In early December, my first cousin, T, was killed in a traffic accident. He was the eldest of all the cousins and six years older than me. I hadn’t seen him in years and we were never close but I got a real shock when I heard the news.
I went to the funeral in the small country town he was from with my brother and sister. T had no children and was unmarried. My uncle is unwell and, his mother, my 80 year old aunt, and brothers and sisters were T’s chief mourners. My cousin, his brother, was the undertaker – when I saw him, for the first time in several years, he reminded me that he was always my favourite cousin, which remains true – he is a really kind, gentle man. It was all really sad. T’s funeral was in the church where my own mother was baptised and married. In 1967 when she and my father got married, my cousin was a winsome page boy in the same church.
It had been many years since I had met all of my cousins, I was abroad, we fell out of contact. One of them was unrecognisable; the last time I had seen him, he had a shock of red hair, now he was bald. The rest of us were all the same, only older. My own parents weren’t there as they are not well and I was struck by how much I missed them. All of us reverted to childhood a bit as our generation were all together with parents again although the “grown ups” are now all elderly. It was very strange and almost like time travelling. One really lovely thing was meeting my cousins’ children, most of whom I hadn’t met before. I followed up at Christmas and brought my own children to meet their second cousins and that was great. I have hopes of seeing them in Dublin at some point – a bed to offer in Dublin is surely a draw for cousins from outside the big smoke. I have almost committed to go to an extended family reunion at the end of April in Kerry (although, I think, Mr. Waffle is balking slightly at the prospect).
We went to the graveyard. T was buried in the same grave as my beloved grandmother. She absolutely adored T; he was the first grandchild and the apple of her eye. All of the cousins were reminiscing about her funeral when glasses of whiskey were lined up on the wall of the graveyard for mourners to drink. In 1984, the drink driving laws weren’t what they are today. My other uncle was buried there in 2008 the day we were moving home from Belgium and I didn’t go to the funeral. I strongly feel my aunt, his wife, has not forgiven me. My sister says I am imagining it but I’m not so sure. My other cousin (another niece) flew back from New York for the funeral and it was mentioned. Again. How nice it is to fall into old family discussions, ahem.
My cousins recalled how absolutely terrible I had been at cards as a child. My mother taught us all to play cards but my brother and sister were more talented than me (I would point out that I an an absolute genius at cards compared to my loving husband; it’s not that I’m bad it’s just that that Limerick school was very sharp indeed). When somebody made a bid which they had the cards to get easily, my mother would say, “You’d make that from the top of Knockfierna”. My cousins pointed out Knockfierna to me from the graveyard.
We went for dinner afterwards and I had a long and interesting chat with my cousin the dairy farmer – it’s a whole different world and really fascinating. All of us pooled our knowledge of the family. My grandfather who, by all accounts was quite the driven, hard, self-made man, died when I was 6 months old. “Did you know he had a glass eye?” asked my cousin. “No,” I said, “but did you know that his family spoke Irish?”
It was sad but it was wonderful to meet all these people from my childhood who I had really lost contact with and see their lives and their families and start to build up those old connections. To cap off a quite surreal experience, I spent an hour waiting in a rural station for a train back to Dublin. There was a man who was clearly mentally unwell and shuttled between the two women in the waiting room shouting abuse at us as we pretended to be absorbed in our phones. We were glad when a couple of other people showed up for the Dublin train. And that, somewhat bleakly, was that.