Wednesday 17 January 2018

I wasn't there when Mamo died, but she is with me

Sad: ‘The news of my grandmother’s passing took the wind out of my sails.'
Sad: ‘The news of my grandmother’s passing took the wind out of my sails.'

Breifne Early

You know that excitement you feel when you're looking at the calendar of events, trying to work out what your season is going to look like.

Everything seems possible, whether your target is winning an Olympic medal, setting a national record or just taking part in your first 5k fun run.

Once you've settled on your list of events, you start to think about the sacrifice required to make it happen. The financial cost, accommodation, travel, the training, the diet or alcohol ban which might be needed.

The opportunity to travel the world on a bike as part of the World Cycle Race was too good to turn down. The new friends I've met, the places I've been and the things I've seen have been life changing, and I'm not even half way around yet.

The personal financial cost has been significant but other sacrifices have been greater. I've missed some significant events in the lives of friends and family. Missing out on being a groomsman at one of my best friend's weddings was particularly tough. I'll also be missing a few more weddings. I hadn't counted on missing Christmas, but that's also looking pretty likely at the moment.

Ten days ago I got the news that my grandmother, known as Mamo, passed away at the great age of 103. She had been in a nursing home for the last 10 years and had lost all sense of everything around her over the last three. The last visit I made before setting off on this trip was to her bedside.

Although she didn't recognise me, I was able to say what I suspected would be my final goodbyes. She was a fantastic woman who had been county librarian in Ballinamore, Leitrim for decades. As was the custom at the time, on marriage, she had to resign but, as there was no rule saying a married woman could not take a job, she reapplied and was offered her position back. She was always one to get her own way.

One of her lasting legacies as the influencer of reading habits in the small rural area she curated, is Soundings, the English poetry book that most of us will fondly recall from our school days. The book's author, Gus Martin, a native of Ballinamore, always acknowledged his love of the written word was supported and developed by those trips to see Mrs McCarthy in the library in Ballinamore.

As a family we spoke about the possibility of her passing before I returned and it was decided that, having said goodbye, I wasn't to come home should it happen. When I got the news, I was in Southern Thailand, preparing to cross the Malasyian border. The news completely took the wind out of my sails. I took a couple of days off the bike and was severely lacking in motivation to go on. It was the first real home sickness I've felt.

I took a day off to get my head together. I met some of the staff in the hotel I was staying in and we hit the town after they finished work. It was exactly what was required to pick up my spirits. I set off smiling towards Malaysia the following day.

My target is the same as when I left – to cycle around the world. There will be further obstacles along the way but, to help me through them, I think I have just picked up a welcome passenger on my shoulder.

Twitter: @pedaltheplanet

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