Saturday 24 September 2016

I could feel my late mother telling me it was now time to get her house in order

Published 18/04/2016 | 02:30

Billy Keane. Photo: Mark Condren
Billy Keane. Photo: Mark Condren

The hair brush has been in the same place, on the shelf in the bathroom, since my mother died. For some reason I didn't see the brush even though it was right there in front of me. My mother had a fine head of thick hair right up until the day she died on the 15th of August last.

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I saw her hair tangled up in the brush in the bathroom and the sadness started in my heart and from there the flow went all over my body, until I was rooted to the spot.

Upstairs over the pub where we lived is empty and a house, like people, needs company and minding. There was a leak in the sitting room from all the rain and a long brown stain from the chimney runs down along the white wallpaper to the mantelpiece. I was very upset. This wouldn't have happened if the upstairs was still lived in. But I should have taken more care of our old family home.

The sadness there upstairs over the pub when I had the brush in my hand brought back my rubbing of Mam's hair as she was about to die.

The sadness was as unstoppable as the tide. Like the tide it comes and goes. There's a maritime reckoner that calculates the tide times to the minute but there's no forecasting the times when the surge of grief hits you. All can be well for a while. You are philosophical. There's a laugh at the funny stories like the time my Mam told us of the man who ticked a packet of ten Woodbine in her Dad's country shop. Tick means credit. He came back to the shop 30 years later, from New Jersey. Grandad was long gone by then.

"I owed your dad for a packet of Woodbines, Jim."

"That will be one and six" said Uncle Jim, "try not to leave it go so long the next time."

I touch my mother's hair for the first time since she died. Tears come and I can barely swallow or breathe.

It's so quiet up here now. To this day I still find it impossible to figure out how we all fitted in. Physically that is. There was never a dull moment. The house was full of life with my mother and father and four children all squeezed in to a shoe box.

Back then I used to sneak away up to my grandmother's house to get away from it all. She was alone most of the time and we had tea and picked out horses. There was always a treat and Nana was the one who got me in to the habit of dipping the biscuits.

I miss Nana too. But I wouldn't mind putting up with our domestic mayhem now.

I wasn't going to write about this anymore as it was making me too sad and probably you too, as if there aren't enough sadnesses in our lives. I suppose I was maybe a bit self-conscious. I didn't want to be known as a professional mourner knocking the last few tears out of people for the sake of writing a column. Maudlin old dawdlin' old me, the tear-jerker. So I stopped.

But I didn't stop thinking about my Mam. There are memories of her funny comments, wise words and the happy times we spent together. She had great sayings like "take plenty of no notice" and her marital advice was if a couple are having a heated argument, "one of the two must learn how to shut up".

I miss her wisdom as much as anything else. Women are more practical. Women finish the tasks they start and my mother didn't have any ego getting in the way of giving in or getting things done when that's what was needed.

There's a therapy in writing this down. I feel better already. A problem shared and all that. And yes, I do believe our loved ones are still with us.

I often feel my mother is talking to me when I have to make decisions and her advice is always right. It could be I'm just processing her opinions. I honestly think there's more to it than that. There has to be. Where does it all go? All the talk, all the life events shared, all the learning, all the rearing, all the love.

For me the life events are a database larder you dip in and out of when needs be or sometimes the memories and teachings of a loved one just drop by to help out.

For a while the sadness of recollection was too much for me. I lost touch with my mother. I was warned not to block the grief. Let it come and go as it will, I was advised. But I went on the run.

The lady I met at the play at half time in our local theatre St John's spoke in a whisper.

"I like your columns about the sad times. I suffer from depression myself. I miss my mother even though she died years ago. It's a comfort to know that I'm not alone." I knew her mother. She died before her time and left a young family.

"I stopped writing those columns," I said, " because it knocked too much out of me and I was afraid I was making people sad and bringing back memories that might have been too much for people to take." There was only a minute to talk in the packed foyer. Joe Murphy or Vicar Joe, the manager of St John's, was calling us back in for the second act.

"Write one soon," was her reply. "You'll be in the better of it and so will I."

So from somewhere the thoughts come to me that I should start to tidy up. I put the brush down on the shelf where I found it. It's all I have of her now, physically anyway.

The tidying up never came naturally to me but after a while the thoughts come in to my head. It's my mother telling me to get her house in order.

I pick a towel off the bathroom floor knowing well if I didn't there would be a deserved giving-out.

I go to the sitting room and plan to fix the leak-stained wall and for the first time in a long time I put down a fire.

There's nothing like a turf fire to bring life back into an old house.

Irish Independent

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