My aunt died last week at aged 91. She was in my experience of her, a difficult lady. However, I both liked and loved her. And she was a lady. She was stunningly beautiful, except she was the only person never to know or accept that fact!
Her Mother, my Nana Deeney, used to tell her all the time, when she was young, that she was ugly and that her eyes were like two holes in a sheet! Folks you should have seen the beautiful child she was with a massive head of fabulous curls. Now I know where I got mine! She was tall and straight and elegant and a very good looking lady. She was softly spoken, until she became angry and then she’d scare the devil himself!
She was widowed about 40 years and had two boys and a girl. Her eldest son died 5 years ago or so.
Her only daughter lives abroad. Her youngest son, lived fairly near her. They were estranged.
My growing up with her, as she slept in our house during the day, while we went to school and my parents to work. She was a nurse and did the night shift in Cheshire homes near Glanmire. She qualified as a nurse in the UK and after almost rearing her children; she went to work in Cheshire Homes. She also did a lot of private nursing and even went to San Francisco to nurse a lady after she had had a very bad car accident. I thought it very brave of her, I must say, as she was in her 60’s at the time. She got the job because she lied about her age! I’m smiling as I write this, because I was a bit stunned when she told me this, that Kathleen would actually have the balls to lie about her age. Would you believe me when I tell you, she worked up to 71 years of age! That is true; she did work up until that age. I'm telling you she was some lady.
She was very bitter towards her dead husband; by all accounts they did not have a good relationship. Her lack of self-worth tortured her, all her life.
It is her death I wish mainly to speak about. I saw her last December 8th, as she was dying at the time, least that is what we were told. It’s not that I disbelieve this, Kathleen rallied around and died on the 14th April.
My sister phoned me that morning to say the nursing home had phoned her to say that Kathleen died in her sleep. For the previous 6 to 8 weeks she had refused food, water and her medication.
Later that day, my sister phoned me again to prepare me for seeing her corpse, she said Kathleen was emaciated.
I didn't see Kathleen until her removal last Saturday and all I saw was a skeleton with skin. She was, and forgive me for saying this, the ugliest corpse I had ever seen. Did she become an ugly corpse, because in life she had always believed she was ugly?!? I don’t know the answer to that. Her funeral has left me with great sadness, which I am currently unable to get past! Only that I knew better, I’d have said, that corpse was not my aunt Kathleen.
Neither of her adult children came to the funeral. And I'm not past this either. I'm not angry with them, I just have this huge sadness inside of me that in the dying of your parent, no matter what they've done, you forgive. If for nothing else, at least you have closure. But maybe they didn't need or want closure?!?
Her friends came up and asked us where her children were and we replied they didn't come.
My sadness is too for my cousin’s children, as whether or not my cousins realise it or not, they've ensured that this trait, (for the want of a better word), whatever it is, gets passed on to their children and therefore they probably unwittingly have propagated whatever it was in their family history onto their children and grandchildren. Because what is left not healed after we are gone, gets left to future generations to heal. And so, hurts left unhealed, hurt our children and their children albeit unconsciously.
The funeral wasn't all sad, I like funerals as they level everyone there! Meaning, we are all going out the same way! No escape.
My Monaghan, Derry, Mayo and Cork cousins came, well as many as could come. Each side of the families were very well represented. I have to say, it was such a joy and a treat for me to meet all those cousins, as I don’t often get to meet them. When my brother-in-law and three Monaghan cousins carried the coffin out of the funeral home, I was hit with a dart of grief. Mainly at how proud Kathleen would be, to see this act of love from her family.
After the church we descended on a local hotel, as most of us who travelled were staying there for the night. I ate and chatted with a few of the Monaghan cousins, they all drank tea, I had wine! I don’t drink tea. (For now I won’t say anything about the fluoride content in tea and in Irish water.) Soon afterwards, my extended & immediate families were both eating and drinking. We caught up on each other’s lives, their children, whom I have not yet met, well the Monaghan 2nd cousins! Later on my parents & my Dad’s only brother left with my Mum and aunt. The only member of my family not to be there was my brother, who was in Australia with his wife, visiting their only daughter. My brother had been extraordinarily kind to Kathleen and we missed his presence there. I have to say the craic was mighty and I was slagged off for being “Nuts & Bolts” and some other adjective, which escapes me just now! Oh the adjective was “Whacko” LOL!
Later on five cousins went across the road to another pub, I was on water at that stage and then one of my Monaghan cousins and I went into the hotel disco…….. Well, that’s saying it quite loosely! It was, in my opinion, a techno dance! We had two dances and left . Not my scene at all!
The following morning more cousins arrived, some driving through the night and others leaving at the crack of dawn to be there. We all assembled in the hotel foyer and made our way to the church for Kathleen funeral Mass. Nearly all the cousins had readings, prayers of the faithful or some job to do, like organising flowers. Near the end of Mass, one of my Derry strong female cousins asked if we ladies could carry the coffin, as they always do in Derry. I was thrilled, because I had always wanted to shoulder a coffin. So when Mass was over, five nieces and one grandniece carried Kathleen out of the Cathedral. I don’t know what this looked like, however, I was so honoured to be a part of shouldering Kathleen out of the church. My male cousins and brother-in-law brought Kathleen to her resting place.
We were lucky with the weather in that it was dry, but bitterly cold. You know that awful biting Easterly wind. Then we headed back to the hotel for something to eat. There were 30 family members there and one old family friend of my Dad’s, uncles and Kathleen’s. Almost as soon as we had eaten, people began to depart, lots of them had huge journeys ahead of them. So we hugged and said adieu.
What amazed me was the loyalty the Deeney clan has for their own, I hadn't thought about it before, but it was as obvious as the sun shine. Kathleen’s family did her proud and I hope she smiled. I think we first cousins were very lucky when we were young to have spent a lot of time with each other, as it gave us a solid base of comradery. It high-lighted for me, that I was neglectful not to have spent more time with my nieces and nephews for my children’s sake. It wasn't that my children didn't spend time with their first cousins; they did, but not as much time, as we did with our first cousins.
Kathleen’s death also taught me how important family is. Not just your immediate family, but our extended families. My cousins are amazing Human Beings, not because they may have great jobs, no, they are amazing in who they are, as Human Beings. I am very proud to be a part of this clan. (I feel exactly the same about my Mum’s family).
We were able to take the piss out of ourselves while we were together. And no one was offended! The Deeney’s have a negative trait of always needing to be right! When this was brought up, you could see all the spouses nodding their heads furiously! I'm smiling as I type. And you know the fact that we could slag one another about these traits, I think, will mean, going forward, that part of us is now out in the open and we’ll all be more aware of our own foibles.
For me, while Kathleen’s life and death was sad, at times. I believe her death; brought the Deeney clan together, more than any other Deeney funeral I've been to. It really did instil in me just how important our families are in our lives. Though we go through life not even thinking about it, because life, became so busy. Honour and love your families’ folks. They ARE VERY IMPORTANT.
PS…….. I've sat with this for almost a week, I now think I know why. Years ago I did a thesis on the dying process and the biggest thing I learned from this was…… We die as we have lived. Meaning, I’ll talk and probably write about my own dying, when the time comes. That’s if I get a little time before I die. Kathleen died as she lived.
In honour of Kathleen this poem is for you.
Last Friday week, the 8th of April I was driving over to Kilcrohane to see a friend of mine and the sun was shining on the sea……….This is what came to me and it is apt for Kathleen.
The sun shone like diamonds upon the sea…
Reflecting God’s unconditional love in brilliant light,
And then the sea reflected that love back to God from his children here on Earth.
God being so immeasurable in his love for mankind,
Gently and generously reflected his love back, to us, his children.
Know deep within you,
If you really realised how much you are loved,
You would weep with joy.