Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Study In Apprehension

Turning into the laneway
My six year old mind
Is once again filled with anxiety.
What shall I learn today?
More to the point
What will I not understand?.
Almost there now,
Past the red bricks
And the four stone slit windows
Then sharp turn left
I'm on the final leg of my journey.

To my left
The red brick building
Beckons to its charges,
The solitary cross on its rooftop
Portraying a false sense of holiness.
No going back now,
Mother's tight handgrip
Preventing all chance of escape.
Greying snow crunches
Beneath my sensible school shoes.

© Ann Brien 2009

The above sentences describe my anxiety which I felt each morning as I headed off to school with my mother. I have a vivid memory of walking past the red brick secondary school then turning left into the final laneway which took me to the side gate of my school. Always hoping for any excuse not to go, Winter-time usually granted my wish in the form of burst water pipes caused by the severe frost we encountered back then. I can still see and hear the semi-frozen snow crunching beneath my strong shoes.

The top image, taken by me last Summer, shows the first laneway before turning onto the next which I'm delighted to report hasn't changed at all over the years. Everything is exactly as it was.

The second image, taken by me two years ago, shows the final laneway to the school. Again, the only changes here are where the road has been re-surfaced and to the left, the area where once stood a small row of cottages now houses an exercise area.

Thought I'd share these memories with you.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

My Dad - A Soldier To The End

Recently I've been thinking a lot about my Dad who passed away just over nine years ago. Although he wasn't my natural father he was my adoptive Dad and I loved him very much. The one thing that makes me sad is that he didn't live to see his grandchildren graduate from college and grow into adulthood, I know he would have loved to have had real man-to-man conversations with them and would have been so proud of them too. I feel sad for them also that they no longer have elderly family members except for one paternal grand aunt who has now reached the great age of ninty three. (Above image: Dad on my wedding day).

I remember when I was about ten or twelve Dad telling me he'd been a soldier in the Irish Army and that he rode a horse and carried a rifle! To me that was amazing and I probably bored the socks off everyone telling them about my brave Dad and his military adventures. He even had the nickname of "Gunner". Of course he never fought in a war but knowing me I most likely invented some gruesome stories about his bloody battle days! (Above image: Dad in uniform, 1930's?).

The early life of this brave soldier was tinged with so many sad events. A few years following his death I wrote: "My adoptive father also had more than his fair share of sadness to contend with. As a baby he lost his parents and sister to illness and a tragic accident and as a result he and his siblings were raised by his grandmother. Not a great start to life.

I gather times weren't too bad during his adolescence and early adulthood although he did leave school at ten years of age. His marriage, which should have brought him the long-awaited happiness he deserved, ended in tragedy. His wife died thirty six weeks into her pregnancy from a "retroperitoneal haemorrhage" according to the death certificate. Of course, the baby died along with her.

Two years later he married my adoptive mother who sadly was not able to give him any children either. So, given all the sad and traumatic events in his life, it sure doesn't take a degree in psychology to figure out where his hurt was coming from. Still, for the most part, he was a good father to me and a loving husband to my mother...."

" of my happiest memories as a child was when my father, on our way home from Mass on Sunday, would buy me the Beano and Dandy comics and read them to me before dinner. It's those kind of moments that I hold dear and despite everything they were the best parents I could ever have hoped for. In some ways, they were as innocent as children themselves".

After my adoptive mother died Dad's own health slowly went downhill. Although he had a heart condition for years it was his wheezy chest that was always his problem. Still, that didn't stop him attending all of the activities that were arranged for the senior citizens in his area and even going on holidays around the country with them. He lived life to the full and was loved by one and all. At just over eighty years of age he got his first passport and flew to Lourdes telling everyone that the flight was just like a car journey!

I'm so happy that he lived into the twenty first century even if it was for only six months. His death was a total shock as he'd gone into hospital for a bronchoscopy and was expected to be discharged within a few days. Unfortunately, following the test he had some bleeding which at first didn't seem too serious. He continued going about his business as usual, watching tele and playing cards with his fellow patients in the day room. Exactly one week following the test just as he had returned from a card game in the day room and was getting ready for bed he had a massive haemorrhage which took his life within minutes. At the hospital that night I was told by the nurse that he whispered my name as he was dying. I was also told he didn't suffer and that makes me extremely thankful to God.

These days when I remember all the wonderful times we shared I consider myself so privileged to have known this man and even happier that he was my Dad. May he Rest In Eternal Peace.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Michael Jackson - One More Soul To Grieve For

I clearly remember what I was doing when the news came through of Elvis Presley's death - I was in bed listening to Radio Luxembourg. The shock and disbelief I felt that night in August 1977 was comparable to that which I experienced last Thursday when Sky News announced the death of Michael Jackson. I ask the question: What is it that arouses in us a grieving process similar to what we would feel at the death of a close friend?

After all, we do not personally know these people. We feel we know them through their music, films, reality shows etc but for most of us we've never actually met them let alone had a close physical or social relationship with them. Yet when they are taken from us, especially before their time, e.g. short illness or tragic accident, we are devastated by their passing. Perhaps mass hysteria plays a small role but I suspect it is something that goes much deeper than hysterics, something other than not being able to see or hear them again.

What was it that drew us to them in the first place? I can only speak for myself. In the case of Elvis it was definitely his music and good looks certainly in the early years because in the fifties and sixties I was too young to have any interest or indeed understanding of his personal problems. It wasn't until the early seventies when I became aware of his drink and drug habits and how he sought solice in food that I began to see that here was a real person with real sadness in his life. While I continued to love his music it was his emotional pain that reached out to me. It made his dying all the more sad in that nobody was able to save him from himself.

I was in my kitchen ironing when my son alerted me to the Breaking News on Sky that Princess Diana had tragically died in a car crash in Paris. The month was again August but this time twenty years on. Again it was not just her great beauty or the fact that both her sons were each born a year earlier than my own two boys that made me feel close to her, no in her case it was her intense lack of self confidence, the images of her looking so alone, her battle with bulimia that made me wish I could be her friend. Her death was so shocking there are still times when I find it difficult to believe she is no longer with us.

While Jade Goody's death was not exactly sudden, we had known for about two months beforehand that her fight for life would soon be lost it was nonetheless also shocking. At just twenty seven years of age and a mother of two young children she had everything to live for. (I have written my tributes to Jade in two posts, one of them prior to her death, Jade Goody - A Shining Star Whose Light Is Slowly Fading and Jade, The Brightest Star In The Sky).

For me it was not what Jade achieved in life that attracted me to her although I was delighted at her success, it was her dreadful childhood circumstances and everything that went with it that made me feel connected to her. Out of all that suffering grew a strong, independent young woman who lived life to the full and had so much love to give to those around her. Her untimely death is still very difficult to accept and painful when I do acknowledge it.

Now the world has had to endure yet another painful loss, that of the great singer/song writer and dance artist, Michael Jackson. Over the decades Michael has consistently entertained us with his unique songs and later his music videos. I was never what you would call one of his die-hard fans but I do love his songs especially the ballads but also the strong beat one like "Beat It". His "Earth Song" really tears at the heart strings.

Like so many people I always felt that Michael had a kind nature always giving of himself to those in need. So when the dreadful allegations of child sexual abuse started coming out I felt deep in my heart that he was totally innocent and would be cleared of the charges against him. Watching him having to endure that five month trial was heartbreaking. A man who sought only to bring joy into the lives of these poor children to be accused of such crimes must have felt that he had been dealt life's cruelest blow. How could you ever recover from that? It is my belief that that whole episode was the beginning of his downfall.

So what is it then that endears these people to us? Their ability to entertain us certainly plays its part but it's when their souls are laid bare before us and we witness their suffering that we really begin to connect. It's an inborn thing I guess, our need to comfort our fellow human beings in their time of need. We open our hearts to them and in doing so become so drawn into their lives to the extent that we need to know their every move, how they're coping etc. These days, twenty four hour news channels satisfy that hunger.

I once heard it referred to as "grieving by proxy" but call it what you may, it is a very real experience for some people and can be every bit as traumatic as losing a close friend. After all, isn't there a universal bond that ties each and every one of us? Perhaps there lies our answer.

May Michael rest in eternal peace and God give strength to his family and friends at this very difficult time.

Michael Jackson image:
Elvis Presley image:
Princess Diana image:
Jade Goody image: