Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A feather on your heart

Here is a message from my friend Mary. She has given me permission to post it. It speaks powerfully to my recent posts. The wonderful image of the feather on your heart will live with me for ever.

Hi Chris,

I hope you and all your family are really well and warm as the winter bites...

I finally got to reading your ‘Day of the Dead’ blog – not a big mystery why it took me a while to ‘go there’, given the loss of my mother in August and the energy one needs to cope and grieve.

Reading about the different celebrations and festivals surrounding the dead, I was very suddenly taken back to the room in my mother’s house where we brought her, after the hospital, after the undertakers, after choosing a coffin and jewellery and her favourite dark pink jacket to wear in farewell. And the astonishment I felt that she looked so like herself, lying there, with that fine delicate skin and those hands that so often held us safe, shaped our worlds, hands that told stories with abandon and sketched love, dismay, anger and longing on the air around us. Astonishment that, in that room in her house, it seemed there was no veil between the living and dead, and yet there was. Astonishment that someone so utterly vibrant could actually die. It’s changed me.

I feel I want to fight harder for a life lived well and vibrantly, because it doesn’t just land on you, you have to choose it and leave other things or people or stuff aside. And perhaps sometimes it does just land, like a feather on your heart. My mother Carmel had an extraordinary ability to take joy in the smallest thing and then she’d tell you all about it, so you got to share in her sense of joy in a world that can surprise, that can waft a feather straight to your heart. Her life was not easy but her spirit was indomitable. She taught me so much, far more than I ever understood or recognised.

On the Day of the Dead here in Ireland, I watched five of Tomas’ great nieces (all of one family) dress up respectively as Snow White, a leopard, a ghost, a ‘scary guy’ and a little red devil. They brimmed with the excitement of becoming something completely different, an unknown quantity, a mystery. The cold air clung to them as they pranced out into the dark and along the very quiet street of their small village, crossing over into a different realm. Maybe then I saw my mother, transformed into something entirely different, a mystery. Finally, they turned for home, rosy with excitement, coming in from the dark. When they hugged us (and can they hug!) they became known again, solid little bodies in our arms, familiar, warm, ours. So my mother. A mystery, but familiar, ours.

Thank you for the blog, and the stories that connect completely unknown people...

Take care


Thursday, 15 November 2012

Beside You

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while you’ll know than I love the music of Van Morrison.  My favourite album of his is Astral Weeks, recorded in New York over two days in 1968 when he was just 23. 
For me the best song on that album – probably my top song ever – is the second track, Beside You.  

You can listen to it here 
Here’s the bit that I love the most:
To never never never wonder why at all
To never never never wonder why it's gotta be
It has to be
And I'm beside you
Beside you
It’s the refrain, it weaves amongst the rest of the lyrics, simply supported by flute and acoustic guitar.
The meaning behind Morrison’s songs isn’t always easy to work out, and he is notoriously reluctant to explain himself. So we are left to make our own best interpretations of what he is singing about. 
I think Beside You is a celebration of the direct experience of unconditional love. It’s about loving being with someone just because you can. Because you’re there and they’re there, you’re together and it’s fine. No need for conversation or discussion, no questions asked, no demands made.  No trouble, no fret or worry. Being in this particular moment, with someone you care about, and knowing that this is entirely, totally sufficient.
Being together, in ‘the silence easy’.  
Which sets me thinking about my own Beside You moments.
I am fortunate to have so many people that I can be with, enjoyably, comfortably and without worry, that I am wonderfully spoilt for choice here.  
Here are three recent moments that spring to my mind:
·        On the couch in Mary’s house, with my most recent grand-daughter Florence snugglingly asleep on my left shoulder, watching my other four grandchildren playing on the floor and listening to Mary and Rachel discuss the imminent arrival of number six.

·        On a sun-lounger by the swimming pool in the Gulf Hotel in Bahrain, sipping mint and lemonade, reading Rose Tremain’s Merivel, the afternoon sun warming my skin, Sue dozing peacefully beside me.  

·        In a park in Canberra, pushing my brother Steve along the path in his wheelchair, watching a game of touch rugby, feeling in complete harmony as we share a joke about the game and realising that - whatever happens and whenever it happens – I will always remember this moment with joy.
Go well on your merry way. I hope you have a rich store of Beside You moments, and I wish you many more of them.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Day of the Dead responses

I have had some wonderfully rich and informative responses to my post about the Day of the Dead. I would like to share them with you all, so here they are:

For last 5 years I have organised a welsh " light up a life" service... it’s a very moving service, all lay lead with no clergy, readings and carols by candlelight and an opportunity for anyone to come forward and light candles in memory of family and friends. At first service we expected about a 12 people - however half an hour before we were full and had to bring extra chairs and it has carried on being so popular year and year.  We do need to remember and opportunities to do so are important. 

In Sweden they have a similar approach – they light candles in graveyards and in every window of their houses and they have parties.  Giving out the light has especially good and cheering effects. It looked magical when I was there 6 years ago. Tomorrow I shall go and visit two friends who died young in the cemetery at the top of my hill.

For many death is the last taboo. Don't think or talk about it and maybe it will go away.... Then again, I suppose we get on with life precisely because we repress the awareness that one day we will not be around. All Souls' Day (2nd November) known as the Día de los Difuntos in Spain. The Spanish do visit the cemetery en masse to remember the departed, and there used to be the custom (maybe there still is) of spending the night in the cemetery, with lights, food and drink. Various traditions are observed throughout Spain, and special delicacies prepared for the occasion (for example, the "huesos de santo"). In Ireland, particularly in country areas, there is still the custom of holding a wake for the deceased in his or her own home. "Historically, the Celtic nations have always had a great respect for their ancestors and they believed that at certain times of year, the boundaries between mortals and the souls of the dead cease to exist. This is especially true of the “Three Nights of the End of Summer” - Hallowe’en, Samhain and All Soul’s Day. The ancients also believed that the dead were the repositories of wisdom and lore and that one of the reasons they return is to speak to their descendants. (Taken from an article by Bridget Hegarty.) I too would love a celebration in the churchyard where my father is buried in Ireland. He certainly would be present in spirit I think, as he loved any kind of celebration and get-together. We'd have some hot whiskey, a drink he always liked on a cold winter's night, and lots of good conversation. He was an excellent conversationalist. Whenever our family meet with relatives, some near, some distant, my father, and my mother, are remembered, with laughter, joy and a tear or two.... Pity Hallowe'en has become commercialised in recent decades. All Hallows´Eve, or Víspera de Todos los Santos. The old pagan feast of Samhain.
Hallowe'en (the eve of All Saints) in Ireland was a night for telling ghost stories around the fire, and these traditions still hold in many places. The spirits of the departed at a crossroads, the headless coachman, the black dog... We share these traditions with Galicia, in northern Spain, and Asturias and a few other northern provinces. Best to avoid the "Santa Compaña" (Peregrinación de los Muertos), as they mournfully glide in procession, in two lines, along a dark, lonely road, barefoot, shrouded, carrying invisible candles, and led by a living person carrying a light, holy water and a cross...... The Santa Compaña does not restrict its mournful expeditions just to Hallowe'en.

In many parts of rural Ireland, it is traditional to visit graves and to honor the dead on a specific day each year, known as a Pattern Day. The date varies from parish to parish. In preparation, graves are cleaned and decorated with new flowers and shrubs. Often, family members who have left the area will return , meet friends and neighbors at the cemetery and remember the dead.
Cemetery Sunday is a tradition that goes on the length and breadth of Ireland. Often held in August throughout Ireland. The Pattern is a festival (music, dance, eating and drinking) with origins in pre-Christian times. And occasion too, in the past (and no doubt in the present) for young men and women to meet and get to know one another). Sometimes patterns were held at Holy Wells.