How to accept help when you feel beaten and exhausted is one of the lessons a Ballineen mother learned when her son was diagnosed with leukaemia, she tells Aisling Meath
BY AISLING MEATH
Jack (John) Milner from Shanaway, Ballineen was an all-Ireland champion walker in the 1930s. After his death on July 30th 1972, his obituary in The Southern Star read as follows:
I know the Southern Star will be proud to print these few inadequate words. Many letters of praise they published in those days from people who admired and praised your achievements. Very few of their editions were published without your name on the honour roll. You need no headstone Jack. You left behind a monument of fine deeds and the beautiful home which you built from debris with your own hands and the sweat off your brow, for never did a soft shilling ever line the pockets of your suit.
His daughter Marian O’Mahony treasures that obituary from a yellowed page of The Southern Star. She is proud of her Dad and her West Cork roots. She grew up in Shanaway and attended primary school there. Her secondary education was as a boarder in the Maria Immaculata College in Dunmanway. She currently lives in Bishopstown and works at the Environment and Sustainability Department for ESB Networks.
‘I remember we had no electricity in national school when I was growing up,’ she says. ‘It’s incredible how times have changed and, coming from no electricity to being able to write a book on a computer, is still amazing to me.’
Her book Goodbye, My Son has just been published and tells the story of a mother suddenly plunged into the frightening scenario of losing a son to terminal illness.
Her son Brian was diagnosed with leukaemia at 18, and died just a few months later.
‘He was full of life. He loved playing the decks – mainly techno stuff, and he made his own mixes. He went from that to being very ill, so fast,’ she recalls.
Marian and her family found themselves with a very short space of time in which to make the necessary adjustments after this devastating news. She was suddenly plunged into the role of carer, as well as being a heartbroken mother, coming to terms with a horrible truth, without any experience to draw on.
She went about researching all the help that was available to her. She found many books dealing with the subject of bereavement, but couldn’t find anything that gave an insight into the particular challenges of sudden onset of terminal illness. She decided that she would record her own experience, and address the issues of how to cope.
‘I didn’t produce this book for money, pity or praise,’ she says now. ‘I’ve put my thoughts and feelings on paper to help my family, others and myself. First and foremost, however, it is our tribute to the life of our Brian. I wanted to write this book so that others going through a similar situation can be prepared for the challenges involved. I don’t have the answers, I just wanted to describe the journey.’
Accepting help when you feel beaten and exhausted, how to cope when you are told the treatment isn’t working, arranging an appropriate funeral ceremony and adjustment into the following weeks and months, are just some of the topics covered in the book.
Bereavement is something that we all face at some point in our lives. It is a natural occurrence, but one which most people find difficulty accepting.
Kindness from the wider community is often a valuable support to those going through grief. ‘Writing our story, I was struck by the many instances of uninvited kindness that was shown to our family and can recall just how much they meant to us,’ she says.
The most valuable coping insights can be gained from those who have already experienced the emotional upheaval caused by the death of a loved one. The one big question most people have is: What gets you through the loss? How do you come out from under the duvet in the morning and get on with life?
In Marian’s case she draws her strength from spirituality.
‘I’ve always meditated. I would have loved the smell of incense and the hymns at benediction long ago. I’ve meditated over the years with many groups. More recently, it’s been renamed “mindfulness”, of course!
‘The short version of what I discovered is that life’s not about doing things, it’s about “being”. It’s about being the person I am,’ she says. ‘When I’m lost I say “Be still and know that I am God”. God is love, God is light, so I need to stay in the light, away from negativity, darkness, anger etc. What I need to do is be still. That’s my job, to stop whining, fretting, worrying. To be still, and when I’m still I’m better able to plan ahead and make changes if need be. So being still and staying in the light was what helped me cope when I thought that I couldn’t.’
For more, see marianomahony.com. Goodbye, My Son is available on Amazon and from Waterstones, Veritas and Vibes & Scribes.