Generation Emigration

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“It was like a wake, my own funeral”

Paul O’Connor, a land surveyor from Dublin, moved to Canada in April when he was offered a long-awaited job. Here, he reflects on his departure from Dublin, and those difficult goodbyes.

Tue, Nov 1, 2011, 11:58

   

Paul, Janette and Eva O'Connor at the top of the CN Tower, Toronto

Paul O’Connor, a land surveyor from Dublin, moved to Canada in April when he was offered a long-awaited job. Here, he reflects on his departure from Dublin, and those difficult goodbyes.

It all seems like a lifetime ago.

There I was, clinging on to my mother in the sitting room in my house in Dublin knowing that I’m not going to see her for months on end, my sister Lyn in floods of tears. My father having to walk out of the room as the emotion enveloped and got the better of him. My Mam’s Peugeot 206 driving down the road with me stood on the front step crying like a baby waving at it until the red tail lights turned the corner and I felt empty and sorry for what I was about to do. That was Wednesday 6th April 2011.

Thursday the 7th was spent tying up loose ends and worrying. Worrying because my Canadian work permit hadn’t dropped through the letterbox. Myself and Doc had stood across the road from the house when the postman made his delivery that morning and he’d delivered nothing but a stupid letter from UPC. Janette and I had agreed that I’d fly on Friday regardless.

I paced the floor like a man demented. Fear like I’ve never felt before. What if? So many what if’s.

At five o’clock a neighbour dropped me home. I was met in the porch by my best mate on the verge of tears. His partner was due to have their first kid in two weeks time, and there I was talking about fear? The worst part of it was the knowing I wasn’t going to be around for it.

One by one, my nearest and dearest showed up to the house. It was like a wake. My own funeral. Well wishing text messages flooded in. The older brother-like figure, the singer bloke out of Rhythm Culture, who was up in my house on the previous Tuesday gave me inspiration in thirty words or less. (In times of loneliness I look at it and it gives me the inspiration to keep on trucking. I thank him profusely for it.)

Everyone stood in the kitchen that night looking at the floor. Janette and I had gotten rid of everything, and I mean everything, of what was dear to us. Stephen turned up to pick up the 52 inch telly that we’d bought out of our wedding present money. That for me was a significant moment. It was the moment that the baton was passed from Ireland to Canada.

I loved that telly. I’d seen United do Arsenal in the Champions League Semi Final in the company of Rob, Mark and John on that telly whilst my seven month old daughter slept in her little cot upstairs and Janette went mental at us for cheering the first goal. The second goal? It was celebrated in mute, like a bunch of little deaf fellas.

Back to the kitchen and there was those not knowing what to say, awkward moments. I stood outside on our street with Alan D, Kaner and Helga and unborn Adam all shuffling uncomfortably and putting off the inevitable. Not four years previously myself and Alan had greeted the sunrise, sitting on a kerb with a bottle of red wine in an empty new street. Life was sweet and so was the wine. My neighbour Francis looked on, pissing himself laughing at the drunken fools he had just shacked up next door to. But life had now changed in oh so many ways.

Eventually the goodbye hugs and kisses came. Proper hugs. Ones with true meaning. “I’ll see you soon”. But how soon? Not soon enough.

Steve and Maria made the long trek over from Castleknock. They’re getting married this year. I’m going to miss their wedding. I’m toying with the idea of doing a congratulatory video with a pretend butler serving me Scotch. But I wish I could be there.

Ed, my Leeds supporting brother in law gave me a hug. That, for anyone who knows him, is as rare as a Liverpool title winning side since the back-pass rule was introduced. My eight year old niece Ciara sat on my lap and assured me “We’ll be able to talk on Skype, so don’t worry Paul”. I miss her and I missed her communion.

My mother-in-law Valerie saw the distress behind my eyes and shared wonderful words of wisdom with me.

My brother Alan and Sabine had put in Trojan efforts all day. As time crept on and I knew I had to be up at the crack of dawn for my flight, I couldn’t hang on all night. I’d shared a room with this geezer for a quarter of a century. Time to say goodbye. Hard to do, rock hard. We imbibed twice a week from the age of twenty to twenty five in The Coach House (Monday to Thursday and Friday to Sunday, FYI), he’d lie on the middle of the road whilst we’d replicate the ‘Stuck In A Moment’ video before Kaner would throw his bag of chips into Doctor Hooi’s back garden before we’d come home to watch “I’m Alan Partridge” every  night as we lay in our single beds ‘apple-tarting’ and laughing. Our Mam would come in to tell us to shut up because we were waking the whole house and we’d laugh at the fact we’d woken her up. Never a peep from Dad or Lyn. Funny that. Magical.

We just looked at each other and had a big hug. I can’t remember what was said but words are made redundant in moments like that, it is just the look in their eyes you remember. It was like a bad dream as he was leaving. And then he was gone into the night.

Right then, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m really doing this. Emigration was a word reserved for people who went to foreign and grew beards and bungee jumped. Not me. Not I. Never me. But so it was.

Eva had gone to sleep and I knew I’d have an hour or two with her in the morning. Myself and Janette lay in bed talking about the future. Janette and Eva were due to follow in three weeks time. “Are we mental?”, “Are we doing the right thing?”. We’ve gone too far to go back now. Three weeks apart is nothing in the grand scheme of things is it? “Don’t worry, it will be alright”. “What if they turn me back?”. “Don’t worry. Get some sleep”. No more worries or doubts, the good will come out….

Yeah right….‘Kite’ kept going through my head keeping me awake: “Who’s to say where the wind will take you? Who’s to say what it is will break you? I don’t know which way the wind will blow. Who’s to know when the time has come around? Don’t want to see you cry, I know that this is not goodbye…”

Terminal Two. Dublin Airport. An architectural wonder. Beautiful innit? Makes you feel like you are in some wondrous city until you step outside I’d imagine. But there is a major design flaw that borders on the criminal called Departures. It’s horrific. You have to walk through a mile of rope before you disappear into security. The Green Mile. All well and good heading off on holiday but, when your wife and daughter are standing there and you know you’re not going to see them for the best part of a month and you’re daughter is going “Bye Daddy! Bye! Bye Daddy! Bye! (repeat to fade)” , you want to get your hands on the architect and strangle the bastard. Thank God no one else came out to see me off.

I was so bad and so noticeable that some oul’ one gave me a hug in the queue to get my hand luggage scanned. She was flying to see her son in Leeds. ”Don’t worry about it son, you’ll see them soon enough.” The first of a lot of motherly figures. I barely kept the sobbing in. In times of acute embarrassment like that and also other moments I can’t go into on a family show such as this, I recite the Arsenal team of 1989 in my head and it keeps the tears from my eyes or the wolf from the door, so to speak . Lukic, Dixon, Winterburn, Adams, Bould……..

I had to fly to Chicago and then get a connecting flight on to Toronto. That means US Immigration, obviously. “What’s the purpose of your trip?”. ”Oh, I’m heading to Canada to make a better life for meself” says I. ”Ok, well make sure you get into Ice Hockey. And you will. It’s a great sport man. Good luck” said Immigration Official. Simple as. Why was I so worried? This will be a piece of piss this…

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Of course, the above was written in April 2011 and a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. We have been blessed, as little Ciara so accurately predicted, with the ability to talk face to face with family and friends via the medium of Skype. It’s like having a drunken conversation with them at times, what with the blurred vision and the delay in speech and the running out of things to say so you say the same thing three times and hope nobody notices or remembers and that they probably can’t hear you properly anyway. But it beats a letter or an e-mail hands down.

Has it been ‘the piece of piss’ that I hoped that it would be? It’s hard to say.

For every up such as the visit of a loved one, the preparation, the anticipation and young Eva making up a banner to welcome them at arrivals in Lester Pearson Airport in Toronto there is that leaving them back to the airport, the sorrow of another goodbye and that feeling of emptiness when you get home and look at the chair where they were sitting only the night before.

For every incredibly hot and humid weekend spent at the local outdoor pool there will be a long dark evening spent watching abysmal television and even more abysmal adverts every three minutes or so. I never thought I’d say it but downloads of the X-Factor and Louis Walsh’s ramblings in particular have saved us from many’s a Monday night monotony, now that the weather has turned. Even if it is to shout obscenities at the screen, it makes it all feel so homely.

Part of us cannot wait until it snows and we can attempt to go skiing or slide down a hill with Eva on a black bin bag masquerading as a toboggan. I jest of course, it will be a coal sack.

The Canadian people could not be more welcoming if they tried. They actively go out of their way for you and it has been quite the culture shock because you know if the roles were reversed you could never provide the same welcome. Snideness and one-upmanship do not seem to be as prevalent in Canadian society.

We have made some great friends here despite leaving behind all those we have ever known. We actually get invited to parties now, which in anyone’s book, is one giant leap. Getting a babysitter so we can actually attend, is quite difficult though.

There are several Premier League games shown on a Saturday morning much to my joy. The beer is stronger, much stronger and the scenery is incredible. Muskoka comes highly recommended.
These observations obviously are coming from the eyes of a married man with a two year-old child mostly in tow but I have heard whispers that the Irish ‘kids’ in Toronto are having the time of their lives.

But….has it been ‘the piece of piss’ that I hoped that it would be? Come back to me in six months and maybe I’ll know. But you’ll never know until you try.

The original post first appeared on Paul’s personal blog, http://ballinteersomuchtoanswerfor.blogspot.com/.

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