Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Farewell Tribute to my Beloved Mother

Last Friday, March 5th, the day I had been dreading my whole life came when my beloved mother passed away - after lingering on for two weeks from the first call from the hospital to say that she was slowly slipping, she finally and peacefully breathed her last, and I was glad to be there in her final hours. She was a great age, in her 90s, and she had lived through so much that I think anyone would be challenged to deal with all she had to cope with in her life. It was great that she lived to meet her great-granddaughter Sofia and this photo, taken the previous Saturday, is one we will always treasure as the whole family surround her for what we knew in our hearts would be a final farewell from our children and Sofia.

I won't go into minutiae here but in a nutshell, she was born during Ireland's colonial era, in the year before the Easter Rising, and she was a child during the struggle for Independence and the Civil War years. Her parents came from Tipperary and Kerry, and my grandfather was a master tailor who had a business in Lismore, to where he moved in 1909. They knew tragedy as they lost their firstborn child, Jack, before his second birthday, a few months before my mother was born. They later had another child, Paddy, who died in 1984 in his late 60s, much too young. My mother was so lucky to live into her 90s and as she was well and active up to her late 80s we have few regrets. She had dementia in the last few years and barely knew me or the family in the past year or more, which made for a long goodbye, and it is difficult now to recall when she started forgetting who we were, it was so gradual a decline.

She married relatively late in life, and was widowed only four years later, when I was nearly three. She was then pregnant and my baby sister also died at a few weeks of age, which was a double whammy for her. She'd lived in Dublin when married, but moved back to her family home here in Lismore to take care of her widowed mother until her death some years later. So there was only Ma and me for most of my life, which made us extra close. Of course in my teenage years that level of closeness was claustrophobic in that she kept far too close an eye on me, keeping my wings clipped beyond what I felt was justifiable - as a mother of a teenager now I can totally empathise!

She was extremely unselfish without being a guilt-tripping martyr, as she gave me her blessing in most of my wayward ventures over the years. It can't have been easy for her to see me leave home at 17 for nursing school in Dublin, and even harder to see me leave for Bangladesh five years later. Communications weren't what they are now, with email and blogging and Facebook, so we probably had three or four phone calls home in that two year period, each of which entailed pre-booking the calls a couple of days in advance. On the plus side, we have a wonderful archive of letters as she kept every one of my letters, as I did hers, which give a great narrative of both our lives as she was a wonderful letter-writer. I owe her for any skill I have in that line, even though I rarely write letters nowadays, having diversified into email and blogging, with the odd bit of memoir writing along the way.

I returned to Ireland with a Dutchman in tow, and she welcomed her future son-in-law as the son she never had, despite the misgivings she must have had before meeting him. They remained close right to the end, a period spanning almost three decades. Jan wrote a beautiful eulogy which he read after her funeral Mass and which moved the congregation to tears and laughter in equal measure. He's agreed for me to post it as a permanent memento to Ma, and I hope it conveys what he intended it to be - a fitting tribute to a great lady. I will post it in a separate post as it deserves its own space.

Her four grandchildren and her brand-new great-granddaughter Sofia are her legacy and I know our children loved her as she was an indulgent and loving granny who wasn't beyond telling me how best to raise them. She must have had lonely days as most of our lives were spent overseas in development work, yet she had a generous and kind heart and was very proud of our work for the less well-off. We came home every year from Africa for a month or more, so she could see her grandchildren growing up, and she was delighted when we moved to Ireland for good in 1997. She spent a lot of time with us between Lismore and Dublin where she went back to live in 1978 when I went to Bangladesh, as she loved the buzz of life in the city. She lived there until 2002 when she moved back to assisted living in Lismore and gradually as she got more frail she moved into increasingly dependent care, and ended her days in St. Joseph's Hospital in Dungarvan, where she had excellent loving care right to the end from the wonderful nursing and care staff, all of whom I am proud to call colleagues.

"May Quinn was a lady" - that's what I kept hearing over the days of the funeral - in the typical Irish tradition it took place over three days. It was a traditional Catholic funeral for a woman to whom her faith and religion meant everything over her lifetime, and she would have been delighted to see all the old-timers who came to pay their respects. Not that there were too many of them as she had outlived most of her peer group, and we often laughed about that together in her good days. She was a very stylish lady indeed - she loved her style in clothes and make-up, and often despaired at my total lack of interest in clothes and style as she saw it; jeans were anathema to her and she always wanted to give me a makeover, about which we had many a laugh. She was struck with the odd pangs of Catholic guilt for what she said was her vanity, but thankfully it never lasted too long!

For those who aren't familiar with the Irish funeral ritual - she was brought to the funeral home where Rosary was said the first night, and then the Removal to the church took place on the second night, when people came to pay their respects to us all. She remained before the altar until the Requiem Mass on the third morning, after which she was buried in the local cemetery with her beloved parents, on a beautifully sunny, cold and cloudless spring day . When I sit in our sunroom or on the patio I can see the yew trees of the graveyard behind our house, separated by a field from the end of our garden.

So while it is a sad time for me and all the family - it's been cathartic to write this as I am at home on a week's bereavement leave from work - and I hope she is looking down from her heaven on all her family and loved ones, and continuing to give me her blessing for these few words in her honour. I am proud to be her daughter and to have known such a wonderful mother, and I know the rest of the family will miss her as I do and we will long treasure the wonderful memories she left us.

Thank you Ma - we love you and will miss you always.


Linda said...

Thanks for sharing, I am sorry for your loss. I hope you enjoy a few nice cups of tea, and have some quiet days this week.

Rudee said...

My condolences to you and your family, Catherine. I'm keeping you in my thoughts and prayers.

Therese Brady said...

Catherine, I'm so very sorry for your loss. I've only come across your blog in the last week or so (thanks to the blog awards nominations) but I wanted to extend my condolences nonetheless. I lost my Dad when I was only 13 (now 28) and I think no matter the age or the circumstances it's always hard. Time makes it easier but we never forget our loved good to yourself over the next while. Best Wishes, Therese :-)

Peggy said...

Catherine my deepest sympathy goes out to you and your extended family on the loss of your mother and a great lady from reading the above post.
God Bless

Peggy said...

Catherine my deepest sympathy to you and your extended family on the loss of your Mom and a great lady from reading the above post.
God Bless

FoodFunFarmLife said...

I am so very sorry to hear about the loss of your mother - what an incredible lady she was. Thinking of you & your loved ones during this difficult time xx

Ann said...

Beautiful tribute, Catherine. I am sure you are right and she is looking down on you proudly. My thoughts and prayers are with you at this difficult time as you work your way through the grief and loss of a much loved mother. A xx

Stephanie V said...

How hard this time must be for you and your family. Your words speak with such love of your mother. How wonderful that she met Sofia and that you were able to capture a last family gathering. These photos become so important.
I am very sorry for this loss in your life.

Irene said...

My condolences with your mother's death, Catherine. You always will miss your mother at no matter what age you lose her Be glad she was such a special lady that you could love so easily. You were very lucky to have such a mom. I hope you can imagine her to be in a wonderful place now.

Anonymous said...

Pole sana sana, Catherine. Our pole to the whole family. I will be thinking of you this week. You had a great relationship with your ma, what a gift. Thank you for a beautifully written story of your mother, God Bless her.
Looking forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks time. Love and hugs, Tandy

Catherine said...

Thanks to every one for your kind comments and condolences. It is lovely to have such support from you all, and I am glad that the tribute was well received. Family and friends have been terrific all week and today it's a week since her passing, so I am glad that milestone is over as I was dreading it. Of course I miss her madly and the fact that she was long gone in her mind doesn't really matter as I miss her physical presence too. I appreciate the new visitors like Therese (thanks for visiting and good luck in the blog awards!) and also Tandy - (this is your first comment on my blog I think, and we are looking forward to seeing you here in a fortnight!)
To all the rest of you - many of you are regular commenters on my blogposts and I really welcome your comments and your good wishes at at time like this. And thanks to all that sent private email messages too.
Thanks again and look forward to visiting your blogs and getting back to more blogging in the near future.
Love Catherine

SusanC said...

I've only just read your post about your mother (my first visit to your blog). I'm sorry to hear of her passing. She was a strong woman from what you've said. It's great to have all those letters to take out and read every now and again and to pass onto your own children. I hope you've a good day tomorrow. :)

Lily said...

Catherine, what a beautiful tribute, well done. I'm sure your mother would have smiled proudly reading it.

Catherine said...

Susan C and Lily - thanks so much for your kind comments - welcome to my blog and I have looked at/followed yours if possible - it's been a strange week and today was my first day back at work, visiting the hospital where ma spent her last years and collecting her personal stuff, some of her trinkets which we will treasure. Yes the letters will be a great comfort and I will face them in a while. I hope Ma would have been proud of what we both wrote for her memory.
All the best, Catherine.

Betty O' Rourke. said...

Sorry to hear of the death of your mother catherine. She was such an elegant lady. Your tribute to her was beautiful. She will always be with you and your family wherever you are. My thoughts are with you all at this sad time.

Catherine said...

Thanks Betty - of course you would have remembered her in her heyday and yes she was always very elegant - so unlike me! We used to laugh at my lack of style interest! Glad you liked the tribute, it was certainly from the heart. I think your mother was in the Sacred Heart Unit some weeks ago - I'm nearly sure I saw her there. There are often Lismore people there for rehab.
I will email this to you as I don't know if you'll get it otherwise.
(Nice to see you on Facebook too - your son was one of my Facebook friends already, along with some of my lads - though one says he can't have his mother as a facebook friend - I'd be too busy stalking him!)

Mimi said...

Catherine, thanks for giving me the link to this.
It's a beautiful tribute to your beloved mother.
I can feel your grief (and my own too) as I read it. Mothers and children have a very special bond, carrying and being carried. Yours must be even more special as you were her only living child.
Your Ma sounds very like my Ma, especially as regards fashion! My Ma would come to Dublin for her check-up, and she and I would have a little spree down Grafton St. afterwards, either to celebrate the "good report" or console herself on the "bad report". She loved shoes, and I've inherited her love of clothes and shoes both.
I admire your mother's decision to move to Dublin when you went abroad, and totally agree with her "buzz of city life".She sounds a great character altogether.
You've done her proud, Catherine.

Catherine said...

Mimi, thanks for your kind comment on this post about my Ma, glad that you could identify with some of the traits she displayed. She was a great person and very strong character in many ways, it can't have been too easy to raise a kid as a lone parent in the 60s and 70s even with the respectability of widowhood. She lived on a pension of 10 shillings a week for a long time, and when she did B&B for a summer when there were many visitors to Lismore during a scout world jamboree she got her pension cut as someone snitched on her to Social Welfare! Luckily she appealed through her Labour TD and had it re-instated, so she was pleased when we ended up in the Labour Party and Jan a Labour Town Councillor. There are many of these little anecdotes that come back to remind me of her.
I'm so sorry you lost your beloved mother too, I don't know when it was but I am sure you still miss her dreadfully - especially if she had a long illness from what you wrote above I think she may have. At least you do style like your mother better than I do!
Thanks again - these comments mean a lot to me.
All the best, Catherine