Tuesday 16 July 2019

Wonderful Alice Taylor brings a new life to death

I didn't expect to like Alice Taylor's latest book, detailing the people who were close to her who have died. I didn't think I'd enjoy reading about death, dying and coping with grief, even though I read the book in November, the month when we especially remember our loved ones who have passed away.

I thought I'd find it sad, maudlin, irrelevant to me because I didn't know these people, and we only truly mourn the people who have been part of our own lives.

However, from the very first story of the death of her little brother, Connie, when Alice was six, I was enthralled.

Every aspect of the book appealed. She tells the stories of the different people with warmth and describes the ways in which her life and theirs were entwined.

In this book, Alice Taylor is singing my song. I share her regard for a way of life that is simple, people-centred, traditional, rich with the qualities that set us in this country a little bit apart from other nations.

The book details some of these qualities as she recounts the way her people lived their lives. A lot of this is naturally a thing of the past, but not such a distant past. Alice would have a few years on me, but her mother sounds so like my own.

The Rosary was a nightly ritual in our house, as it was years previously in Alice's. She talks of the fact that her mother added on lots of extra prayers at the end, and when her father had enough of the "trimmings" he would complain, "Ah, Missus, we'll be here till morning", and that put a stop to it.

I'd say my father would have loved to have had the courage to come out with something like that.

Neither mother could abide tea in mugs. They both insisted on cups and saucers and a properly laid table. That doesn't happen very often these days, but I was pleased to be reminded of those niceties.

I certainly took them for granted when I was growing up. But I view them differently now as being conducive to a sense of refinement and plain good manners!

Alice Taylor describes her mother as the "heartbeat" of the home, and I think that's a lovely compliment.

It's difficult to achieve in modern times when the demands of a mortgage and bills put so much pressure on families and, particularly, the breadwinners, men and women.

The black and white photos at the beginning and end of each chapter brought me down a road of memories and nostalgia.

A bag of bullseyes, a baby's cloth shoe, a deck of cards, a pioneer pin and a fáinne, a mixing bowl, reminders of the different things that referenced our lives.

I grew up in a semi-detached house in Clondalkin in Dublin. Alice Taylor grew up on a hillside farm in North Cork. But the signposts for our lives were very similar in an Ireland where there wasn't a lot to spare. There was a lot to cherish, though, and the emphasis in the book is on the neighbourly way of life and a strong sense of community.

Take Bill, for instance, who came every night to the Taylor house with a bucket of spring water and stayed on to help the children with their lessons, to tell them stories, to teach them Irish dancing.

Or Con, a distant relation who got a teaching job in Bandon and moved into the Taylor home for a week while he got himself sorted and ended up staying for 30 years and becoming a pivotal part of the family.

And Time Stood Still warmed my heart and reminded me of the value of family, friendship and community, the need to cherish time with loved ones because those precious moments don't last for ever.

Alice Taylor is a woman who believes that grief is both physical and mental and speaks of "the deep wound of grief that needs expression to be healed".

Grief is one thing that hasn't changed in modern times. We all go through the heartache of loss.

To finish off, Alice Taylor has a bit to say about modern funerals, fast becoming the biggest-attended church functions, providing a connection point in our disconnected communities. Now there's food for thought.

Mary Kennedy presents Nationwide on RTÉ One. Her third book, Lines For Living, is now available in paperback.

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