As I closed the last cabinet door in my parents’ wall of bookshelves, I felt a deep sense of sadness. I had searched the whole house, hoping that I might find my mom’s life stories written down somewhere. Although I didn’t find what I was looking for, I discovered inspiration. I knew I had to find a way to help other people save their stories for their loved ones.
My treasure hunt did turn up one other precious gem, a journal my mom kept during her travels in Ireland with my twin brother. In that red journal, I found jotted notes about places they stayed, food and drinks they consumed, or thoughts she had about “driving on the left and meeting up with oncoming traffic on the winding roads” as they “headed out of Dublin to points south.” She wrote about her unbelievable encounter with two of her long-time friends, neighbors from back home in Connecticut. You could see her disbelief and delight jumping from the pages:
“Imagine! Tedi and George at the same pub in Ireland!!! Needless to say this called for a round of Guinness. Even I had a pint!!! Yes it is a small world!”
For my mom, this was a trip of a lifetime. As she was getting older and had lost her one sibling, both of her parents, and most of her extended family, exploring her family heritage became a hobby of significant interest. She wanted to find churches, towns, and cemeteries of her ancestors. As they followed clues, they ran into barriers, such as a “Beware of Bull, Proceed At Your Own Risk” sign at one cemetery. In her words, “We proceeded! ‘Shooing’ the cows away.” She found this particular cemetery in Ballyduff Upper to be “…a sad site.
“No one taking care of this burial ground, stones unreadable; last burial. Tried to do a stone rubbing, but didn’t have right equipment.”
At the suggestion of a farmer, they headed to the other side of town where he said there was an old Doolan (her mother’s maiden name) home site up on the mountain. Again, the many offshoot roads were confusing “like a spider web” so their quest was aborted. As I read on, though, she explained she wasn’t disappointed because she was able to soak in the gorgeous scenery and take lots of pictures, noting “everything is a shade of green.” I wondered if it was on this day that she picked the two clovers that I found neatly folded in a piece of tissue, pressed and tucked inside the pages of the journal.
Despite the fact that I was disappointed not to find more words from my mother, I felt so blessed to have found this treasured journal as it would soon come in handy. You see, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in September. In true fashion, she told cancer to stand off and essentially beat it . . . until six months later when she developed a very rare reaction to her treatment, a side effect which rapidly infiltrated her lungs. Within two days of its visible onset, my loving, thoughtful, witty, incredibly strong, and resilient mother was gone.
Before leaving us on that devastating night in March, my mom somehow found the strength to give my four siblings and me the most amazing gift of love and strength that I draw on every day. We couldn’t believe that she was able to maintain her composure after her doctor explained to her that his only option was to make her comfortable so when she awoke again, she would be with the Almighty God and all those who had gone before her. With that knowledge, she informed us that she had some things to say. . .
“You guys can do this. You are strong and you can get through this. It’s not going to be easy, but you’ve done it before. You had two strong role models. Daddy got us off on the right foot. Be strong. Be strong for your families. I’m going to watch you like a hawk. I want you to take the money and go to Ireland. Rent a house. You’re going to love it, its beautiful there. Tell the good stories. I love you all so very much, and I’m going to miss you so much.”
As I face this Irish month of March and the anniversaries of my parents’ deaths (my mom was always able to get a chuckle out of the fact that, my Italian father had the last laugh by dying on my Irish mom’s favorite holiday, St. Patrick’s Day), I am embracing my mom’s gift of strength. My siblings and I have planned that trip to Ireland that she wanted us to take. We have rented a big house, and we will take that treasure—that beautiful journal of her trip—back to Ireland, and we will see what so inspired her. “Along the way, the countryside continues in it’s beautiful shades of green, rolling hills, divided (by amazing stone walls) pastures. . . .”
With her nine grandchildren, we will follow her travels through the beautiful country where her ancestors came from and will absorb the “Indescribable Cliffs of Moher with a phenomenal ocean view.” While appreciating Ireland through her lenses, we will raise our glasses full of Guinness and Bailey’s to toast our Irish Mother and our Italian Father who, together, gave us the most amazing gifts of love, strength, resilience, and, most importantly, each other.