Obituary for my father

(TIPPERARY STAR, November 2003)

Well, Sean, Eamonn, Garry, Mary and Grainne, we’re grown-ups now for sure. Our father Ned has passed on. But so much, so so much, has he also passed on. And now, in these early hours and minutes after the public farewell even as we slip back into an ordinary life made temporarily surreal, we are, each one of us, stitching together our individual, lasting tapestries of memory, myth, and already, legend.

These are the first few threads of mine.

Our reflections are of Ned the father but there is also Ned the brother, first departed sibling of the fiercely loyal and always quietly loving and giving Maura, of the equally devoted, the playful Jim; of John of the few words but the many acts of generosity, and the remarkable Nancy.

There is Ned the grandfather. It’s a long list, the list of his grandchildren, missing my own unborn first child but let them all be named here, for he loved them all and, what’s more, he knew them all. Remember that, Aoife, Eddie, Niamh, Cian, Meadhbh, Colm, Einead, Padraig, Aislinn, Caoimhe, Eamonn, Seadna, Orna and Iona.

There is Ned the father-in-law, like a belatedly discovered vintage wine, all the more satisfying after the warily planted vine finally took root and this grape grew more flavoursome over the years that Kathleen, Ber, P J and, latterly, Irene, Anne and Mike knew him.

And there was Ned the Garda who would have revelled in embarrassment at the send-off afforded their comrade.

And so many more Neds, each of which could fill this piece a hundred times over, Uncle Ned, cousin Ned, in-law Ned, shrewd cattle judge and mart-loving Ned; careless card sharp Ned who didn’t always get the hand he might have wanted but always held the trump card of knowing the real value of the game lay in its companionship.

And as we gleaned from those evenings in the funeral home and at the funeral itself, Ned the neighbour and even Ned the casual acquaintance, who always had time for a chat down the town, left a big impression. And so on and on, down the 87 years of a life fully lived.

And the tears, yes, the tears. Travelling up unbidden for the bottomless well of memory, loss and desire, congesting the corners of our eyes long before that early morning phone call and spilling over in unashamed earnest as we clasped each other in grief-smacked helplessness in his hospital room that morning.

But my feeling now, as I write, is that we have only cried our more obvious tears. There are many more to come, away from the shared grieving of the funeral and all the rest, comforting and, yes, strangely joyful as they were. Those little moments today, tomorrow and whenever we think to share something with our Dad, or that sonorous rumble of a voice will break into our thoughts to admonish us or support us, or when we will walk in the door in Templemore and for an unguarded second, wait for him to come in from the bathroom.

This is not the place to share what was said between me and my father on our last meeting, but one thing I was glad to be able to tell him — and myself — was that he would never be gone from my heart and, as I grow older now, I see him in me every day. And he is in all of us. That is the only grasp I can have on immortality.

Back in my own home place now and caught up again in the daily doings of my suburban life, the thoughts and observations have been calling into my grieving head, like long-lost family friends, sorry for my trouble, and respectful of my sorrow.

Just a moment ago, I was thinking about the miracle of the loaves and fishes and how it finally resonated with meaning for me. That more than anything struck me as I observed the grief of my family, of my aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces, and myself. How could love stretch that far, I asked, that each and every one of us could feel so loved and so bereft? Surely his affections would have been stretched a little thin in order to cater to all of us? But no, the loaves and fishes of his love and interest were as full and as nourishing for the one as for the other. It mightn’t always have seemed like it, but it is true. For, it seems to me, the true miracle of love is that sharing it does not diminish it.

And then there is the whole thing about the resurrection. If I didn’t know myself better, I might think I had finally found religion. But I see these things as just one way of expressing universal truths and aspirations. I think that Dad leaving this moral coil will allow a resurrection of sorts whereby this true legacy will be implanted in our, yes, soul, that mysterious essence that lies beyond nationality and logic. He has died so that he may be truly reborn in our hears and spirits.

I could go on, but I will finish for now with one other reflection. I was thinking just now, again, of Dad’s final moments, how those two nurses held his hands as he drifted away. And I was wondering what his final thoughts were at the moment of passing. I had a nice image of him casting off the shackles of his latter day pain and suffering, his spirit free now and from bodily infirmity to wander where it would, as we do in dreams and fantasy, recognising no boundaries of time or barriers of space. I thought of him walking tall and strong in a place where the dead come out to play and the past is never passed and the future is a distant memory. Where she is.

— Enda Sheppard

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