As a person who has lived on this earth for over half a century my experience of death and grieving is quite limited. Thankfully those closest to me are all in robust health.

Cousins had lost both parents but we were spared.

Regular readers will know that I was raised by my father and aunt and if anything were to happen to either I would be totally devastated.  Only recently I realised that there is no set pattern for grief. Each person has to deal with loss and grief in their own time,  in their own way and and in their own space.

It’s one of the reasons as a commentator I have been reluctant to join with the chattering chorus of well-meaning peaceniks who suggest that families of victims killed during the Troubles should simply move on.

I am actually  inspired by those who can’t and won’t pack away their loss and I admire their tenacity to continue to bear witness for those who were so cruelly taken away from them. Diverse heroes and heroines like Ann Travers, Raymond McCord, Alan Black, Geraldine Finucane and Helen Deery know that to some they are the fly in the ointment, an inconvenient truth that sits like a carbuncle on the whole motherhood and apple pie of a peace process but as their loved ones can’t speak anymore- so each of these campaigners have become their voice.

A couple of weeks ago my mother died and I struggled to find any voice to articulate my grief . In normal circumstances my two siblings and I should have been inconsolable but there has been nothing normal about our relationship with our birth mother.

When the word came through that she had died -it arrived as disruptively and chaotically as when she walked away from our family over forty years ago. We didn’t know it as children but we mourned back then. Over the years there were overtures to make contact but each was spurned and rebuffed as our mother had moved on.

Finally after thirty years she eventually agreed to a face to face meeting. It was a calamitous and ill-thought out forty minute encounter. Perhaps we missed the Cilla Black influence. It was less like- Surprise-Surprise and more like a Hammer Horror. We were like strangers on a train skirmishing serious chat in the knowledge that we would never meet again. And we didn’t meet again.

Even a recent visit to Northern Ireland didn’t include a catch up with her children. I know many people reading this will be thinking “How could she?” Believe me that’s a question to which I don’t know the answer.

So when news came through that she had passed away, there was no handbook or guidance as to how to act. In fact friends felt awkward – no-one knew whether or not to offer condolences and we were not sure about how to receive them. Even now it’s difficult to find words as to describe my feelings. Numbness, anger, nausea and sadness all seemed to interchange as I sensed a loss but couldn’t grasp it. No body, no wake, it was all so unIrish and time had dimmed memories.

What I had not planned for was the wait for a funeral- three weeks!  Friends of my mother attempted to interpret her wishes. Some were surprised that she had children. Apparently the subject never came up.  Believable if you misplaced a handbag- not three children.

The situation was described as “delicate and difficult” with a need for discretion. A few eyebrows might be raised. Even though the truth could not embarrass her it seemed that with death even a wider chasm separated us. Meanwhile blissfully unaware one of the grandchildren she never met was awaiting the tooth fairy.

My siblings and I resolved that the recognition denied to us in life would not be taken from us now.  Eventually people started to understand that our need for closure was important for our peace of mind. But ten days of distressing conversations took their toll and eventually we made alternative memorial arrangements.

Hopefully our mother has found the kind of peace that eluded her troubled life. As children we have also rediscovered our voices as our sense of abandonment died with her. That was her parting gift. Mel McMahon, the poet said it more eloquently in Last Journey:


‘And that was it.

Goodbyes were said and a door

That had been ajar for forty years

Suddenly lost its hinges and disappeared.’