Tuesday 27 September 2016

Mam picked her day to meet up again with Dad, it didn't pick her

Published 17/08/2015 | 02:30

Billy Keane with his beloved mother Mary, who passed away on Friday
Billy Keane with his beloved mother Mary, who passed away on Friday
Mary with John B Keane

Our mother is dressed up in her best by her friend Phil. And she has a lovely smile. It's the smile she keeps for Dad.

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"She's herself," says Auntie Lena. The sickness is all gone from her now. Mam is happy.

The wry sign outside the Keane family pub in Listowel, which announced that ‘Mary is off tonight’. Pictures: Don MacMonagle
The wry sign outside the Keane family pub in Listowel, which announced that ‘Mary is off tonight’. Pictures: Don MacMonagle
Mourners line the road in the rain to pay their respects to Mary Keane in Listowel, Co Kerry

They met up yesterday for The Fifteenth, Mam and Dad that is.

The Fifteenth is the feast day of Our Lady and the biggest day of the year in Knocknagoshel, north Kerry, my mother's home village.

Read more: Thousands pay their respects to John B Keane's widow Mary

Dad and herself had great days at the Pattern Festival, or 'The Pattern', as it's called. He was full of fun and poems. Dad won the 100 yards and the long jump. Mary is our mother's first name and she died last Friday, on the fifteenth of August, the feast day of Our Lady's assumption in to heaven.

Mam said you could always rely on Holy Mary. When we were small she would ask Holy Mary to mind us. There was always a candle lighting before exams in front of her statue.

My mother's own mother died when she was four, and the little girl prayed to Holy Mary. There was a day in the kitchen when I found Mam crying behind the closed curtains.

"What's wrong?" I asked. It took a while but Mam, who was never ever sorry for herself, said, "I'm older today than my mother."

Poor Mam, but then within a few minutes she was stocking the shelves in the little pub we ran together and getting on with life in that practical way of hers.

It wasn't easy going in to the pub on Friday. I went in on my own. I should have brought the family. The pub was empty and I never felt so alone. I was taken in to the pub by my parents, when I wasn't fit to work for anyone who wasn't family, after a succession of self-inflicted disasters. Mam helped me get my confidence back with a mix of tough love and mother's love. I'm fine and strong now. She knew that before she died. Thanks Mam.

Read more: John B always said wife Mary Keane made him

For those of you who are dying or afraid of dying, I sort of feel that death is only the beginning of a journey and not the end. It's not that I'm not heartbroken, because I am. I saw more of Mam than anyone else.

But I'm fairly sure there's something going on after we die. The smile on Mam's face would convince you, and there was the night we were in the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin for the opening of The Field, just before she was diagnosed with the cancer when Dad was with her. Dead isn't gone away.

As we walked in to the theatre, she said, "Look John, a full house." She was talking to Dad. And later she told me she felt his presence beside her, there in his beloved Gaiety.

Mam lived on her own above the pub with Dad's spirit. She tried to retire to "a private house" but came back to the pub after just two days. She missed the street.

"On the first day I saw a dog and on the second day I saw a cat and that was it," she said.

But the real reason was, she knew Dad's spirit was happiest in the home they made over the pub. It was tiny and I often wonder how we all fitted in, but home is where the heart is.

Those last days were tough for sure, but full of love. My brothers, Conor and John, and our sister, Joanna, were never so united. They were so good to Mam. It was like back when we were kids, all sleeping under blankies together on the floor. We always kept in touch but this was us as a family all together with Mam at the end.

I will never forget these days with my brothers and sister. And thanks to the Bons in Tralee. Mam was never in pain.

We said poems for Mam and sang for her as she lay dying. I just up got to hold Mam's hand, right at her last breath. Joanna told Mam what a great mother she was. John made jokes and kept her laughing. Conor, as ever, was the soundest.

Maybe because her own mother died so young, Mam tried so hard to be the best mother ever. It wasn't easy trying to run a pub, never mind four cracked kids and looking after Dad, who needed massive back-up when he was writing all those masterpieces.

Mam was tough, fearless and fiercely independent. So there I was at her bedside, saying, "Mam, you minded us and now we're minding you," feeling so wonderful about myself when Mam said, "I always minded myself. There's no one minding me."

Mam was all for divorce, contraception and gay rights. She was no old-fashioned Irish Mammy who did as she was told. Mam was well able for Dad, but in a good way. She always spoke her mind and was full of wisdom. Our mother's last advice to her grand-kids on relationships was, "If there's an argument going on, one of you has to shut up." She defined post-feminism even before feminism.

I'll miss our favourite summer feed of ham, cabbage, cream and the first of the new potatoes. I'll miss her being around the bar. She even threw a lad out just a few months ago. And I'm dreading this evening when we'll be closing the coffin. That's the toughest part.

When I started off writing this, I was all brave and philosophical. The pain of her loss is bad now. But I hear our Mam. "Toughen up," she says.

The maternal-induced composure came back again just now. I'm certain Mam picked her day to meet up with Dad. The day didn't pick her.

Heaven, I think, is here all around us. Mam smiles, and Dad is making up poems for her.

Irish Independent

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