Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The Blessing of the Graves

My father was always a man in a hurry.  He was in such a hurry at his 70th birthday celebrations in a restaurant last year, that he blew out the candles on his cake and had actually left the establishment while I was in the toilets with the children.  In his defense, with the squirty soap, hand dryer, and various contraptions to be examined, the toilet trip took longer than expected.  And there was an 'urgent' football match on TV at 2pm, so urgent that it was close to an emergency.  The family joked afterwards that we would spoon fed him in a chair for his 80th birthday.  But that wasn't to be, as John Russell departed this life 6 weeks after he blew out his candles.  No messing around.

Today is his birthday and I stood at his graveside over the weekend, at the annual Blessing of the Graves in Kingscourt.  Surreal indeed.

I've come to the conclusion that the ideal place for speed-catch-up with family, school friends, people you half-knew but didn't realise you how you knew them and neighbours is actually The Blessing of the Graves.  Don't knock it unless you have tried it.  And let's face it, the financial donation is cheaper than buying a round in the pub and there's less drunks.

There is a predictability to who will stand where, given the static positioning of the various family graves.  Family representation varies over the years.  New additions to the families appear and others take their rest under the soil.  Children play in the chippings and compost on the graves.  Older people rest in their fold up chairs.  There is mighty fashion to be seen and the grey headstones are outnumbered by floral arrangements.

As it happens, it's also a great place to meet people who read my blog (Who Knew ?? Like, seriously ? It's slightly mortifying, but also kinda lovely).  I meet someone who I only know through social media. We hug and I laugh that until now, I had no idea of what height she is, having only encountered her through postage stamps sized photographs on a screen.

All the fretting about being there had passed.  It oddly, feels nice.

The reality of the situation hit home when the priest, in his opening remarks acknowledges all of those who were standing beside a loved ones grave for the first time.  Thankfully he doesn't dwell on it, but I feel a pain in my heart for my lovely mother standing there.  She looks so vulnerable. Hopefully next year won't be so hard.  The first is the worst, or so they say.

I came across this photograph the other day. It's my parents, my brother Derek (with THAT haircut) and little me at the seaside in Port, Co Louth.  The sea is just over the horizon.  Can you smell it ?  I can hear it.  Whoosh .... It feels like I remember that actual day, but I wonder if that's possible as I am so young.  We went to Port every summer, so maybe it's collective memories remembered through that photograph?  The bumpy texture of the seer-sucker thin cotton dress is so familiar, as is the salt water in my mouth, as my father splashes water at me in the sea, the taste lingering long after the event.  The odd sensation of feeling rough sand sprinkled through the cool, slinky grass.  The safe feeling of the weathered palm of his farmer hand against my leg.  I keep the dress for years for a teddy.  Maybe that's why I remember?

I attended a dance performance by Theogene (Totto) Niwenshuti, a Rwandan dancer and scholar, in Maynooth University last week, as part of Kildare County Council's Dance and Movement Summer School.  Totto has survived genocide.  The audience, were led into the performance across scattered clothes, shoes and a number of people lying still on the floor.  They lay in the same direction, face down, as if they had been shot dead while running for their lives.  Individually and collectively, we sobbed quietly for massacred men, women and children and how helpless we all felt, at this scenario and the countless similar scenes worldwide.

Afterwards, an image of my fathers boots paired up the back hall way when I arrived home on the day he died, keeps coming to me.  I think about the absolute privilege that he had of dying peacefully in his own house, surrounded by family and the privilege we had in giving him a funeral that he would have approved of.

It's unlikely that my father's boots will be worn again.  My three brothers grew to be much taller than my father, so much so that my brother Eoin handed down his pair of size 8 tan leather confirmation brogues to him.  It was the source of much amusement at the time, but JR didn't take kindly to being slagged about that.  He would be raging that I told ye.  Sorry Da.  The memories keep you close.

No comments:

Post a Comment