Forgiving and Forgetting
When Peter's dad died, it was after a long, drawn-out illness. We'd been expecting it for several years and actively preparing for it for at least six months. The post that I wrote about Tom pretty much wrote itself, since my mind had been turning it over for so long.
When Peter got a middle of the night phone call on Thursday morning, I wasn't prepared for the news that his mother was dying. Nóirín had suffered from dementia for several years, but she seemed physically healthy enough to live for years. No one thought she'd go from healthy to dead in less than 36 hours, but it was the kindest, most merciful end one could hope for. Enough time to talk to her daughters on the phone and have her sons by her side, but not enough time to fret or suffer.
My relationship with Nóirín could have been a disaster. I arrived from the States, an interloper with the potential to steal her son away from her. Peter had been a surprise, a late-in-life baby whom Nóirín believed was sent from heaven by her own mother. She wanted the best for him and didn't think that dropping out of college and shacking up with some stranger qualified. She could have done a thousand things to try to split us up.
Instead, Nóirín invited us over for lunch. Tom was on a business trip and Nóirín decided she wanted to get to know me. Nóirín was charming, welcoming and managed to put me at ease, even though I knew that she was concerned about my relationship with her son. The first lunch opened the door for weekly dinners at their house with Tom and her. By putting Peter first, we were all able to muddle through.
What could have been a disaster grew, in time, to a warm familial relationship. Like all families, we had our disagreements and less than admirable moments, but we were always able to move on. Nóirín was able to forgive me for the disruption I had caused and, in time, she forgot her objections and realised I might be the right one for her son. Loving your own children is easy. Truly loving and accepting your children's spouses must be tough but Tom and Nóirín set an example that I can only hope to live up to if we ever have children.
When the time came to have our big church wedding, Nóirín and Tom arranged an evening party in their home, so their family could meet my family. While I'm sure Nóirín worried about the party going perfectly and everyone having a good time, she didn't show it on the night.
She had a special talent for interacting with people, for lighting up and making you feel like you were the most interesting and special person in the world. As a reclusive socialphobe, I could only watch in awe as Nóirín charmed my brothers and bonded with my parents. My family still talks about that evening and how much fun they had, all because of Nóirín.
Dementia is a cruel condition that robs you of your mind and self. Nóirín biggest problem was with language, particularly speaking. Sometimes she would just pour out great jumbles of words that seemed almost meaningless. Other times, her meaning was more clear, but the words were mixed up. It was heart-breaking to witness. But dementia is also strange, in that it's almost like a curtain and every once in a while, a random gust of wind will blow the curtain aside and give you a glimpse of the person inside.
In the middle of the night on the eve of Tom's funeral, Nóirín came into my room. I think she was looking for Peter's sister Ciara and was not expecting to find me. "Who are you?" she asked me as she sat down the edge of the bed. "I'm Ann, Peter's wife," I told her.
"Oh yes, he's a lovely boy. I just... I just don't know what to do. Can you tell me what to do?" Nóirín knew that Tom was dead, she knew that the funeral was in the morning, and she was anxious. I took her downstairs and made her tea and toast, then sat with her while she ate. When she was finished, she announced that she was ready to go back to sleep.
Upstairs, in the hallway outside her door, she gave me a big hug. Her smile lit her whole face as she told me "Thank you so much. You're a darling girl. I'll never forgive you."
Goodbye, Nóirín. I'll never forget you either.