisters living in the woods who aided and befriended a talking bear was relatable, in so far as I had a sister close in age.  His killing of the mean old dwarf was just an incidental to me, as was the required marrying off of the two sisters to the bear who was really, wait for it…… a prince and his equally handsome brother. I was just delighted that they could appreciate a talking bear unlike that ridiculous girl who never realised her luck when a talking frog returned her ball.

And so the years passed. I got to an age (about 13 – Inter Cert year) where yes the idea of a villainous prince or even an handsome pauper( with a bit of get up and go) seemed quite a nice idea. More years passed and I read and studied and realised that the sanitisation of the old fairytales and myths and fables was a load of codswallop with a definite cultural and societal agenda that was not remotely pro girls or women. There may even have been vows spoken over copious amounts of alcohol that no child of mine would have their independent, brave and self sufficiency  aspirations insidiously watered down by misogynistic and patriarchal horse tripe.

Even more years passed too bloody quickly and there I was in my own little kingdom of motherhood. Like most neighbouring kingdoms at the time there were sometimes great wars fought but sometimes I, as the benign & wise queen occasionally managed to reign over at least ten minutes of peace & harmony. The adoption of the evil queen persona sometimes granted me 20 minutes. My rule was often in danger of being overthrown, evil forces in the shape of  terrible twos,  obstinate sixes and  fussy eights, threatened the very heart of my little kingdom. But it survived even when a plague of prolonged sibling rivalry threatened the benign queen’s sanity. I bought my children dress up princess costumes, knights costumes, cowboy ones and pirate ones. I read every fairy tale going, sanitised or not and stories from my own favourite book as a child ” Tales the Wind Told”. I discovered for the first time what has since become one of my favourite books ever Roald Dahls’ “Revolting Rhymes.” which if you have never read is worth a library trip for.

cinderella blog meme 6.

My journey through the first ten years of motherhood had me relating to those fairy tale characters somewhat more than I could have anticipated. I could identify with Snow White and actually now believe that she took a bite of that dratted apple just to get some uninterrupted sleep, so tired was she from cleaning up after the seven dwarves who hi hoed it in and out of the house everyday without so much as a by your leave. How I longed for a modern day equivalent of the magic porridge pot..one that didn’t cook porridge but maybe just something the children would eat that was vaguely nutritional..ok.ok..I didn’t care what the nutritional content was once it was ate and could be produced with no thought or effort from me. Not once but often did I feel like the little red hen  and as my waistline testifies, ” I too did eat it all all by myself ” in  that lovely late o ‘clock silence. My house was inhabited  by what seemed like a flock of Goldilocks for too many years to count. “Too hot, too cold, too lumpy, too white, too green,  too big, too small,too ticklish, too bright, too dark, too rough”; You name it from food to the fabrics on their bodies, there were days when I couldn’t do right for doing wrong. Every venture forth from our kingdom was like travelling in a scene from Shrek with more than one ‘donkey’ catcalling “Are we there Yet ?”  We bought the biggest one a t-shirt!!

The ground hog day of housework..well enough said below.

cinderella blog meme.

 

More years passed, I could now leave the house without having to do a Houdini act. I didn’t have to pump and dump if I had a few beverages. I had a reasonable chance of being allowed to poo in peace..not guaranteed though.  Uninterrupted telephone contact with the outside world was  and is still off limits though. There were signs that a social life with other grown up people might be becoming available again. Nights out, eating & drinking, chatting, getting dressed up and dancing as badly as ever. Even the odd dancing on the table moment. Happy days indeed and then she struck  with a vengeance, my inner Cinderella! I did try do battle but failed. No need for a fairy godmothers’ warning or anything. By 12.00 midnight  (shoes would be long off and if they were an inch off the ground I was doing well.) if I wasn’t at least on a promise to be homeward bound  I would find myself turning in a tired squiffy and somewhat irate pumpkin just longing for my bed. Motherhood, migraines and middle age had done their job. My Dancing Queen  had  being officially downgraded to a Sleeping Beauty and no amount of magic potions, alcoholic or otherwise were going to deter me from my pursuit of true happiness….at least eight hours sleep in my own bed and a pair of Birkenstocks!!

 

cinderella blog meme 8

 

 

 

 

There is no easy Passage.

I have written quite a bit over the past few months in my favourite cream  and now somewhat stained A4 hard back pad with its’ built in black elastic band to keep it closed. This simple band elevates it from being just a hardback to a folder of sorts and raises its status amongst my writing materials. I am choosy about what pens to use when writing in it.  I  write at all hours but predominantly late at night or the early hours of the morning when sleep eludes me and grief seems to reside in my very bones and invade my body at a cellular level.

That was one of things that took me by surprise. How physical grief is and its impact on my body. There were times when the very act of breathing itself took conscious thought and real effort. My involuntary halting of breathing and the sharp inhalation of breath that just preceded it scared the shit out of my children especially as it seemed to happen most frequently when driving. They don’t have much confidence in my driving abilities at the best of times.  I am more quick to  notice myself doing it now and can engineer a breath just to reassure those seatbelted in the middle row, that all is ok.

When I was not much younger than the youngest child in my car, my big brother John used to manage to convince me that over a process of time, I would eventually catch up with him, age wise. I celebrated my birthday 2 weeks and four days earlier than him in October so for that short window of time he was 9 years rather than 10 years older than me. I was never strong on mathematical detail preferring a broad swoop approach to many facets of my life rather than any form of minutiae… A big picture person!  Thus years were easier to calculate rather than months and weeks.

Given that he was the big brother who with very little effort convinced me that my sister’s anti-nail biting polish was in fact a new liquid sweet which would turn into whatever flavour you wanted it to be, once vigorously  sucked from your finger nails and you get the idea of how in his thrall and how gullible I was and how persuasive he was. Gawd that stuff was as vile as he was lovely, truly lovely and his teasings never crossed the line into torment. There was only once when I was 17 that he was very temporarily removed from the pedestal that I had created for him with love, to inhabit in my life. He had dared to give me some unsolicited advice about my university course choices writing to me to suggest that a transfer to DCU or NIHE as it was then might be better for my career prospects than continuing with an Arts degree in UCC. A snotty letter back ensued.

I  find myself not yet ready  to fully delve into what is now my finite store of memories of John, let alone talk or write about them or publically share them. To publicly do that stroll down memory lane suggests an acceptance of his absence that I am so far from willing or able to acquire.  I can’t stroll anywhere on that lane. I only manage short sprint like bursts.  I would have no difficulty in writing tribute after tribute for him and part of me wants to tell the world what they have missed;  the sheer magnitude of  who we are missing.  John is not only mine and there are many of us travelling this road, feeling the absence of him every day and trying to navigate our way through a mire of pain and sadness. We do it at our own variable pace and the only way we can and there are days when the weight of our grief and the loss of his presence nearly crushes us.

By the time I celebrate my 50th birthday in October, I will have nigh on 5 months catch up on John. He will never get any older than his 59 years, six months and 12 days that he was on the day he died.  If I live for another decade I will be older than him or will I ? I still haven’t quite figured that one out. I think I’ve just about settled on the idea that I will have lived longer than him. I think my need to have him as my “big” brother far outweighs any philosophical considerations.

Somewhere in my mad world of grief ,heartbreak and sleepless nights between pacing around a moonlit garden or frantically scribbling in my book my brain would latch onto, fixate on numerous small mathematical problems all do to with John’s life.  It was as if  my ability to compartmentalise his life years into various ratios , percentages and fractions would somehow give me an insight into how & why he died; make some sense of his absence.  The big picture had become too big for me to contemplate. This patently is not the case but grief gave me a longing, a vehement interest in and an ability to focus and  cope with detail, that I would not have believed possible. Indeed. I struggled to maintain any focus on normal daily activities and would find myself lost in transit wandering about within my own four walls. That focus was and still is a coping mechanism as is my writing. By focusing on the minute detail and on the word, I am briefly deflected from my big yawning vast abyss of feelings. I find I can write about my grief.

Those writings, words that just mauraded their way onto the page  are full of anger, rage impotence, desperation, heartbreak, regret, longing & sorrow so deep I can’t believe it will ever be truly excavated. I don’t know if all or any of those words will ever see the light of day but some might and they are definitely among the most authentic of any words of mine to land on a page.

My writing has become more fearless & fierce.  I rightly have a loss less fucks to give about a lot of things since John died and then there are plenty days when I have to struggle really hard to give a fuck about the things that I should.

I thought that I’d do this grief thing properly, the perfectionist in me insisted on it and my addled head went along in the vague hope that if I knew what to do, it would make it easier to do it and  thus reduce my quotient of pain & heartbreak or at least speed up this long & lonely road.  I owed it to my brother to do it right. I needed to feel like I was in control of something.   I’m not and I never will be, I have accepted that, along with the fact that these days and even this day, will eventually with time become the waymarks of my grief.

My quest for perfect grief especially in July  was dominated by forensic trawling of Google. Given the varied hours of usage  and the topics searches from physics to grief, my internet searches would have foiled many an attempt to guess my occupation.  By the end of July I stopped my obsessive google searching.   Although some of the info I came across was useful, some of it was complete shite. Really; spare the bereaved from sanctimonious false positivity.  The truth is, I realised that grief wasn’t the problem; it was death.

No matter how well I manage or don’t manage, how long this acute grieving lasts, my brother is not coming back from the dead.  He is not going to get to do all the things he wanted, he is going to miss out on so many wonderful days, days of ordinariness, days of love and life, smiles and tears with those he loves. So I gave myself permission to just go with it but I committed to getting up every morning. I have tried to embrace Niamh Fitzpatrick’s concept of the next useful thought, which she highlighted in a  2017 Zeminar talk.    https://youtu.be/43VpPIFZPgE

I don’t believe that you get over the death of a loved one, I don’t believe it gets “easier” or “smaller” but I  have to hope and  believe you can learn to incorporate the absence into your new unwanted reality one day at a time.  Some days are harder than others.

Below is one of the most useful  items that I saw..it gives me some hope.

Reeling in the years , the days and the decades.

As I enter into the last five to six months of my forties and they have been fantastic in the main, I realise that I’m now old enough to section my life into decades. How the hell this has come to pass so quickly is somewhat beyond me. There is a saying that I used to utter like a mantra to myself when drowning in domesticity and in what sometimes seemed to be the interminable groundhog days of child rearing,  because to be honest not all of it was magical milestones, cuddles and  cuteness.  A zen like approach to motherhood more often than not eluded me.

“The days are long but the years are short” and I’m extending that to include “and the decades are a blur!” 

For the record and posterity here’s my decades in salient bullet points. I find it hard to be brief.

  1.  Age 0-10; The Cork Road, family, Long hot summers never rained in the school           holidays…ever!
  2.  Age 10-20; The decade of  Top of the Pops; libraries; drainpipes, boys, college, family, alcohol & lifelong friendships.
  3.  Age 20-30; Also fondly known as The wilderness years. London, money , work, more boys maybe men, travel, lifelong friendships , LOVE & Motherhood.
  4.  Age 30-40;  Family, Birthing, Babies ,Toddlers, Breasts, Building  a Home.        Boredom,Baby Brain, Exhaustion, Multi-Tasking,  Beach Days, Nights out, Homework,  More life long friendships’,  friendship & love.
  5.  Age 40-49;  Family, Tots and Teenagers, ME, more ME, exercise, mud runs,               deadlifts, my brain, setting up own my  philanthropic taxi service,  state examinations, LOVE, home and  the effective use of the word NO and  the joy of YES.

As a zen like approach to life has eluded me to date, it would be fairly ludicrous to expect me to develop this skill as I enter what I hope will be my fabulous fifties. (Sorry excuse me as I snort the end of day cup of tea up my nose in yet more astounded disbelief and denial.) Given the rate which I believe my hormones are departing my body( like rats deserting a sinking ship) and the difficulties that being perimenopausal presents in my day to day life I fear the only zen entering my life will be a reread of Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”  which was a mainstay of decade three’s reading material.

zen-and-the-art blog post

Steve McQueen in The Great Escape

 Actually whilst on the subject of hormones let me first get  something off my chest about the perimenopause. Let me give fair warning of a strong possibility of a rant.

The perimenopause is viewed/dismissed by the medical profession somewhat similarly to first stage of  labour in childbirth. If you have ever been told that it’s not  “real labour” in spite of the fact that you are doubled in pain with regular contractions for hours; as your cervix refuses to cooperate and wants to make a fool of you by deciding not to dilate to any acceptable measurement. You’ve wanted to hit the smug, unempathetic health professional who delivers this news to you as they fail to acknowledge that the pain is really real. Then you will understand how I feel when discussing my,  lets just call them peri-m symptoms, the poor ignored relation to THE ACTUAL MENOPAUSE!

Let it not matter, that my skin(which I have always loved if neglected) has decided to attack itself resulting in patches of eczema that multiply weekly.

Let it not matter that I feel that my brain capacity is returning to baby brain days.

Let it not matter that I only have to be within a 100 metre radius of any food substance and with or without eating it, my body will absorb it and convert it into fat which is then free to take up residence anywhere in my body.

Let it not matter that my current metabolic rate make sloths look guilty of being on steroids.

Let it not matter that whilst now being old enough for wrinkles, my duplicitous hormones want to keep me just young enough for spots, menstrual bleeds and monthly migraines.

Let it not matter  that whilst the hair on my head is thinning (and as the hairdresser who had mighty observational skills pointed out) is losing all colour pigmentation, it would appear that all of  my body hair has decided to migrate to my chin.

Let it not matter that my mood swings make an irate adolescent look positively docile and as for sleep ha bloody ha.

Let it not matter that I spent months believing  that I had a super efficient immune system that was fighting these series of rather sporadic night time viruses. These nocturnal viruses were causing temperature spikes. The temperature spikes obviously killed said random viruses, as by morning I was fine. Sadly, this was not the case welcome to the world of  perimenopausal night sweats.

Let it not matter that my sex drive..well look where it came in on the rankings enough said.

Well, with the perimenopause because you still have some erratic production of oestrogen and progesterone  in your body and you still have your periods although they are about as reliable as the promise of high speed rural broadband..it’s not the real deal so fucking forget about drawing medical attention to any of the aforementioned symptoms.

Now yes, where was I. Oh yes the passage of time.

Well time has passed since I last worked on this, on a carefree day at the end of April and has made the first ending that had loosely formed in my foggy brain redundant. Instead of my everyday bucket list for my 50’s that I had mentally started to compile, and my thoughts on embracing the offerings of each new decade, life threw us one of the biggest, hard hitting blows that it can.  Death.

It is too early to write about the death of my much loved big brother John who died tragically whilst hiking in the Vosges Mountains on May 12th 2018.

Each breath and the passage of time, a month, as I type seems to bring me further away from him. My grief is too raw, too engulfing and visceral and our loss is too great to blog about.  I have no beginnings or soundings of the words that would suffice. There is no bargaining to be done with sudden death or any death for that matter, no squaring of this circle and  no going back to the evening when all the keyboard demanded was a gentle and rueful reflection who how fast life is. So for today, it’s just for today.  But just so you know, grief is no respecter of hormones either.

P1020838

John Quinn Mountain Rescue Fund.

Jack

There have been a few men who captured my heart during the course of my life. Some held to it for longer than others and some who were only ever meant to be brief custodians, very brief when I come to think of it; “The Mean Fiddler”  had a lot to answer for back in the day. Then there are the ones who will forever have a claim on it and there were the ones who never even realised that my heart was there for the taking. I went through a phase of doing serial not quite unrequited romantic love, whilst allowing myself the odd night of distraction in the aforementioned Mean Fiddler.  I’m pretty sure that I never broke someone else’s heart well at least not romantically.

It was way back, in and around the summer of 1975/76 , when my heart was won for the first time by someone who was not my Dad or my big brother. It would have been August, as that was when ‘The Quinns  ( my family on my dad’s side) came home from London which usually coincided with my Dad’s two weeks holidays. These two weeks were filled with trips to Tramore, fishing, trips to the Guillamenes,  traipsing up and around the Comeraghs and of course a visit to The Gullet, where I now live.

Uncle Jack blog
The Gullet- back in the day. Blessed is Jack among women.

Back in the 1970’s there were still archways connecting all the streets of the Cork Road. We lived four doors down from our archway or the arches as they were called.

Through that archway, past the small green and  a short walk you arrived at the local shop Revells. Outside Revells stood the public phone box. I’m old enough to remember the black phones. Rumour had it if you were light of touch you could tap out the number and get connected for free. Nobody I knew had a phone in their house back then,they arrived in the 80’s. Our phone box exploits are for another day, there were serious rules of engagement around that precious commodity and if those arches could talk, well what a few tales they’d tell. Shakespeare could have set some of his sonnets in them.

Revells was your quintessential corner shop, it sold a bit of everything but was more a sweet shop and newsagent as the L&N, (which became the VG,) was the local grocery shop  further along Hennessy’s road.

The phone box outside Revells..photo from The Cork Road and surroundings.

Revell’s was my mecca. I could buy fizzle sticks, 4p sherberts, Ha’penny jellies, fruit salads, black jacks, big time bars and peggy’s legs. Not all in the one go mind you, I can remember having 5p to spend on my Sunday sweets and God it would take me an age to make my mind up. I remember once being so caught up in accounting for my money and working out the different combinations that I could afford that I asked how much were the penny jellies

Anyway, on this particular sunny day Uncle Jack, who was home on holidays with  his wife who was my Godmother,( my dad’s sister Eileen) brought myself and my sister up through the arches and to Revells shop. He then instructed us to buy a bar of chocolate, any bar each, it could even be Cadburys. It was akin to having a second birthday.

A present day lotto winner could not have been happier. I mean a whole bar to ourselves. We probably took as long as a present day lotto winner would, deciding how to invest their winnings, on deciding our purchase. I don’t ever remember Jack getting impatient with us. I like to think that it was delight in our uncontained joy and not desperation at our indecisiveness and the desire  to get out of the shop with some of his holidays left that made him up the ante by insisting on the purchase of two whole bars each. I recall I went for a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and a Crunchie, the latter being the epitome of decadence for me. It was on a par with Flake in term of unsubstantial chocolate bars. Even at a young age I appreciated value for money. So with my little sweaty hand in his and a gob full of chocolate, no delayed gratification for me, I looked up and decades of hero worship began.

My Uncle Jack was a hard working man who I also remember as being very dapper and smelling of aftershave. I didn’t at the time know much about mens’ toiletries except for Soap on a Rope which we bought as a Christmas present for my Dad & Old Spice. Jack had a more sophisticated and less common smell to my untrained nose. He was widowed when I was about 10 years old and it is true to say that My Auntie Eileen was the love of his life.

Jack’s love of love, his sense of romance is one of the things I adored about him. He continued to be regular visitor  over the years to the our home in the Cork Road. When my own Dad died back in 1988, I was lucky to have an uncle like Jack in my life. My Mam was lucky to have a brother in law like Jack and more importantly a friend and a touchstone to the life before and a welcome fixture in that time’s,  sometimes lonely present. Lives intertwined by friendship more than family bonds.

So for all my life there in the background was Jack. My first clear memory of Jack  though is those chocolate bars..shallow, cupboard  love indeed.  In the 1990’s we used to meet in a pub in Victoria in London where Jack gave me my first taste of bitter as the Guinness was shite. I never acquired a taste for it though. Having being both father and mother to his youngest daughter who was a young  teenager when Eileen died he was well versed in giving timely and prudent advice which I’m fairly sure I duly ignored . There was, even at the time, a solid  grounding sense of safety in the getting of it though and it was dispensed with kindness.

Jack became a returned emigree not long after I became an emigrant. I rarely came home during those years without organising a meet up. Revell’s shop was replaced by Jordans on the quay where we both supped creamy Guinness. I have no idea what we talked about except that it was easy conversation with no rush to get away. With linked arms we walked at least part of the way home together or at least to the taxi office, often singing a tune or two on the way. 

Jack and my Mam on my wedding day. 1998

Jack sang at my wedding reception, full of emotion and I loved his distinct way of carrying a song. Sing songs were such an important part of both our lives and we were both quite social beings. I hear echoes of his voice often, the echo of  the layers of his years in South London lacquering his native Waterford tongue. I have never heard anyone else sound like Uncle Jack. He had a tenor and timbre to his voice that to my ear was uniquely his.

There is a sad irony that when I too returned home I saw less of Jack. We’d bump into each other occasionally up the town.  Outside ‘The Food Hall’ in Michael Street appeared to  be a favorite haunt for us both. Jack on his way from mass and me buying sausage rolls to keep myself and some child happy. 

There was the occasional visit to his pristine residence and Lord knows he put my  best housekeeping efforts to shame. I like to think that he understood that I was cocooned in a bubble of love, baby making and childrearing in those years. We kept track of each other though, through my Mam and my cousins. Over the years  Jack’s forays into town became less frequent and his home and his castle became his world.

On the 29th January this year, Jack died.  We and the world said goodbye to one of the nicest  gentleman I ever knew.  He is like a back stitch woven into the fabric of my childhood memories and my life. Even if he had only bought me a fizzle stick, the truth is I would have loved him anyway.

Rest Easy Jack.

1983 Jack and I in 102.

The Sounds of Silence….

Disturbed_-_The_Sound_of_Silence

And in the naked light I saw Ten thousand people, maybe more. People talking without speaking. People hearing without listening People writing songs that voices never share And no one dared,Disturb the sound of silence

 

I started this blog entry early last summer. I thought I’d have a bit more time to ease into the blogging malarkey before I had to deal with anything remotely serious. I thought I’d have more time before my mental musings were exercised by anything more demanding than odd socks, turbulent teenage years and my increasingly frequent menopausal moments. It was not to be. 2017 seemed to be a year when many wrongdoings of the past, (some of which were seismic events in my teenage years)were brought out into the light of 21st century Ireland for exposure. Many times I’ve revisited this piece and nearly pressed publish but I have felt that this wasn’t the completed article and I was never fully happy with it and I don’t think I will ever be..there is just too much toxic crap in our cultural landscape to do justice to in a blog. Recently, it was the appalling treatment of Joanna Hayes 34 years ago by the various institutions of the state that got many many column inches. I have no great hope that 2018 will not bring  further moments of  national despondency as we gear up for a referendum on the 8th Amendment so here’s the blog.

For the past while, I’ve had Simon & Garfunkel’s 1960’s hit ” Sounds of Silence” whirring around inside of me. Not in a good way either. The sounds of silence are quite horrifying really.  I am frequently shocked, saddened, angered and disbelieving about the state of this small island that we live in.  As comforting as it might be to try convince ourselves that all these wrongdoings can be confined to the annals of our history, I fear not.  But let us revisit and remember the often silent & suppressed grief of nearly 800 mothers whose babies died from 1925 to 1960 whilst in the care of the Bon Secours nuns in Tuam in Co.Galway. A grief replicated in too many Mother & Baby Homes throughout the country.  The protection and or sidelining of the silent partners, the fathers who ejaculated their semen into fertile women. The not so silent shaming of those who dared to have sex outside marriage by those who didn’t or those who were more fortunate in  the trajectory of said sperm. Women who would be forced by the shame felt by their families into being not seen and not heard and forced to live a life with their babies never acknowledged.

It is the 34th year anniversary of the death of Ann Lovett  and her newborn baby boy, who died in childbirth at a grotto in Granard. A girl aged 15  when she died alone, born the same year as me, whose death cast the the first ripples that cracked the wall of  silence surrounding the shame of unplanned pregnancies that had gripped the families of Ireland for generations.

The sounds of maintaining a cover of  silence over the abuse suffered by a child called Grace because the HSE appropriated her voice. The same disingenuous  and more recent attempt to silence Sarah who suffered horrendous abuse in the same foster home as Grace.  The HSE maintained the pretense of protection , refused to bear witness and then refused to take action when others broke the silence , bore witness and spoke out. The sound of the silent protection of an organisation’s reputation being put before its  duty of care.

It is the long years of establishment silence that awaited the  whistle blowers, that fills me with a gut wrenching anger. Be it Catherine Corless, a local historian who became a whistle blower about a septic tank used as a burial ground for some of those uncared for Tuam babies. Be it Sergeant Maurice McCabe who was shown the lengths that the top echelons of  An Garda Síochana would go to, to punish and bring into disrepute anyone who threatened that organisations code of silence. Be it the social worker involved with Grace, who made a protected disclosure but found the the resulting silence so deafening that a circuitous route via vis the Dail’s Public Accounts committee was only avenue in which she could make some noise. Our countries wish to keep whisperings of evil wrong doings as whisperings in the hope that they might fade away fills me with an abject despair and a fear that we will never learn.

And so with this in my head  I wonder what do I do? What can I do? And if for the moment it is only starting conversations, really voicing my opinions that is what I will do. So this week  I’ve spoken with my eldest three children aging from 14 upwards and my 89 year old mother on why I am in favour of Repeal the 8th. I’ve remembered , Ann Lovett, Savita Halappanavar and a girl  from Co. Clare  who I visited back in Bessborough when I was a 17 year old student in UCC back in 1986.  I’ve spoken how I believe that my personal views , my own value system and my own  choices in my life are just that, they are mine and for me are entirely irrelevant  in determining how I will vote in the forthcoming Repeal the 8th referendum. I have no right to dictate anybody else’s views. I will not ever live their life as they can’t live mine. I  am firmly  and unequivocally pro choice.

I’ve spoken about how I believe  “Direct Provision” and our state’s treatment and our treatment of and attitude towards Asylum Seekers & Refugees is going to be viewed as our generations Magdalene Laundries. My belief that it is a irrefutable fact that we (we being us the Irish people and not just the politicians,) are only pay lip service to the most vulnerable members of our society has been voiced.

The fact that just because there is a prevailing attitude  in any given cultural context at any given moment in time,  is never an excuse for wrongdoing, or doing nothing , we have to keep telling each other this. We have to keep challenging, asking and attempting to stay informed. We cannot rely on one source of information or quick sound bites or indeed the traditional media to shape our views. We are capable of critical thought. In this digital age of information we can no longer pretend that we do not know and in this modern era we can stop blaming the church and the political institutions. It is past time to stop standing silently by.

It is too easy to be silent, it is too easy to share opinions with just like minded people. It’s too easy not to be arsed to have the debates, the discussions and the conversations. I’m going to keep disturbing the sound of silence.

 

 

 

 

Bah Humbug and some more mince pies and a wonderful Nollaig na mBan

 

blogmeme.12

and for the last 16 years never Christmas day.

This blogger and  nearly everyone she knows has succumbed to the flu or a flu like virus that’s not the real thing.  It’s just a wannabe flu virus causing sore throats, ear infections and a dry cough, that makes up for its’ lack of abject virulence by its’ tenacity to linger around in the body for weeks. So the festive season now seems like nearly a month ago. It has come and gone and yet another night of very poor sleep was endured waiting for the big man in red to make his special delivery. This year it was the turn of Number 3 son and Small to awake at approximately 1.30am, to find that for once Santa had not fallen into a vat of iced baileys and had indeed made good time as their stockings were full and awaiting them on the stairs. The sitting room downstairs was locked as it has been since the year that No 1 son nearly drove Santa insane. There are only so many flyovers that Santa can make and that year No 1 son refused all notions of sleep. He was up and down the stairs with such alacrity & frequency that poor Santa  nearly choked on his mince pie as he tried to scramble back up the chimney. Santa  indeed suggested( actually insisted) that from that year on, the front room where the fireplace resides be locked by us parents and remain locked until we could no longer resist the calls to get up on Christmas morning.

This year we settled on 7.30am being an acceptable time and at 7.31am we were duly awoken by all five children hurtling through our bedroom door singing some form of Christmas tune. You may be thinking that’s very civilised but Small and No 3 son did not manage to go back to sleep from 1.30am until then and passed the night as quietly as as herd of elephants playing a highly competitive and closely contested game of beer pong with a neighbouring herd of buffalo.

Each year, I think I have this Christmas lark down to a tee. I’ve had years of practice at this stage and each year I make the same rookie mistakes. Each year I think I can do prudent purchasing of gifts. Ha! If I shop too early I forget what has been bought and end up doubling up on pressies. If I leave it too late I panic buy. End result, either way the credit card is on fire. Likewise with the letters to Santa, written too early and there is a real danger of change of mind slips, written too late and those  pesky elves invoke union rules on production quantities.

Each year I forget whose turn it is put up the tree top ornament. I say ornament as each year I forget whether it’s the star or angel’s turn to be top dawg so this debate happens in tandem.  Each year our tree looks like, as my husband elegantly describes; “as if a flock of magpies have dropped their shit on it on their way home after a drunken night out “. This year I was rather zen like and didn’t feel the need to rearrange our rather diverse and eclectic tree ornaments, I even added tinsel.

Each year, I forget that there is something about Christmas that makes me feel compelled to clean the house, to an entirely unrealistic high standard.  However, as I passed yet another one of the pre Christmas mince pies to some child or other and saw the resulting flaky mess, I lay down and knew that this cleaning compulsion would pass too.

Each year I forget to save the equivalent of a small mortgage as it wouldn’t be Christmas in our household if there wasn’t some car trouble. You know the way for some people Christmas doesn’t start until the tree is up, or loved ones return home from far flung places like Tubbercurry or Bandon. Well for us, it  doesn’t officially start until car trouble descends. This year it was the last day of school when my car decided it was actually a diesel car and would no longer tolerate the indignity of being made to run on the sixty four euro & fifty cents worth of unleaded petrol I had filled her up with the previous week. Ouch and bearing in mind my unchosen and unfollowed  career in politics, I have no memory of going anywhere near a green nozzle.

Each year, I forget that offering any kind of choice on the menu for Christmas day will just lead to all out family war. By the years end, my ability to diffuse war scenarios like a UN peacekeeper is flagging somewhat. Somebody’s goose was in danger of being stuffed.

This year, I was very grateful to get through the three main days of the festive season without any dreadful winter lurgies. They waited until the dying days of 2017 to pay us a visit and as I write have well overstayed their welcome into the first weeks of 2018. It was really only myself that succumbed, to an ear infection that made me nostalgic for my childhood and some variant of an flu like illness that gave me aches and pains and left me feeling like a car with the wrong bloody fuel in its tank. Hubby  & offspring stayed well but his car not be outdone by mine gave up the ghost on New Years Eve and kept my car company on the driveway. This year that is where I valiantly tried parking my various anxieties over mechanic’s bills, food choices, family squabbles and too little sleep.

For the most part I succeeded, aided and abetted by my inherent love for Christmas in spite of how it stresses me.   There were the catch ups at my kitchen table, cocktails at lunch time on Christmas day and an impromptu family gathering on St. Stephen’s day with my Mam , sisters and niece, that was just special. Meet ups with good friends over early evening drinks in our local. Loads of great books as Christmas presents and  more presents, including one of my favourites, the most sophisticated scarf and glove set I have ever owned..think Audrey Hepburn..think pure class. I swear I find it hard to curse when I am donning them. Getting a bear hug from my big brother and the first hand run down on the lives of the other niece and nephews from my lovely sister in law. More tea brewed in my new tea pot. Table tennis on the kitchen table and roping children into playing board games. The joy of not getting dressed and eating leftovers.  Our Christmas tree which just looked lovelier with each passing day as it twinkled into its’ place in our lives, even without decoration it was beautiful tree. It still is, stripped as it is but still  in situ in the sitting room emitting promises of next Christmas through its’  piney scent and still green leaves. Christmas cards received but none sent due to a misplaced address book but New Year Cards will be sent instead. Expect them around Easter.

So out with the old new year with a 17th birthday celebration. Borrowed cars got us to an early 90th birthday celebration for my Mam, on the first day of 2018, missing a few key players in her life story but a happy occasion nonetheless. The days all drifting into one.

The wise men who we neglected to put away last year, as one had lost his head(we think he snuck off to the 12 pubs) were searching for a crib that never even got put up this year, but they did get repaired. The epiphany, the last day of the Christmas festivities, Nollaig na mBan, or Little Christmas saw me attend a badminton coaching course which was great and not just because it got me out of the house. Followed by a quick turn around, a bit of makeup and an early bird  meal with three mothers who I’ve known since No 1 son was a baby. We caught up on the exploits of our children, we caught up on the state of our physical  bodies and we caught up on how we were each doing. We compared notes, shared our hopes and enjoyed that ease of being….just being. We counted our blessings …and I for one decided that it’s time to give the two fingered salute to hormones or at the very least put milk thistle and flaxseed on the shopping list. Here’s to living each day of 2018.

nollaignambanmeme

Stepping it out for Nollaig na mBan