Christmas Day – And aside from that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?
On Christmas morning, herself made an elaborate breakfast. It was really amazing but she was exhausted from her efforts.
She got a fancy new dress for Christmas. Unlike her brothers whose new Christmas clothes were a matter of indifference, she was delighted. But not surprised. “Why did you write about my Christmas present on your blog?” she asked. “But I had disguised the reference,” I replied, “and anyway, you never read my blog.” “It was insufficiently disguised and I was reading the blog because of you – I was looking into the etymology of torytop and your blog was one of the references.” A torytop is a pine cone. Everyone knows that.
At lunch time we went out to Mr. Waffle’s brother’s family and had a lovely Christmas dinner with them. My sister-in-law is a great cook and the children were delighted to see their cousins. All was very pleasnt. We stayed a bit later than expected. I tried to ring my father on his mobile (I had bought him a new one on Tuesday but failed to set the right ring tone and, I fear, he couldn’t hear it) and I rang the hospital but couldn’t get through to the ward. One of his friends, Stanley, had tried to call him as well and rang me to check if he was ok. I explained that my father had gone into hospital on Christmas Eve and that he wasn’t able to hear the mobile particularly well. But he was on IV antibiotics and we hoped all would be well. Stanley asked whether my father had got the copy of the Holly Bough which he had dropped in to him. I assured him that he had but that my father only ever read it on Christmas Day.
My friend in Brussels – my oldest friend, our parents were friends and I’ve known her all my life, texted me at 5.26 to ask how my father was. “Fine,” said I. Reader, as you may have guessed, he was not fine. My sister called at 7.15 to tell me that he had died at 5.30. Poor Dad. I know he was 95 and in hospital so you’d hardly expect it to be a shock but it was a shock. The hospital rang my brother and sister at 5. They were there by 5.15 as it’s only around the corner but by the time they got up to his room with Covid and PPE and everything it was 5.30 and he had just died. Apparently he was reasonably ok on Christmas Day, talking to the nurses and asking for water and so on.
My poor in-laws, it was a bit awful. I cried, Michael cried, everyone was a bit weepy. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law gave me non-Covid compliant hugs. We went home. It did not pan out how I had imagined Christmas night would. But at least we’d had dinner. My brother and sister had to have Christmas dinner with my 91 year old aunt when they got home from the hospital and tell her that her brother had died. It was pretty awful. Back in Dublin we pulled all our Christmas crackers which had a Darwinian element allowing the winner of the cracker pull to give out stickers for funniest person in the room; hairiest person in the room and so on. We laughed a bit and then I cried again. It’s so strange. I am much sadder than I was when my mother died. She had dementia and she had been leaving for a long time. Mentally he was the same as ever. On Tuesday 22 December, I was talking to him about Brexit and on Friday 25 he was gone, snuffed out forever. If I’d known it was going to be our last conversation ever, I would have tried to talk about something more interesting. Still, I sat down and talked to him for a good hour and a half on Tuesday morning. I went to the market on Monday 21 and bought the wherewithal to make an excellent ham sandwich which he ate with every appearance of enjoyment at lunchtime. I am so grateful to my brother for calling me and telling me to come down.
God, all the things my father knew about – he read so much, he was so knowledgeable and clever – and experienced – he lived for such a long time. I read somewhere once that every time an old person dies, it’s like the Library of Alexandria burns down again. God knows, that was true of my father.
He died in the Bons where he had worked himself and been a regular patient over the years – it was a good place for him to die. They didn’t have to shoot him in the end.
St Stephen’s Day – Back to Cork
I slept badly and woke up unsure about what to do. Should we stay, should we go to Cork? God, I really wanted to go to Cork but what could I do once I got there? And Covid made accommodation arrangements so complex, hotels were hard to find, I was worried that we would give Covid to my brother and sister if we descended upon them.
My wonderful friends M and R whose holiday house in Garryvoe in East Cork we have used so many times before came to the rescue and gave us their house. I cannot say how grateful I am. I think they had been planning to go down themselves and spend the next lockdown there but we went instead. We still have their spare key in a drawer. Fortunately for us if not for them.
Then I had to talk to the people whom I had assured that my father was fine. First my own friend in Brussels. That was hard. Technically she’s known him longer than me as she’s a full year older. She was sad, it’s like the end of an era for her too. Then I had to ring his friend Stanley whom I had called the previous day. I really wanted to not weep. This was the man whose wife died the same weekend as my mother. My sister and I went to her funeral and wept and the grieving widower had to comfort us. I was hoping to somewhat salvage my reputation. Not a huge success. I started off strong and was doing a good job. He has such a nice accent, I thought to myself (upper middle class Cork merchant prince – people often mock the Cork accent because they don’t appreciate its range) and focussed on this. Stanley was a very nice man and very good to my father. My father had been a friend of his father’s and he was a good bit younger than my father. “How old was he?” Stanley asked me. “Nearly 96,” I said. “Well, I’m 76, and I’ve known your father nearly all my life. I remember the first time I sailed with him, my father had bought a new boat in Dublin, and we sailed it down to Cork, my uncle, my father, your father and I. I was 13 years old,” he said. Still not crying. Going very well for me frankly. “Thank you so much, you were always very good to him,” I said. And he was, visiting my father and chatting about yachty things and Cork things when most of my father’s contemporaries had died. “I was delighted to,” he said, “your father was a very easy man to like.” That’s when I started to cry. And then he said, “He loved to read, didn’t he? He read absolutely everything. If he was around at my parents’ house and nothing much was happening, he’d pick up the Beano and start reading it.” My sister said she was talking to the same friend later and he said, “He really loved the Telegraph didn’t he?” I’m afraid he did. He started reading it in England when he worked there in the 50s and the Times went on strike. And he stuck with it. An anti-Irish paper as well as everything else in my view. I wonder whether the Telegraph knows that it’s lost a loyal reader in Cork. At one stage I understand that for its own obscure reasons it carried the Cork church service times but not Dublin ones; a source of delight to my father. Anyhow, Stanley said that he had once seen my father pick up a week old Daily Telegraph (which by definition he would already have read) and read it in preference to that day’s Irish Times. He hated the Irish Times or the “Dublin Intelligencer” as he always called it.
I rang another 95 year old friend of my father’s. He said sadly, “You know we were friends for 78 years.” Not bad. When I was going through my father’s old albums from the 60s (he used to develop his own black and white photos), I found a good few pictures of this friend doing nautical things. I must pass on copies.
I rang my mother’s oldest friend, Brenda. She picked up the phone. I said hello and then I couldn’t say anything else. And straight away she said, “Is it Dad?”. She is such a wonderful person and now that my parents are gone, I value her more than ever. Isn’t life odd? When my mother first met Brenda more than 60 years ago she couldn’t have known that her children would be relying on her after her own death. She chose good friends, my mother. Brenda reminisced about a dinner she went to when my parents were first married. Although my mother was an academic chemist and excellent cook, the world of the freezer was new to her and she’d tossed a piece of frozen beef in the oven for a couple of hours in the expectation that it would cook. It did not and as my father started carving, it became clear that the beef was raw. He said to my mother, “What were you aiming for dear?” which still caused Brenda to chuckle.
I talked to the undertaker over the phone with my brother and sister. They were there in person and I was off in Dublin which was unsatisfactory. Being 250kms away is awful sometimes. Undertakers do an amazing job though.
My cousin Damien called and said that my parents were happy together now and I had another cry for myself. My mother’s ever practical friend Brenda when asked about this said that she had asked her father whether there was a heaven and he said, “Well, if there is well be happy there and if there isn’t we’ll never know. ” So a win either way.
We drove down to Garryvoe that evening in the lashing rain.
I stayed up late doing a jigsaw and not sleeping and the power had gone out and come back again in the course of the storm lashing the house all night.
December 27 Sunday
It was great to wake up in Cork. Even better that the electricity hadn’t been cut off. We went for a quick walk on the beach. It was absolutely full of families.
We drove up to Cork. My parents’ house is full of memories of my father. All his books, his paraphernalia, his chair. It’s a bit like the house is a person. We were all sad. It was so strange that he wasn’t sitting there when we went in. My sister and I went up to the funeral home to see my father laid out. He looked very well actually. We had thought of donating his body to medical science but medical science passed on that opportunity. It was nice to see him. He looked a bit cross but very dapper. After some consideration, we decided to bury him in his yacht club tie. I touched his hand and half expected him to sit up and say irately, “What?”
We did some preparation for the funeral mass. We chose Wisdom 3:1-6, 9 about the souls of the virtuous; herself went off the suggested list and wanted something from Revelations (Rev 21:1-6) finishing up with the Alpha and the Omega, no one else really had views so we went with that. My cousin volunteered to sing. Due to Covid restrictions we could only have ten people at the funeral which is a very small funeral indeed. I mean I would be bringing half of the mourners.
My cousin from New York rang me to sympathise. My friend who is a doctor in Vermont rang me. She was sad because it was a bit the end of an era – my father taught her and all her friends in college.
December 28 Monday
Because the Monday was a bank holiday and the notice could only go in the papers on Monday, we held off until Tuesday for the funeral. It was a long, long time. Mr. Waffle got a Discworld jigsaw for Christmas. We were all glad that it made it to Cork.
The notice appeared in RIP.ie on Saturday. Ireland’s final news source as Mr. Waffle calls it. At this stage of Covid, the undertakers and churches are really on top of revised funeral arrangements. The address for live streaming the funeral was in the notices. And now the condolence bit of RIP.ie which was always quiet before is full of nice comments. And I found that people rang me more. When my mother died, they were all at the church and didn’t need to but it was nice to get the calls.
We went into Middleton to do some shopping and put on the radio, they were playing Christmas songs. As Mr. Waffle said, “It’s still Christmas outside the car.” He remarked that this must be what it’s like to be Muslim or Hindu and see people celebrating Christmas, you know, good for them but nothing to do with me.
Herself volunteered to make lunch when we got back and the boys, Mr. Waffle and I went for a walk on the beach. Then we all went up to Cork and I took the children and Mr. Waffle to see the body. They were a bit sad. The undertaker came flying out to the car after us as we were leaving and asked whether the children would like to leave anything in the casket. We were baffled. Like what? “A poem the children had written or something”. Herself spoke for all of us when she answered politely but firmly, “No thank you, Grandad would have hated that.” It was the undertaker’s turn to be baffled but she was quite right.
That evening before going back to East Cork, I gave my brother a lift to his friend’s house. On the way, my sister called to let us know that she had just got a notification that she was a close contact of a Covid case and had to restrict her movements. She wouldn’t be able to go to the funeral. We all nearly cried. She has been super-cautious as she has had cancer. Why her of all people?
My cousin Sheila rang that night and was suitably appalled. Honestly, it was horrendous.
December 29, Tuesday – The Funeral
I had such a vivid dream that my father was still alive in a logistically awkward way and sprang from bed thinking, “We’ll have to cancel the funeral and let everyone know, this is typical.”
My children got ready. Michael’s jacket was a bit on the small side and his shirt a bit big, but ok. Daniel arrived downstairs in a perfectly fitting jacket and shirt (win) but with his nether limbs clad in jeans. The horror. “I thought you said it would be ok, I haven’t got any other trousers,” said he. Look, we were where we were and it wasn’t likely we would pick up another pair of trousers before 11. At least they were navy jeans. All in all, we looked pretty good, I thought.
We stopped off at my sister’s house on the way to the church to drop off some essential supplies. She left in exchange some, still in the box, cotton handkerchiefs which my father had asked her to get before he died but which she hadn’t had a chance to give him.
I was surprised when I got there to find the churchyard full of people, cousins, my brother’s friends. All a bit random but apparently it’s a thing now, people can’t come into the church but they come to the car park and sit in their cars and watch the service online from their phones.
The actual congregation was small: me, my brother, my husband, my children, my 91 year old aunt (my father’s sister), my 84 year old aunt (my father’s sister-in-law), my cousin to mind my aunt, my cousin who was singing and, slightly randomly a friend of my brother’s. I introduced the children to him and he said, “I was taught by your grandfather and your grandmother in college.” So a bit odd but nice all the same to see a former student when my father’s identity was so tied up with college. There was also an unknown man in the corner of the church in a hi-vis jacket (Covid inspector? Local who always goes to all the funerals and wasn’t going to let Covid stop him? Spare priest?).
My sister watched it online with tea and toast. Her friend who is a veteran of online funerals (welcome to Ireland folks) said the online streaming was one of the best she had seen. My friend in Brussels watched it too and sent me a screen grab.
Lots of people watched online actually. My brother was baffled, “It’s not exactly fascinating TV is it?” Michael did the first reading. The second he heard my father had died, he asked could he do a reading. He was first up which was a bit unnerving notwithstanding the minuscule congregation; but he got into his stride and did fine, herself did the second reading and Daniel and my brother divided up the prayers of the faithful. I have to say, my children were an absolute credit to me. I did a speech at the end. The people at home didn’t seem to mind but those in the freezing church gave very clear feedback that it was a bit long. I might put it up here eventually.
Between my brother, his friend, my cousin, my husband and my sons, we managed to carry the coffin out of the church although my sister said that seen from above it listed precariously. My brother and each of my sons claimed that they carried the full weight of the coffin. It seems unlikely but as my brother was the tallest, there may have been some merit in his claim.
We went to the graveyard. It was the coldest day of the year. Absolutely bitter. There were some more people at the graveyard: a couple of cousins, a friend of my sister’s but it was a small crowd. He was buried in the plot that my great-grandfather bought in 1913 beside his grandparents, his uncles and aunts and my mother. His own mother and father were elsewhere but that plot was full when we investigated burying my mother there in June 2019 so we were on top of that. We stood there absolutely freezing while the coffin was lowered down. The priest said the usual prayers and then he said, “We’ll say a decade of the rosary.” God, I thought I was going to die of cold. Herself gave her gloves to her 91 year old great aunt but I felt that she and my 84 year old aunt might have their demise hastened by the time spent in the bitter cold.
Then my poor aunt and cousin turned around and drove back to Limerick without even a cup of tea in their hands. It seemed terrible. We went back to my parents’ house. My brother brought my aunt into her own house next door. It just seemed so awful to me that she would be in her house alone the afternoon her brother was buried that I thought, I don’t care and went next door and brought her in to my parents’ house. We lit a fire and had tea and sandwiches and exciting Christmas biscuits. Meanwhile my sister following her Covid test (very painful she said) went on her own to the graveyard, to visit my father’s grave which may possibly mark peak misery.
I saw that my parents’ vile Christmas tree was sitting in its box in the breakfast room. I have written about this tree before. I can’t imagine that it was particularly attractive when my parents bought it for Christmas 1967. The intervening years have not added to its attractions, most of the silver tinsel has fallen from its branches. I have always hated it and lobbied unsuccessfully for a real tree every year while I lived at home and swore that I would always have a real tree in my own home when I grew up. My brother saw me looking at the tree and said, “Oh yeah, Dad said that if anything happened to him, he wanted you to have that tree and put it up every year.” Oh how we laughed. For clarity, this is not something my father would have said but my brother enjoys torturing me.
I was a bit sad leaving my brother alone in the house; he lived with my father and it must be strangest of all for him.
When we got back to Garryvoe, Mr. Waffle and I went for a walk on the beach to look at the moon.
Wednesday December 30 – Going Home
The Princess and I went for a walk on the beach early in the morning before the hordes descended.
The boys and Mr. Waffle and I went slightly later and saw someone swimming. Dear God in heaven, Garryvoe is freezing in the summer.
Then we packed up and headed back to Dublin after lunch.
There was snow on the Galtees on the way back and the most spectacular sunset and moon rising. It was lovely to be home. The house was freezing though, Aga or no Aga.
I got a text message from one of my cousins sympathising. He was stuck in England for Christmas and he commented bitterly that he had only just found out about my father. People forget about you when you’re not there. I saw the text and decided to reply later then about 20 minutes later I got an agonised message from him saying, “When I said people forget to tell you, I was giving out about my mother and brothers, not you!” Poor man, as my sister said, if he knew me at all he would just know that I am a slow responder to messages.
Thursday December 31 – New Year’s Eve
It felt a bit like the beginning of our Christmas break. When we got up, there was loads of snow. Daniel was so excited, he was like a small child. Herself began work on a newsletter. “Can I see a copy?” I asked. “It’s for my intimates,” said she. “I’m one of your intimates!” I said. “No,” said she, “you’re my mother.” Fair.
Mr. Waffle and I went up to the Hell Fire Club to see more snow although there was probably more on our road – a disappointing quantity of snow. Then later we realised that we shouldn’t have gone outside 5 kms from home from the 31st, we thought it was the 1st, oh well damage done. And GAA training is cancelled again. Alas.
Then I got a text from my sister that she had tested positive for Covid. 2020, the year that keeps on giving. We have to restrict our movements for 14 days from when we last saw her. Since my brother didn’t see her the day before she was tested, it doesn’t apply to him which seems just crazy. I feel a bit worried about my aunt now. Imagine if we’ve given her Covid. The children will have to go back to school a day late but to be honest, what with the country being in level 5 lockdown and everything else, we didn’t have big plans.
On our way back from the Hell Fire Club, we saw a man walking in the rain with a bike wheel badly buckled. “We could fit his bike in the car, will we stop and give him a lift?” I asked Mr. Waffle always concerned about our fellow cyclists. Mr. Waffle looked at me and said, “Are you serious?” Look, I’d briefly forgotten our Covid status, we’ve had a lot on.
So we were waiting for our text from the HSE about testing. As Michael said the whole thing makes no difference to him except he’s going to get a swab stuck up his nose. But the test and trace system has been overwhelmed and we’re not going to get tested unless we have symptoms and so far we all seem fine. Happily so does my sister. Keep your fingers crossed.
I went to light the fire. We’re out of fuel and we can’t go out to get any as we’re restricing our movements. I found a coal man to deliver on January 2. A hopeful sign for the new year. Here’s to a better 2021 for everyone.
Happy New Year!