Isn’t memory a very strange thing…. The triggers of words, events, numbers, dates that set your mind rambling down paths of remembering.
A song on the radio did just that today. I remember the O’Loughlin’s singing “Twenty One Years” on journeys to Wexford or Wicklow…. A song about a young lad who was sentenced to Dartmoor Prison for twenty one years, “a mighty long time” according to the song, a rousing if unimaginative ballad that required little talent to belt out. We actually learned it on the accordion as part of an Irish medley of waltzes; I think there may have been just 3 chords in it.
But thinking about the 21 years brought me back twenty one years to January 1996:
School reopened on Monday 8th January that year and with great trepidation I returned. On 6 December Shay had been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. He spent the weeks up to Christmas in James Hospital and it was brilliant that he got home to spend Christmas with us. His health deteriorated pretty quickly after Christmas however and we spent New Year’s back in hospital. And yet here was I returning to school – maybe I thought that school would bring a normality to family life, a life that had changed so drastically in the preceding 33 days.
However when I came in from school on 11th January I found Shay in great pain. The truth could no longer be avoided. The doctor spoke to us both about the needs that we would have as the illness progressed faster than expected. He advised me to visit St Brigid’s Hospice in the Curragh that afternoon. His words will probably stay with me forever: “You will all need the help they can give to be courageous and dignified”.
I know the word “hospice” causes great fear and that’s certainly how I felt as I drove through the gates that Wednesday evening. Little did I realise that we had only a short 20 days before our goodbyes would be over. I’m not sure how we would have managed without the help of that wonderful team of people who joined our family for those last days to help us all to come to terms with the inevitability?
The first years after were filled with such loneliness and sadness and anger. I was blessed to have such a great family and especially the boys and friends. And now I can honestly say: “life does go on” and “time does heal” and now January 1996 is a mighty long time ago and we’re all fine – very changed – lads grown, me older (much) and retired.
But life’s good. And snowdrops still bloom at the end of my garden!
I also found this lovely image of the Curragh taken from the gate of the hospice ……Doesn’t it make you hopeful?