Family, Laughter, Music, Poetry, Love

On 20th September 2015, I wrote in my diary: “Dad sounds, not mixed up, but, like he is waiting for his brain to catch up with his mind.” What we were not yet calling Motor Neurone Disease (out loud) was making him quieter and less ebullient, but with a sharp focus still on family.

By the end of the year, my husband, Ken, was writing to his friends, reflecting on life generally and thinking about the year to come: 2016. The new year was to be marked by a new start for the two of us with a move from York to Durham for Ken’s university career – a move that excited and delighted him. Less so me. I had struggled to move to York, but then settled and loved it. Another move in such a short time had me rattled.

We came back to my parents in Ireland for Christmas. Ken’s parents were in Canada, and our visits there were usually made in summer. Ken was particularly thoughtful about my dad as he recounted cooking Christmas dinner in Portrush.

I love using ingredients from Eimear’s Dad’s garden — the apples and herbs: sage, rosemary, thyme, bay. There is something almost eucharistic in bringing to the table the food cultivated by her dad in this, his last, Christmas. There is a marvellously fluid flow of visitors…. almost Joycean at times. Though, I have to say, with Eimear’s Dad’s condition, what would usually be the din of craic, became a more subdued hum. Despite his rapidly diminishing capacities (ability to talk, to eat, to move), and physical atrophy, you could see his face light up at different times of the day, as he watched the sets of grand-boys building Lego worlds, or when he presided over the semi-bridled anarchy that characterises a multi-generational dinner table. With everyone knowing that it would be his last, it became a never-ending Christmas, with each day including another gift sharing moment next to the Christmas tree. But the acceleration in his decline is evident day-to-day, and certainly week-to-week – particularly in his speech. This, in a man who delighted in reciting poetry at the dinner table during family gatherings. He is a gentle and noble man, who has lived a genuinely gentle and noble life. Surrounded by family, laughter, music, poetry, and love, his days will reach their designated end. In keeping with his life, it will be a good and noble death. Is that not really the best that we can hope for?”

Ken sent this email to his friend on New Year’s Eve. I came across it four months later, when both Ken and Dad were dead. Yes, he was writing about Dad, but I think he was articulating his own hope: to be, ‘surrounded by family, laughter, music, poetry, and love’ at the end.

He, like all of us, was entirely unaware of what was coming, yet he was totally awake to it. Not at all prepared, but ready. And knowing this (or thinking I know it) diluted my grief a little when everything fell at once.

14 thoughts on “Family, Laughter, Music, Poetry, Love

  1. What a traumatic period in your life, coming so quickly after such a settled time in York.

    The term ‘Motor Neurone Disease’ at that time was a distant one for me via, what seemed at the time, hearing of very one-off stories such as your Dad’s.

    When it became a reality in my family about late 2017, it coincided with a sudden health issue that had arisen for me a few months earlier. With hindsight, my mother was more pre-occupied with my situation than with how MND was starting to work on her body, and the drastic impact it would have over the next 18 months.

    Fortunately my issue was quickly manageable, and I was as able – as I possibly could be – to be as you put it ‘totally awake to it’ in terms of what lay ahead for Mum.

    Thanks once again for sharing Eimear.


  2. Such a moving and beautifully written post once again, Eimear. Thank you for sharing this with us. Ken in many ways reminds me of John O’Donohue — a visionary, gentle, wise soul who left our world too soon.


  3. So beautiful. This post was a gift. 

    Thank you,

    Mary MacDonald 


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  4. To our lovely sister- your writing continues to inspire! Loved reading your words intermixed with Ken’s. Love P&S


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