Tag: mother

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

In the Garden

Saturday, 16 January, 2016 0 Comments

If you’re looking for a more down-to-earth alternative to the mystical verse of W.B. Yeats, the poetry of Thomas Hardy is recommended. This work is dedicated to the memory of “Her towards whom it made”. The garden, that is.

In the Garden

We waited for the sun
To break its cloudy prison
(For day was not yet done,
And night still unbegun)
Leaning by the dial.

After many a trial –
We all silent there –
It burst as new-arisen,
Throwing a shade to where
Time travelled at that minute.

Little saw we in it,
But this much I know,
Of lookers on that shade,
Her towards whom it made
Soonest had to go.

Thomas Hardy

The son of a stonemason, Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset on 2 June 1840. His novels, Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895), which are considered classics today, received negative reviews on publication and Hardy was criticized for being preoccupied with sex. Some booksellers sold Jude the Obscure in brown paper bags, and the Bishop of Wakefield, Walsham How, is reputed to have burnt his copy. Distressed by this, Hardy turned to poetry. He died on 11 January 1928.

In the garden

Laelius de Amicitia

Friday, 8 January, 2016 0 Comments

“The life of the dead is placed on the memories of the living.
Anyone who was given love will always live on in another’s heart.”

Marcus Tullius Cicero (3 January 106 BC – 7 December 43 BC)

Lisvernane church

Cicero concluded his great treatise on Friendship, Laelius de Amicitia, thus:

“We had one house, one table, one style of living; and not only were we together on foreign service, but in our tours also and country sojourns. Why speak of our eagerness to be ever gaining some knowledge, to be ever learning something, on which we spent all our leisure hours far from the gaze of the world? If the recollection and memory of these things had perished with the person, I could not possibly have endured the regret for one so closely united with me in life and affection. But these things have not perished; they are rather fed and strengthened by reflection and memory. Even supposing me to have been entirely bereft of them, still my time of life of itself brings me no small consolation: for I cannot have much longer now to bear this regret; and everything that is brief ought to be endurable, however severe.

This is all I had to say on friendship. One piece of advice on parting. Make up your minds to this: Virtue (without which friendship is impossible) is first; but next to it, and to it alone, the greatest of all things is Friendship.”

Perfect moments were had in that garden

Thursday, 31 December, 2015 0 Comments

“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory,” said Leonard Nimoy, who died in February. The year was still young when the world’s most famous half-Vulcan passed away and our great gardener was still creating those perfect moments. They ended in September and we were left to ponder the words of Kahlil Gibran: “Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.” As we say farewell to 2015, we remember the fortitude and courage and every other aspect of the great human soul now gone to her eternal reward. Perfect moments were had. For those we are grateful and they are preserved in memory.

Farewell, mother

The Christmas Candle

Friday, 25 December, 2015 0 Comments

The Christmas candle is such a beautiful thing. It is quiet and gentle and gives itself to all, unselfishly, as it illuminates the world and then ebbs away.

The Christmas Candle

The Irish coffee

Thursday, 24 December, 2015 0 Comments

“We’ll take off the clothes” was the first statement my mother would make shortly after returning home from Christmas Eve mass. What sounded like an invitation to party was, in fact, a declaration that a new round of chores related to the preparation of the Christmas dinner was about to begin and it would continue long after midnight.

But before the job of preparing the sherry trifle started, the traditional Irish Coffee had to be made. The ingredients were four: whipped cream, coffee, Demerara sugar and whiskey, preferably Powers, but Paddy would be accepted in its place. As a lifelong Pioneer, my mother had pledged to avoid alcohol so how could she justify drinking whiskey? Well, it was only “a taste”, it was a family tradition and it was Christmas.

Irish coffee on Christmas Eve

Method: Pre-heat a stemmed glass with hot water. Empty the water and add two teaspoons of Demerara sugar. Now add some freshly brewed coffee and stir. As soon as the sugar is melted, add a decent measure of whiskey (about 2.5cl). Stir again. Now, the tricky bit. Take a hot teaspoon and pour the whipped cream slowly over the back of the soon until a solid head forms on the coffee.

Serve and enjoy. And we did.

The holly

Wednesday, 23 December, 2015 0 Comments

On this day last year, with one foot on the dresser and another on the step-ladder, my mother was perched like an Alpine Ibex as she fearlessly ensured that the most important of the Christmas decorations, the holly, was positioned exactly. Despite her 86 years, she insisted on arranging the “sprigs”. Holly has an ancient terminology and “sprig” dates back to the Middle English sprigge, meaning a small twig or stem.

The holly

Green and spiky and adorned with red berries, holly is the perfect Christmas decoration. It is honoured in the “Sans Day Carol,” which was first transcribed from the singing of Thomas Beard, a villager in St Day in the parish of Gwennap in Cornwall.

Now the holly bears a berry as white as the milk,
And Mary she bore Jesus, who was wrapped up in silk:

And Mary she bore Jesus our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Holly!
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly!

Now the holly bears a berry as green as the grass,
And Mary she bore Jesus, who died on the cross:

And Mary she bore Jesus our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Holly!
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly!

Now the holly bears a berry as black as the coal,
And Mary she bore Jesus, who died for us all:

And Mary she bore Jesus our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Holly!
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly!

Now the holly bears a berry, as blood is it red,
Then trust we our Saviour, who rose from the dead:

And Mary she bore Jesus our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly.
Holly! Holly! Holly!
And the first tree that’s in the greenwood, it was the holly!

Object of the Year

Tuesday, 22 December, 2015 1 Comment

It’s a lapel pin. But it’s a unique lapel pen because my mother wore it on her favourite suit the last time I saw her on this Earth. We swapped lapel pins that night in September and I got the “better bargain”, as she’d say herself. Therefore, our Object of the Year award goes to my mother’s Pioneer pin.

Pioneer Pin

The Pioneer pin has its origins in a temperance movement that began in Cork City in 1838. At the time, Father Theobald Mathew was alarmed at the widespread alcoholism among Irish Catholics and he campaigned for what become known as “The Pledge, which was a solemn promise to avoid alcohol and stay sober for life. As a result, expressions such as “take the pledge” and “keep the pledge” became part of popular speech. My mother was a member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, which grew out of Father Mathew’s crusade. The association does not advocate prohibition, but it does require complete abstinence from alcohol of its members and it also encourages devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The importance of revered objects was emphasized on Friday when the Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, revealed his final acquisition before stepping down from his job. It’s a cross made from the wreckage of a boat carrying refugees from Eritrea and Somalia that sank in the Mediterranean in 2013 with the loss of 350 lives. The Lampedusa Cross was made by Francesco Tuccio, a carpenter who lives on the Italian island. MacGregor said: “This simple yet moving object is a poignant gift to the collection.”

There’s a clear link between the Lampedusa Cross and the Rainy Object of the Year in that both are linked by a humble, impressive and enduring faith.

The fourteenth Station: Legacy

Monday, 7 December, 2015 0 Comments

The happy news: These “stations,” these posts, will appear in book form in time for the 6 September anniversary next year. In this way, part of my mother’s great legacy will be preserved and published. She’d like that.

Mammy in Bally

As we stand at this final station in the life of Kit Fitz, as she was known by so many of those who admired and respected her, we give thanks for the privilege it was to have shared her company for so long. Her boundless energy and thirst for knowledge ensured that every moment in her presence was theatrical, informative and challenging. The Latin phrase, ora et labora (pray and work), which is rooted in Christian mysticism, was the engine of her life. She knew that time is fleeting and in her doing and her being she encouraged everyone to make good use of the precious hours we’re allotted. Despite the constant urging to strive and to save for “the rainy day”, she abhorred the pathetic existence of the workaholic. There had to be time as well for play. The cards, the games, the music and, above all, the prayers, were important because they helped anchor a person in the world.

We miss the constant expressions of wisdom and we regret not documenting more, but we are determined to share and safeguard this priceless legacy.

The thirteenth Station: Love

Sunday, 6 December, 2015 0 Comments

The union that was celebrated by the wedding guests on 16 June 1952 at Riversdale House in the Glen of Aherlow witnessed many wonders in the 63 years of its fortunate existence. None was more wondrous than that expressed in the two words “rural electrification.” It would prove to be the tipping point for the enterprise that became the happy couple’s mission in life.

Daddy and Mammy

When many of today’s generation hear about rural electrification, they think either of the developing world or of ancient agrarian history. For my parents, however, their marriage year coincided with the electrification of rural Ireland. It was a happy coincidence because electrification was the difference between power and powerlessness, between past and future, between regression and progress. Tellingly, my mother and father rarely used the word “electricity”. They referred to it as “the light”. If, during a storm, a transformer was affected and power was cut off, the first thing that was noticed was the outage of the electric light as represented by the Sacred Heart lamp in the kitchen. “The light’s gone,” was the phrase that was used to declare the loss of electricity. The use of light as a synonym for electricity was significant in that the alternative state was darkness, with all its metaphorical connotations.

During the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, 80’s, 90’s and beyond the first decade of the 21st century, mother and father devoted themselves to raising their family, expanding their business and establishing an envied presence as an example of wisdom, respect and integrity in their community. Such are the rewards of the thing called love, which is, in the long run, unique to each couple, their personalities, their dreams and their principles.

An anecdote sums up what love meant to my mother. One evening last year, her great companion Bridget Fitzgerald arrived with the latest recording by the rural heartthrob, Nathan Carter. We drank tea, listened to songs and then, Bridget holding up the CD cover featuring the handsome Nathan, said, “Kit, wouldn’t you like to wake up in the morning and seen him in the bed beside you?”

My mother glanced at the toothful Nathan and then looked up at the wedding photo from June 1952 and said, “Bridge, if I could, I’d have the same fella again.” Such was love.

Tomorrow, here, our final station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Legacy.

The twelfth Station: Pain

Saturday, 5 December, 2015 0 Comments

There’s a difference between pain and pains, and it’s not just between singular and plural. My mother rarely spoke about pain, but she was an authority on pains. Or, as she called them, “the pains.”

The great hands

These “pains” were the result of life-long physical labour in spring, summer, autumn and winter in all kinds of weather. From childhood, she had fed calves, milked cows, cleaned outhouses, planted potatoes, saved hay, washed clothes, baked bread, plucked turkeys, made puddings, polished floors, painted doors, cleaned churns, planted shrubs, lit fires, cooked dinners, cut hedges, picked berries, darned socks, knit cardigan and trimmed hair. And that’s the shortened version of the list. The result was rheumatism, arthritis and a bad back but this was the price she was willing to pay so that so that others would benefit from her work and compassion.

As regards pain, she dealt with it by praying. Hail, holy Queen was one of her favourites because it offered comfort: “Mother of mercy, to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.” It’s not romantic; it’s unsentimental, just like pain.

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Love.