Linda Minto tells Hilary A White how the death of infant son Ryan inspired poems aimed at bringing comfort
Portmarnock strand is bathed in a wintery morning light as a few waders and a man with his dog have it all to themselves. It's a stretch that is well known to Linda Minto, who lives locally. "It clears my head and it's where I get my ideas from," says the entrepreneur, writer and mother of four over coffee at a nearby hotel.
A mother of four she may be, yet only three of her children -- Amy, Connor and Billy -- exist in the physical world. Ryan, who would now be 15, died a cot death during infancy. She insists he is present in her life, and is the inspiration behind Linda Minto's Real Life Greeting Cards, a series of bookmark-like cards, each with a self-penned thought or poem designed to bring meaning and comfort to those in need of it.
"I feel him all the time," she says of Ryan. "If I'm ever driving on my own, I'm talking to him. I really felt him in relation to these cards. And I really wanted to have his story on the back, and I knew I was probably going against protocol. These cards are in Hallmark and Veritas and the lot -- and there are some people who don't necessarily like having the whole story on the back. But these were my cards and this was my story and this is about him. Ultimately, my aim was to put something out there at a low price that people would actually resonate with. And that seems to be what's happened, although we're only in the very early stages of it."
She grew up in Howth, the daughter of a fisherman and a housewife, "a typical Howth family", as she calls it. Times were lean, but no matter how bad it got there was always fish to feed the family, she giggles. She describes her young self as a "normal, happy child', albeit one who spent lots of time writing poetry which she would proudly recite in class in Baldoyle. She did her Leaving Cert at 16, met husband Liam at 17, and went straight into a job in the patent and trademarks industry before moving on to banking and mortgages.
Now in her 40s, she struggles to find a source for this drive and confidence, but reckons it is innate. "I was always striving to do more and be more. I worked my way up the career ladder and was 'go-go-go'. I was even going in on days when I should've been on maternity leave."
When Ryan died, however, her heart needed a break from being "the ultimate career woman" and she took a year out when she had her next child. "We had Billy within 18 months of Ryan dying," she explains, "and I think for the first year or two we didn't sleep. I do remember we nearly had to plan out shifts, just watching him. That could have been down to pure grief as well and all the mad things that go with it. It made us realise we don't necessarily have our kids forever."
Eventually, Minto returned to the mortgage industry for a number of years but finally left to start her own brokerage and a costume jewellery company called Angel Accessories, for which she was awarded a special merit prize by Fingal Enterprise Board in 2004. Spurred on by nagging loved ones, she took another year out in 2007, this time to devote herself fully to writing. Meanwhile, Liam had badly injured his back after falling off a roof.
It was now 2008, and with Liam unable to work and there no longer being a mortgage industry to return to, the couple faced a financial crisis, but one they were able to look at squarely given that they had weathered greater hardship in the past. "The fact that we had been through something so much worse meant we could say 'we'll get through this'. At the end of the day, you can replace the house, you can replace the things, but you can't replace the people."
Then one morning, she awoke with reams of words in her head. She went downstairs and had all of the Angel Cards written in the space of an hour. Without telling anyone, she took them off to a printer. "It was a very spiritual moment," she remembers, "and I wouldn't be over-the-top spiritual."
They say there are two points in life when most people reassess the man upstairs. One is when they have children, the other when they are readying themselves to meet him. Minto agrees on the first count. "When you bring children into this world, it is just wondrous. We all wonder where we're going, and I think when Ryan died I questioned that. Where has he gone? Who's minding him for me?" She pauses, then continues. "And I think my faith helped me through a lot there. I had to believe that he has gone to heaven and that people that I loved, who had gone before, were minding him."
As she looks to the future, telling me about her new website, her determination to get
these cards out to those who need help and the orders that have arrived from across the globe (she posts free to anywhere in the world), Minto seems unstoppable. She is the classic example of a writer using their craft to provide a vocabulary to help the reader make sense of the world. "I mightn't be so good at saying to somebody, 'look, I'm so sorry for what's gone on', but I can write it. I suppose because I know about loss I can use the words to say, 'look, I know it's like this, but this is going to be OK in the end.'"
Sunday Indo Living