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AN ODE TO AN IRISH DEATH

By Vivien Whelan, Parish of Glynn



My mother was buried with a copy of Ireland’s Own magazine, more specifically the June 9th issue - The Story of the Sacred Heart. It was one of the offerings at the funeral mass. She was an avid reader of the magazine and had been reading since she was a girl. When we were little we would do the puzzles and colouring pages with her. I had planned to read this issue to her but she had passed before I had gotten the chance. The night before she had passed, my six siblings and I spoke to her, about our childhood, about life, thanked her for everything and sang her ‘the streets of New York by The Wolfe Tones. Though she couldn’t answer, I felt she heard every word. They say hearing is the last to go. The morning of, we felt it was drawing near. The priest was called, she had her last rites read and one by one we all came into her room and watched the earthly life leave her body. We told her it was OK to go, that she didn’t have to hang on any longer, that we would be alright. We weren't wholly sure we would be alright, but she needed to know we would or she wouldn't have let herself go. What they don’t tell you about death is that there is so much to do once it happens, and you only know if you have experienced it before. Luckily we have a large family and community in rural Ireland. First my aunt and grandmother came, they had already provided the priest table and candles. My dad called the gravediggers, all friends of my parents. Mirrors were covered. A superstition, i'm told, which is to hide the physical body from the soul. Candles were lit. Then the undertaker was called, my mother’s cousin so she took extra care. Then the community came, in their masses and with more food than would feed a family for what seemed like months. They came in their droves up the driveway, every time I looked in that direction there were more. A testiment to the nature of my loving, kind mother. We kept my mother alive for three more nights through the wake process. We shared stories, prayed, drank tea and cried. Even slept in there. Hundreds of people who loved my mother came to say farewell, to their sister, aunt, cousin, godmother, friend, acquaintance, colleague. Children played outside which I knew she would have loved. I once read a tweet along the lines of 'I hope death is like being carried to your room as a child during a family party and you can still hear the laughter from the next room'. I think this is what it was like for my mother. The day of the funeral, our driveway was lined with neighbours, friends and family as we walked my mother down our driveway and into the hearse. At mass, my sister read the eulogy we had written, which spoke of the kindness of my mother, how she was born to be a mother and how her faith carried her through life. After the mass, my dad, 2 brothers, 4 sisters and I carried her to her grave. What it thought me is that the tradition after an Irish death is a beautiful one and long may it last. I felt my mother’s soul go to heaven in the moments after she had passed, I know it is only goodbye for now. And having the wake at home, with the whole community, keeping my mother’s spirit alive for three more days gave us a sense of peace.

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