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Tag: grief

Blessed are they that mourn

Wednesday, 5 April, 2017 0 Comments

“She was a genius of sadness, immersing herself in it, separating its numerous strands, appreciating its subtle nuances. She was a prism through which sadness could be divided into its infinite spectrum.” — Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated

Mourners


The Unmothered

Sunday, 8 May, 2016 0 Comments

Given that our blog is called Rainy Day, we’re adding malkosh to our vocabulary of raindrops and teardrops. Backgrounder:

“I always thought that literature’s draw lay in making me identify with people and situations that were as different from my lived experience as possible. But my mother’s death changed that. It made me seek out my own kind — the left-behind and the heartbroken. The unmothered.”

So writes Ruth Margalit in a New Yorker essay titled The Unmothered. To express the immense sense of loss she feels without her mother, Margalit calls ups the Hebrew word malkosh, which means “last rain,” and which can only be applied in retrospect:

“When it’s raining, you have no way of knowing that the falling drops would be the last ones of the year. But then time goes by, the clouds clear, and you realize that that rain shower was the one. Having a mother — being mothered — is similar, in a way. It’s a term that I only fully grasp now, with the thirst of hindsight: who she was, who I was for her, what she has equipped me with.

Like a last rain, my mother left behind an earthy scent that lingered long after she was gone. Like a last rain, for a fleeting moment, everything she touched seemed to glow.”

Rain and tears


The Sorrowful Mystery

Sunday, 6 March, 2016 3 Comments

Six months have come and gone since 6 September and the pain, the loss, the grief is undiminished. Everything changed when that great force of nature and nurture known as “Mother” left us. It’s been a sorrowful time.

Sorrowful are the Mysteries of the Rosary, one of my mother’s favourite prayer rituals. From the perspective of a young boy, the nightly incantation of the Rosary was a chore but there were moments when the boredom cracked and something intriguing broke through the beads. Strange words tumbled out between the ‘Glory Be’ and the ‘Hail Mary’ and so was born a love of language.

The Rosary Vocabulary

“To thee do we send up our sighs.”

In the beginning was alliteration: several sad sighs sent since

“Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.”

The geography of suffering was mapped out early. Young travellers would have to learn how to weep.

“So that by her fervent intercession we may be delivered from present evils.”

If there is going to be intercession, then let it be fervent. Who needs timidity when faced with present evils?

Eternal gratitude to you, Mother, for the love and the love of language.

Mammy praying on the road to Knock


The tropic of grief

Wednesday, 20 January, 2016 0 Comments

“Let me tell you something about her,” Julian Barnes wrote of his wife, the literary agent Pat Kavanagh, in the half-chapter of A History of the World in 10½ Chapters, published in 1989. In fact, Barnes told readers very little about her.

Pat Kavanagh died in in 2008, five weeks after being diagnosed with a brain tumour, and Julian Barnes needed five years before he could express his anguish in book form. Levels of Life is that book. Actually, it’s three essays and only in the final one does Barnes approach the great love that gave way to the great grief he endured and continues to endure. Distraught by how many memories of Pat he has lost, he lists what he remembers: the last clothes she bought, the last wine she drank, the last book she read. But he doesn’t reveal what they were.

Rightly, Barnes is contemptuous of the euphemism “passed” and he quotes E. M. Forster: “One death may explain itself, but it throws no light upon another.” The condolences offered to the grieving are enumerated and rejected: suffering makes you stronger, things get easier after the first year, you will be reunited in the next life. There is no comfort in formulae, no compensation in phrases.

“This is what those who haven’t crossed the tropic of grief often fail to understand: the fact that someone is dead may mean that they are not alive, but doesn’t mean that they do not exist.” — Julian Barnes, Levels of Life

In Lisvernane


The fifth Station: Writing

Saturday, 28 November, 2015 0 Comments

This box is filled with some of the letters my mother wrote to me during the course of four decades. It’s one of many boxes because she wrote often. Three times a week sometimes, and as well as the letters there were cards: birthday cards, Christmas Cards, Easter cards, Saint Patrick’s Day cards, Mass cards, get-well cards, good-luck cards, postcards…

Long before blogging was invented, my mother was posting early and often. Everything that happened at home was noted and remembered and a lot of what was observed made it into her letters.

Mother's letters

“The sun is shining now, but for how long? It’s very cold, no late news of the Tipp murder. You’ll read all the latest on the paper clippings. Too bad.”

“Today is the feast of St Martin, 3rd Nov. I have been making novena, I’ll be going to First Friday to-night so I finish it. I was at mass last night for the Souls & on Wed for the Saints. I went to mass in M-Town yesterday morning for at 10 AM & went to the graves of the Fitzgeralds.”

“It was cold this morning when cycling down at 9.30 to chiropodist. There were 11 before me. I got out a quarter to one. There were 12 more after me inc. Mgt Maguire. She offered to bring me up. I said no as she’d miss out her place in queue.”

The “news”, to use my mother’s term for all things great and small was evaluated, filtered and then committed to bits of paper, usually at the end of the day. The topics featured family, friends, farming, sport and, especially, the weather, and while this framework might appear narrow, these miniature narratives are as revealing as the paintings of Vermeer, whose works are apparently set in two smallish rooms in his house in Delft. The more one looks, the more one sees.

All human life is expressed in these hundreds upon hundreds of letters. The characters that populate their pages are affected by love, pain, happiness, greed, luck and despair. There are weddings and wakes; there is profit and loss, darkness and light, sickness and health.

In total, the letters represent a tremendous act of communication. Throughout, the voice is unique, the script is always legible and age does not dim the ability to express that which so many people find difficult or impossible to say. What powered this fierce determination to document so many details? The wish, no doubt, the offer comfort to those far from home. But there was something else at work here. There was sharing and there was caring in all this articulation. The time and energy devoted to all these letters were acts of selflessness that had its own rewards when they were written and posted, and nothing can repay such generosity, but the least that can be done is to bring these letters to a wider public and place them before a wider audience. They are worth reading.

Our next station in this series of 14 photographs is Childhood.


Grief is just love with no home

Sunday, 11 October, 2015 0 Comments

Mammy and Daddy

“Trying to remember you
is like carrying water
in my hands a long distance
across sand. Somewhere people are waiting.
They have drunk nothing for days.”

Stephen Dobyns


In Memory Of My Mother

Sunday, 6 September, 2015 1 Comment

Our loss is enormous. Our hearts are broken. Our sorrow is great. Our hope is that our mother, Catherine O’Donnell-Fitzgerald (29 July 1928 – 6 September 2015), will smile up at us and down on us — eternally — because we will be forever in her debt.

In Memory Of My Mother

I do not think of you lying in the wet clay
Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see
You walking down a lane among the poplars
On your way to the station, or happily

Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday —
You meet me and you say:
‘Don’t forget to see about the cattle — ‘
Among your earthiest words the angels stray.

And I think of you walking along a headland
Of green oats in June,
So full of repose, so rich with life —
And I see us meeting at the end of a town

On a fair day by accident, after
The bargains are all made and we can walk
Together through the shops and stalls and markets
Free in the oriental streets of thought.

O you are not lying in the wet clay,
For it is a harvest evening now and we
Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight
And you smile up at us — eternally.

Patrick Kavanagh

Mammy


A lament for Paris

Saturday, 10 January, 2015 0 Comments

Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt begins with a lone tolling bell. Strings slowly emerge, as if from a fog, and begin to well up in waves of sorrow that seem to carry on forever. As we meditate on the victims of the evil ideology that brought death and suffering to Paris this week, let us take what comfort we can from this simple but powerful expression of grief.