Saturday 23 November 2019

The letter I wish I'd sent

The letter I wish I'd sent
The letter I wish I'd sent

My Dear Son, You were born 52 years ago; 9lbs 8ozs. Sadly you died during labour. I never got to hold you in my arms. They took you away quickly. When I asked to see you all sorts of excuses were given. That's the way it was done in those days. Your dad had a little mahogany coffin made for you. The gravediggers were on strike so your daddy and an uncle took you in a taxi to Glasnevin and buried you. You have two brothers and two sisters.

Sadly after 50 years of marriage, your dad and I parted. Drink took over his life. He is a good man but a weak one. One of your brothers blames me and we don't talk.

The others I see very little of even though some live near me.


My son, I wonder would you have been the one to love me unconditionally? I was a very good mother. Would you have been the one to phone me to ask how I am, or call in with a little cake and say, "Put the kettle on, Mam, let's have a cuppa"?

My life is very lonely now and most days I'm sad.

I love you loads, son.

Remembered: Paul Tansey, who died in 2008 Photo: Photocall Ireland
Remembered: Paul Tansey, who died in 2008 Photo: Photocall Ireland

Your Mam

Name and address with editor

Dear Olivia,

This is the letter I thought of writing in the weeks after September 21, 2008. Now almost nine years later, you will still feel the loss but getting on with your life will hopefully have become easier and maybe you may appreciate and enjoy what I have to say.

Your late husband Paul's grandmother Bea Tansey (nee Tighe) and my grandfather Jack Tighe were brother and sister.

As I sat last Saturday in the house in which they were raised, while visiting cousins who still live there, thoughts of the letter I failed to write returned. Bea and Jack were part of a family of eight children growing up in the late 1800s on a small farm in a little place called Townaghbrack in South Sligo.

Each time Paul appeared on TV or radio, or my mother (who was a daughter of Jack's) read an article he had written, we were reminded that he was our cousin. Pride in him was part and parcel of our lives.

Paul's aunt Maggie lived in Gurteen in Co Sligo where his father was also born - something I am sure you are aware of. Gurteen is also my home place. As Maggie was my mother's first cousin, we were always told to speak to her whenever we met. We considered her holy and saintly as she was a gentle, quiet lady who attended Mass each day. She was always so proud of her nephew Paul and spoke to him often.

In her later years she moved to a nursing home and on a visit to her she told of a letter she had received from you. That letter meant so much to her. Her words were, "Olivia has such a busy life but she still took the time to write to me."

In 2008, even though Maggie had already died and none of the Tansey family lived in Gurteen or the Sligo area, Paul was still remembered. A piece appeared in the local paper, the Gurteen Newsletter, and he was remembered at Mass in the church. The county of his forebears was proud of his achievements and recognised his loss to his family and the media world.

My intention in writing this letter is to wish you and your daughter the very best and to let you both know that there was a large extended family who had you in their thoughts back in September 2008.

May Paul rest in peace.

Carmel Finn, Co Sligo

Dearest Voice,

You deserted me at that moment of loss. With the final exhalation of one so dear, you failed me. At that moment the silence in the room reverberated in the emptiness within me and I had no voice to express it.

A psychosomatic symptom of emotional loss it may have been, but then again, maybe I chose to desert you?

Reared in a house of humming, always drawn to tunes, for me, happiness was synonymous with singing -throughout my youth and beyond. No virtuoso could I ever claim to be but I delighted in filling familiar spaces with tunes.

Then at that moment, we parted. Speaking was an effort, tunes impossible. Volition to indulge in that sol-fa dance with you fell flat.

Even my auditory choices veered away from melody to a cacophony of words and chat on the airwaves. Yes, I had chances to celebrate joys once again with you.

This letter with its hopes for reunion should have been penned sooner but wasn't.

Negativity drew me in. Serious world and national events seeped in and the song was lost. Now I may be able to try to dalliance with you again, success not guaranteed. I'll try again. Shall we dance?

Warmest wishes


Margaret C, Co Cork

This is a letter I wish I had sent to my son in the last week of his life. I have agonised over sending it to you, but my hope is that if published, it might make another poor soul think twice before acting.

Dear Patrick

It came as a major shock to hear that you hadn't been yourself all week, you of all people who took everything in your stride. We found out by chance when we met your flatmate in town on Friday. By the time we found you at Granda and Nana's grave, you had already tried to end your life twice in the past three days. We brought you to the 'Services' but the "they didn't believe" you needed their help. Our GP was more sympathetic and requested help for you. "Hold on Pat, I know this appointment will come, it's early days yet" - I'm trying to reassure you, but you've been so quiet all week. I wish you would open up and talk to me. Your friends and work colleagues have been so supportive but I feel you are holding out.

Do you really know what would happen if you carried out your plan? Do you know that our family would be plunged into a dark, irreversible cycle of grief and guilt? How could we possibly tell your adored nephew that he will never see you again? His face lights up when you walk into the room. He worships the ground you walk on.

How will Dad cope? You both are so close, he loves bouncing ideas off you, he depends on your friendship, your company, your opinion. You are so important to him. He loves going to football matches with you and that would definitely end if you were not around. You have a way with him that no one else does.

Your siblings would have to carry on with their lives, racked with guilt and pain. Losing you would cast a dark, dark cloud of sadness over them for the rest of their lives leaving them with the conviction that they could somehow have prevented this, although logic says otherwise. Do you really want to lay this on them? I know you are in unimaginable pain right now and believe you have a way of ending this. In reality what you will do is cast all of your anguish, all of your past and present hurts, on to all of us. It would be like picking up a relay baton except for its immense weight for all of us to carry for the rest of our lives.

Me? I just can't imagine a future without you in it. Did I ever tell you that the moment you were born, I saw a light surrounding you and could not take my eyes off you for a second. You grew into a fine young man. Your smile was your signature - it was disarming. Do you really know what losing you would do to me? How everything would change, even though it might look the same, it would feel different, alien even? My life, my spirit would be shattered knowing I couldn't help my darling son at his darkest hour. How could I deal with the paralysis of grief? I would constantly call your name, wonder where you are. How could it be possible that you are no longer here? More guilt, more pain, a sense of loss beyond belief.

When you went to Australia, for a year or so, your Dad cried the whole way home from the airport, I cried for the next two weeks at the mention of your name. But we eventually adjusted to you not being around and visited you in Oz and loved spending time with you there. You were always such easy company to be in. It was tough being without you then for such a long spell; how could we possibly adjust to you never being around again. How would I sleep a proper sleep again? How would I wake from the nightmare to realise on waking that this is real? Yet I would long for the day to be over in the hope that I could blot all of this horror from my mind with the possibility that sleep would eventually take over.

I've been walking so much during this past week to try to clear my head and now realise the precious moments I have missed with you. There is no going back if you do this. I know you are hurting and see no other way, but there is another way, there is always another way.

This dark blanket of pain can be lifted from you and with help you can again see that life is worth living. Please stay with me, Patrick, and share your future with us all. We love you so much and are so proud of you and all you have achieved. I want you close to me always, but it is not my choice.

Please don't do this to me Patrick, don't do this to your mother. I love you too much to let you go.


Name and address with editor

Dear John,

I remember the last time I saw your face, standing at the front door in your business suit, December 2015, books under your arms for my son Jonathan, now four.

I called you the night he was born - it's a boy, Jonathan - and you laughed, "great, another John". You were a business teacher, an author, a publisher, a managing director and my boss for eight years. Over that time, you became more than a boss - you were a family friend, a mentor, and a father figure. We travelled the length and breadth of the country together promoting new books to teachers - "the gospel according to John" I called it. At those events, you loved mingling with everyone, you loved the buzz, and you loved giving away books on the night, so much so you were like a Late Late Show host, one for everyone in the audience.

After all those events, we got back into the car, you were a home bird, didn't like staying in hotels, we'd talk on those journeys home, listen to country music which I didn't really like but you loved it. We'd stop at least twice for tea, and then sometimes for an eye break. I'd shuffle in the handbag to wake you as I feared some nights you would fall into a deep sleep. Then we'd be off again on our journey home. We clocked up a lot of mileage you and I, book launches in Boston, book launches in New York. I'd say we covered more than 200 launches in our years together.

Do you remember when you sat in a salon in New York and asked for a haircut and they told you they could do your nails but not your hair? We couldn't stop laughing at that one? You had brilliant stories, always entertaining. I'd love to hear them again.

You were very kind in 2007 to let me have a career break "as long as you come back, now". What boss would give you that these days?

I headed to South Africa to follow my dream and eventually married. Do you remember when I was there, Christmas of 2007 you rang me. "I'm knackered," you said and told me you wouldn't make it to the wedding. "We'll talk when you get back." You weren't well. Imagine my surprise when I turned around after the wedding vows and there you were, in your business suit, grinning, arms in the air, the only person I know who would travel around the world for less than 24 hours to your PA's wedding. Of course you hand delivered a message from An Taoiseach that evening in your speech saying he "missed me" at the recent book launches, and you entertained everyone with the rest of your speech that evening. Handbags featured again, most of all how many I had. We sat with the Twelve Apostle mountain range behind us laughing, discussing your flight, and discussing the fact that there were two people at the wedding that didn't expect to see you and you didn't expect to see them, two of your managers, a discreet blossoming office romance, revealed to you, out of your surprise another surprise, and when the penny dropped you laughed. You liked them both and a year later you spoke at their wedding.

You were happy that day, and full of life and energy. I was so privileged that you travelled so far. I knew you didn't really like flying, foreign food, or the heat, but you did it for me. What a tribute.

You also helped me secure my future positions, twice you gave me super references after you retired and I was moving on. On one occasion the reference was so good, that the interviewer told me that he was expecting to see a halo when I walked into the room. You always were a brilliant salesman. You did a lot for me, helped me secure my first home, employment for some of my family, great nights out in L'Ecrivain restaurant and wonderful gifts for my son.

He was sleeping that night over Christmas when you called. My husband was out. We sat, had a cup of tea and a chat and a good gossip about old times. We had a few more stories to tell each other but it wasn't to be. When you were leaving I hugged you. I never did that - maybe I knew. I'm glad I did as it was our last evening together.

You passed away almost a year ago, I didn't get to say goodbye. You went quickly. I have great memories of our 17-year relationship, first boss, then friend. You made a big impact everywhere you went. I never met anyone like you.

The Business Studies Teachers' Association of Ireland named an award in your honour to be presented to 'best in class' each year. You'll be around forever now. You are missed and will be remembered fondly.

Your Personal Assistant


Audrey Ryder, Saggart, Co Dublin

Dear Copenhagen Girl,

We didn't get your name but it was a day you'll never forget. I really hope you're happy now and that you have good friends. I'd love to know how things have gone for you.

My husband and I met you for 10 or 15 minutes at most. None of us should have been at Lisbon Airport just then. Our flight had been delayed for four hours because of an air traffic controllers' strike. You were booked to fly back to Copenhagen about seven hours later. You sat at our table even though there were empty ones all around. We were drinking free cups of tea to pass the time.

You'd bought a bottle of water and a sandwich. You sat down but didn't open them. Instead, your grey eyes filled with tears and your blonde head went down and you started crying. I asked if you were all right. You shook your head. You were so miserable you couldn't talk straight away.

Then, in staccato sentences at first, you told us your boyfriend had just broken up with you. He was Portuguese. You had been living together in Copenhagen, where you were from. The two of you had come to Lisbon so you could meet his family. You blew your nose and dabbed your eyes.

I got the picture: a young Portuguese man, dark and handsome, your excitement and tension at being brought to meet his parents, maybe brothers or sisters. Your skin had a hint of tan from your two weeks in the sun.

You and he had been together for three years. You were going home that day, but, earlier that morning, he told you he didn't want to go on living with you. You said he just ended it. The break-up seemed to have come as a complete shock.

You had come to try and get an earlier flight home because the thought of sitting beside him, so separated from him, all the way to Copenhagen was unbearable. Flights were limited because of the strike and you hadn't been able to get a seat on anything earlier. So you had five more hours to wait.

I felt for you - the pain of that wait, knowing you'd have to look at his face again and endure it. I told you that you would get through it even though it felt like the end of the world to you that day. My husband assured you you'd meet someone else.

"But," you said, "I'm 28. I feel old. I feel so old."

I asked if you could get someone to meet you at the airport and you said, 'Yes'. And then they called our flight, our gate. We wished we could do something for you. We both impressed on you again that you would be OK, that you would laugh again, be happy again. We'd no more time. We had to leave you there to your tears, to your lonely journey home, to the misery of the airport sandwich and bottled water in that anonymous cafe.

I so hope you've found happiness again, Copenhagen girl. We both do. We're really sorry we couldn't stay with you that day. We want you to know we wish you the best. You deserve it.

Much love,

Mary in Dublin.

Mary Butler, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin

Sunday Independent

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