The Goodbye

We stand, then look back and see the others sitting. We exchange glances, we’ve been caught getting it wrong. Best we stick to the plan now – we stay on our feet. The front row do too, but maybe that’s how it works.

My eye is drawn yet again to the photo on the casket. I can see him leaning against the bridge, looking out under the brim of his hat, grinning at the camera. She’s smiling like she’s just been given the best present in the best place on the best day. It’s grainy black and white, but her twenty-two year old face shines and her smile draws every eye. There’s no doubting her bridal joy. It’s all stretching out before her, on O’Connell bridge, seventy years ago.

Honeymoon photo by man on bridge

 

 

We’re listening now to the story. The one we knew a little when we were small, but didn’t understand. About the happy, happy days of early marriage, the five babies in eight years, the farm, the busy house, the thriving business. Then an illness, for just a week, then devastation. A widow with five children, at only thirty years of age.

I think back to my childhood visits. The early morning bustling outside the bedroom doors – setting the fire, setting the table. Tea for grown-ups and milk for us, all in squat cups ringed with toffee-coloured stripes. One-sided toast, done on the grill, with melted butter. Always one-sided and always more. Then books and games and toys, while she busied around us, making sure we were warm – always making sure we were warm.

Dinner at lunch-time, the farmer way, and tea in the late afternoon – Mikado and Coconut Cream biscuits, the table set with plates and knives and cups, everyone gathered again. Sitting around the fire at night, playing scrabble and draughts, warm and familiar and safe. Falling asleep at night, gentle hands pulling the blanket higher, always making sure we were warm.

We didn’t understand then what she’d been through. How she’d raised five children on her own, how with the help of neighbours and family, she’d kept the business going. How she’d been broken by grief, and come through with her spirit rebuilt. And how she never complained – seeing every small good as a blessing. Seeing her life as something wonderful that she didn’t deserve.

And it’s not sad, it can’t be sad, we’re not allowed to be sad. She was ninety-two, she was happy, it was peaceful. Tissues are passed. Hands dab quickly and discretely at wet eyes. It’s moving. It’s poignant. And it matters to five children, twelve grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren who are where they are today because she came through her grief.

I look again at the photo of the couple on the bridge. The unknowing is striking. And yet, there’s nothing that foreknowledge would bring – no changes with hindsight. And maybe that’s what matters most.

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Elizabeth Fitzgerald, rest in peace.

 

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33 thoughts on “The Goodbye”

  1. Andrea that is beautiful and has me in tears. My own Nana died last year at 93 and was a wonderful lady too.
    I’m sure Elizabeth would be very proud of such a beautiful tribute to her from you. My condolences on your loss. Do pass on those memories to your own children.
    Fionnuala recently posted…Hugo, How I’ve Missed YouMy Profile

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your Nana too Fionnuala, and yes it’s lovely to be able to pass on memories to the kids isn’t it. I hate to think of forgetting any of it!

    1. She really was – I wish I’d known all of it when I was younger but then again I probably wouldn’t have understood either. Thank you xx

  2. Oh, Andrea, this is just beautiful and it sounds like your grandmother deserved such a moving tribute. What a story, what a life! My sincere condolences to you and yours. X

    1. Thanks Joanna – yes, what a life, I imagine there are so many people of her generation who went through similar tragedies, and just kept going – they had no choice. Thanks for your lovely words.

  3. I’m so sorry to hear this sad news Andrea. You have written such a beautiful tribute to an inspirational lady.

  4. I was so distraught I couldn’t be there with everyone to say goodbye, but it was beautiful to read that. I have lots of similar memories. Thank you xx

    1. Ah Laura, that’s hard being away from home at times like this, but it’s more important to focus on the happy memories, and also the lovely times you have ahead this year xx

  5. I loved this post so much. My sympathies to you on her loss, but I loved this wonderful tribute to her resillience and mothering. Well done.
    My own dad died at 52, not exactly 30 but still young and I watched my mum die with him and then regrow. A couple of years ago at my brothers wedding we played her wedding song and my brother danced with her. Just like your nan she didn’t know they wouldn’t have a happy ever after but this song comforts her still. I think you’ll enjoy it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7X9wq-VQf6A
    tric recently posted…On to her next adventure.My Profile

    1. Thank you Tric. People are so resilient aren’t they. And in a way maybe that makes us (me) underestimate the impact of a huge tragedy, especially something like this that happened 62 years ago and long before I was born. I love that my granny always thought she was lucky and blessed – imagine. Thanks for the link to the song – it’s just right.

  6. What a beautiful tribute to your Nana, may she rest in peace. She sounds like an amazing lady.
    Condolences to your family, goodbyes at at time, at any age are hard.
    Sharon

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