I’m not sure any of us can say that we fully understand life and death. We all have our own beliefs and that’s okay, but that’s all they are – beliefs. What is life all about, and where do we really go when we die? I don’t let myself think about it too much because it’s confusing and sometimes scary. I take comfort in my beliefs and it keeps me from freaking out.
All my life I preferred to avoid people who have just lost a loved one. Not always, but many times. I’d tell myself things like: I’m not to bother them. I’ll make them sad if I mention their loss. I don’t need to go to the wake because they have enough people there, and we’re not even related. I won’t go to the funeral because I hate funerals, they make me cry. (You could say that’s selfish.) I’ll send a sympathy card instead. (And then forget to send it.) I always thought if I lost someone close, I wouldn’t want to see lots of people. I wouldn’t want them to say anything, or I wouldn’t care if they went to the funeral or not.
Well…my eyes have been opened! How wrong I was about death and funerals; how wrong I was to think all those things.
My darling beautiful Daddy died last week, and for the first time in my life I know what it’s like to really grieve. I thought I knew what a broken heart felt like, but no, I didn’t. I thought I was at least half-prepared for the day when one of my parents would die, but I wasn’t even close.
The last time I spoke with Daddy was in the hospital where he was very sick. I hugged him for a little bit longer than usual when I said goodbye. On our long drive back to Mayo, I said to my husband several times, ‘He’s so sick. Sicker than ever before.’
I was afraid, and very sad because he was in pain. It was hard to watch him like that. It was equally as hard watching my mother crying at his bedside. And I had to go. I left a piece of my heart with him that day. Deep down in my soul I knew he wasn’t going to survive this sickness. His poor wee heart could take no more.
He struggled with his bad heart for a long time, and it kept going longer than it probably should have. The whole family always believed that it was his positive outlook and fun sense of humour that kept him alive all these years. We thought we would have him forever.
Funerals in Ireland are different than funerals in other parts of the world. When there’s a death, people gather to the home of the deceased to pay their respects. It’s called a wake, and lasts for two or three days (sometimes longer). The funeral mass and burial takes place on the last day. It’s a time when family, friends and neighbours come together to support each other.
I used to think I wouldn’t like that part of a family funeral, but I got so much comfort from all the people who called to the house. I was grateful for every single word of condolence, every handshake, every hug. People who my brothers and I haven’t seen in years came to visit, and we were so glad they did. Some told little stories about him, shared their memories, and some didn’t really know him at all; they were there for us, and we needed them.
Friends came long distances to be at the funeral, took a day off work, stayed overnight. You remember things like this. Such respect! Of course, sometimes it isn’t always possible to attend the wake house or the funeral, and that’s okay. But I have a whole new way of looking at death and funerals now. People say you have to experience something for yourself to fully understand it. It’s true. I get it now!
I will love him until the day I die. His fun, his jokes, watching him love my mother with all his heart. Seeing him play with his grand-children and great grand-children; he was such a messer! I will always remember the fantastic childhood he gave my four brothers and I. We hadn’t much money but we had everything we needed. We had love and now we have our beautiful memories!