Maeve died on Sunday morning. She was 103. For the last couple of weeks, so we've been told, she was mostly asleep. And on Sunday morning she did not wake up. We were expecting this. She did not suffer. Her life ended. It is sad and comforting at the same time.
Maeve was the oldest sister of my beautiful mother-in-law. A strong, gutsy woman. I have written about her here.
Now there is only Nuala left from that generation, the second oldest sister and she is not well, both in mind and body. But she is looking forward to the funeral mass. Nuala is a devout catholic, she believes in miracles. She speaks to her saints regularly on all our behalf. I have a stack of mass cards from her. Proof that she prayed for me. That my soul is safe.
When my mother in law was dying (much too soon, much too cruelly), we were instructed to not say a word and nobody did. And so she was never told that she had pancreatic cancer, that she had only months to live and that we all knew. Even her husband, the love of her life, the ever charming JC, he would not, could not tell her. Not to himself, either.
For short while, I was furious but what did I know, me, the heathen foreigner.
But of course she knew. She prepared her death carefully.
Often, when I close my eyes, I see her on that Sunday morning when I opened the door, her smiling face, would you wait a little while, love, while I finish talking to Sean (the family lawyer). And after Sean had shook my hand and left, I combed her hair and held her hand while we watched mass on the closed circuit tv.
On Sundays, I was always the first visitor and I would leave when the next family member arrived. The grandchildren came after lunch, alone or in twos, bearing paintings and flowers, being ever so good and adorable, everybody loved granny. My father in law had the evenings and on one of these, he brought a priest along and they quietly renewed their vows.
During the week, I'd sneak in a short visit on my way home from work to exchange gossip and take instructions about the dogs or the garden or what to take out or put in the freezer.
And then driving home in the rain, waiting at the traffic lights by Blackrock shopping center, crying while the rain washed over the windscreen and Walking in Memphis on the car radio.
And then that day when I could not reach her any longer, when all I could do was moisten her lips with that lemon scented sponge. For a brief moment, she opened her eyes and said, thank you Maeve. That's when I stepped back. For the next few days, I minded kids, prepared endless pots of tea, cooked dinners nobody really ate, answered the phone, looked after her dogs and did whatever was necessary so that her daughters, her son, her husband, her sisters and brothers could be with her while she was dying.
Later that week, when we visited her laid out in a bed of flowers, surrounded by the letters and paintings from her grandchildren, R showed me her wrists. She had asked for them to be slashed after her death. Why? I asked. To be sure, he said, she was afraid. Just like we are. Afraid of not dying and afraid of death.
For a moment, I felt a sharp pain washing through me.
But we were young then and our lives were stretching out in front of us, endlessly. What did we know of fear, of death.