The phone rings and my wife dashes to answer it. I overhear her talking to someone I know is familiar to her but it’s not a friend or relative. I hear her saying “thank you” as the tears and crying come. As I rush to find her in the kitchen she finishes the call and breaks down.
Monica was her mother and she died peacefully in her sleep on the morning of 21st June last year. She was an amazing woman. Not only for the love she gave but also for all the hardship and pain that she had endured from an early age. You never knew everything about her or her upbringing but she gave you glimpses of her life now and then.
Perhaps that’s the role of a parent… to share enough to guide your children but not everything. Besides, what mattered more than anything else, for all of us, was the grandmother she could be to our children.
The joy our children and “Granny Mana” brought to each other was clear. On a gloomy day they would lift her spirits and spontaneously share their unconditional love with her. Every single time. Similarly, no matter how bad a day she was having she would also give her love to them without condition.
She was such a part of our family that it felt that we were a unit of five – Granny, Mum, Dad and the two boys. Basil the dog was also a huge fan of Granny and would often sit close to her, protectively, but always being careful not to sit on her toes!
It’s been a year and now there are four of us. The huge gap left with her passing seems to have been filled with the sense of her presence with us in so many places. Fond memories but also a sense of her still watching over our family and being the grandmother she could be.
The next clear night we get, we’ll look up at the sky with the boys and find her star, as we do with Grandad and thank them for keeping watch over all of us.
As with all things the above only relates one persons story – my story. Here is another more personal story. A “letter” from my wife Paula to her Mum written to accompany this post…
To my Mum
It is one year today since you died peacefully in your sleep. You got the end you deserved Mum and I am thankful for that.
I think of what you would be doing were you still here… You would have enjoyed watching Euro 2012, maybe not the Irish matches, although you would certainly have appreciated the fans singing. I miss seeing your happiness at spending time with us and particularly with your two special grandsons.
I love you and that has never been in any doubt but I have constantly struggled to come to terms with your mental illness. I have felt anger that my mum was taken away from me when I was seven and replaced her by a mother who struggled to retain her identity throughout frequent bouts of illness.
I will always carry a child’s feelings of guilt that my love for you could not save you or make you better. There were far too many goodbyes at the end of numerous visits to psychiatric wards and hospitals, hurrying to get back to ‘normality’, away from the chain-smoking patients sitting in their drug induced torpor or from those that were more worryingly clearly agitated and disturbed.
As a child, witnessing people battle with mental illness was an overwhelming, confusing and frightening experience. Although you were struggling with your own illness you tried to protect us from that as best you could.
However, far worse than our fear of others ‘insanity’ was our conflicting guilt at leaving you there and the relief that we didn’t have to cope with you at home. As I got older I could sense your fear and sadness at those partings, although you always did your best to try and hide it from us. As a mother myself I feel such pride and admiration that throughout it all you still tried so hard to be a loving, caring and supportive mum.
So now you’re gone. I don’t have to worry anymore whether you are taking your tablets, or to try and convince you to go to bed after days with out sleep, during one of your more manic phases. I won’t quietly sit with you anymore listening to music, your place of refuge from the world of delusion and paranoia that you often inhabited.
You always had that keen Irish wit and appreciation of a good laugh. Many a misdemeanour could be forgiven for someone with a sense of humour. I miss your ability to laugh at life, even though you walked a harder path than many of us.
So Mum, although there were times over the years that I wished an end to it because it was just too hard, I wish with all my heart that at this moment we could be sitting together listening to music and sharing a laugh.
All my love always
Thank you both for sharing, an important reminder about family at the end of a week.
Your words, especially Paula's letter, touched me deeply. Maternal love is extraordinary, especially in times of adversity and they are both brave. The authenticity of feelings and their mutual love are almost palpable. Despite the complexities, it is clear that there are precious memories to treasure and that's a blessing.
A wonderful reminder of the importance of unconditional love
Paula, thank you for sharing such deep and loving memories with us. This bought memories of my wonderful Granny. She too suffered with mental illness and the pain that my Mum held and still holds around us not being able to continue to care for her at home. We talk often about this and what this came to teach us. Often hard to see past it when you're in it and feel the pain of it deeply, but I think my Mum is hopefully finally letting go of the guilt she feels. Thank you again. Tears drop. But good tears. With Love. Tash x x