How do we humans do it? How are we able to bury our dead and keep on going, over and over? How can we mourn those we love, knowing we will have to do it again? Within us is this capacity to love and keep loving, to keep giving after loss. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to bury a loved one.
My mother-in-law recently passed, after a few hard years with dementia, and a couple of short weeks of fading away from us, farther than she’d already been. It wasn’t unexpected of course, but it crept up on us all the same. She went peacefully in the end, my husband with her.
He was her only child, and though it fell to him to make decisions and organise her final arrangements, he didn’t have to do it alone. We didn’t have to do it alone.
Throughout her illness, we were surrounded by carers, not only the professional ones – and we are so grateful to them, those who came and went quietly from her home, despite not being welcomed all the time; and those later in the nursing home, who were always friendly and helpful and knowing — but also by extended family and friends who stepped in with encouragement, empathy, advice, hugs.
When it looked like this was the end of the journey for her, the staff at Lisheen kept us as up to date as possible, kept her as comfortable as possible, kept her best in mind, minded us too. There was gentleness, hugs, cups of tea and hot chocolate for our children.
Carmel lived a long life, a good life, and yet her passing is a loss. She was ready to go and we know how much she didn’t want to live like she was, and yet we grieve.
But we do not grieve alone. Although the loss of Carmel Bridget Tinley Nolan is different for each of us than for others, the humans around us have felt loss too. In their own loss and in their love for us, they stepped in. They brought gifts of lemon drizzle cake, barm brack, sandwiches, panettone in a beautiful box. A neighbour handed me a bowl of grated beet salad the evening before Carmel’s passing, and it helped sustain us over the next days. A friend came and made soup in my kitchen the afternoon of the wake, and helped tidy the house, and made tea and washed dishes. Others took over from her during the wake, filling flasks with coffee, slicing loaves and chatting to people I didn’t recognise.
One friend brought chocolate for the kids, homemade jam and homemade alcohol for us (yes, we have such amazing friends!) and with her the memory of her lovely chats with Carmel whenever both were visiting our home.
Other friends who hadn’t intended to come to the funeral ‘afters’ at the Angler’s Rest, did, because they knew I had no family here with me. Another has spent time with one of my children who is learning to live with grief, and someone else has given sage advice and sympathy for us as parents at this time. People dropped by before the wake with food, drink, a large teapot, napkins. Family members drove over just to say, “We are here, with you. We will be in the background, but if you need us at all, we’re here.”
I know this is not unusual, and most people who have lost someone they love have a story to tell of generosity and kindness in the days following. To those stories we want to add our story, and our thanks.
So thank you, all you humans around us, who have felt loss and have stood with us in ours; thank you to those who have taken the time to write a text or card or call to remind us that you are remembering us, even though you may not know what to say. Thank you, all who ask how we are, and really mean it.
After the lovely wake and the funeral and the meal together afterwards, we arrived home, exhausted and overwhelmed. Neighbours had taken in turns to stay in our house for the day, and there was a slow cooker of soup on our kitchen counter, and best of all, the dishes left from the wake had all been washed. I realised my overwhelming feeling was gratitude. The village around us had gathered and mourned and celebrated and gave so much. We could hardly have done it without you: we thank you all.