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Eleanor McGrath: Why, in these tough times, it’s even more important to appreciate those beautiful sunsets


MY parents bought the sculpture "Esperanza" five months before my mother died of brain cancer at 48 years old. There was nothing particularly impressive about the sculpture except its weight. It was a simplistic depiction of a young girl, slender leaning possibly from the weight of a water pail hoisted on her shoulder.

They bought it because my mother said she liked it. More importantly having been a Spanish student at university it spoke to her in a language that had brought her and my father together: he never attended Spanish class and asked to borrow her notes (of course he got the A!) and that is how the romance began.

It was a week before Christmas 1988 when I stood at the back of church that Sunday with some of my younger siblings, as the priest spoke solemnly about my mother’s death the day before. I could tell you that it is a blur but that would be a lie as I am more cognizant than ever about that period, about every detail. This year I am just one away from 48.

Hope is a small strange word. My father always said “nice” is a four-letter word when he corrected that adjective in our speech. In Spanish the long slender beauty of “esperanza” seems to offer so much more than those English four letters of “hope”.

Without going into the years that have passed between that day and this; I have lived on hope. It is something that I can recommend to everyone but sadly it borne out of despair. Written down by Plato exclaimed by Socrates, “the unexamined life is not worth living” is the mantra to succeed in returning hope to one’s life. The legacy of my mother has been a legacy of deciphering often peculiar things and yet equally strange wisdoms which I live by today, such as: “no matter how bad it gets a cheque will arrive in the mail!”

A chain smoker in life equaled by the cups of coffee she consumed kept her going all day following daily mass. It just came to a complete halt on December 17th, hope or no hope. And yet when I tell my own children, “to look at that beautiful sunset” I know that there is hope that I can forgive her some of the unresolved issues; as every afternoon she would stop washing dishes and call us to look at the sunset.

We are on the eve of North American Mother’s Day and my seven-year old Áine told me at Christmas that we need to take flowers to my mother’s grave. I have never shown my children her grave, although occasionally I will visit there myself. It is very strange how children sense things larger than adults or have we just buried that connectedness to others so as to live in this desperate world of harsh realities?

The reason my mother a devout Catholic asked to be buried in what would have been perceived as the Protestant cemetery, one only minutes from our house, is that “she hoped we would come and visit her.” This Mother’s Day, Esperanza lives!