‘I haven’t been back to Ireland since my parents’ funerals’
A rarely mentioned downside of emigrating is not being able to easily visit the final resting place of loved ones, writes Philip Lynch
After I left Ireland, my life slid along merrily, for the most part – until that time arrived and my parents’ lives were suddenly at an end. News of my mother’s abrupt demise came via a text when I was about to head out for a day at the beach in Melbourne. And word of my father’s passing came late one Saturday night while I was watching the footy on TV. Their deaths were a sharp reality check for this migrant.
For many, another rarely mentioned downside of emigrating is not being able to easily visit one’s parents’ final resting place.
Cemetery Sunday’s due diligent preparations don’t have meaning for many of us far-flung Irish. Since travelling to Ireland for the funerals of my mother and father in the winter and spring of 2010, I haven’t left Australia.
I still think of them often, probably even more so since they’ve gone to their graves. Their presence in my mind is indelible as ever. And since I moved from a long sojourn in suburban Melbourne to rural Tasmania three years ago, the sights and sounds of farming life around here provide a constant visual reminder of my early years in rural Westmeath. Though, of course it’s much more than a simple matter of landscape.
The details of my parents’ final few years exist only in my imagination. I still wonder how my father coped with those frustrating final housebound years after his life-long work on the farm. His increasing dependence on Ma was, by all accounts, hard on everyone. Once a week, Ma would get away on the bus to Mullingar with her shopping list. She looked forward to the trip. “Sure, you can see more from the bus,” she told me once, as if she was still surprised by her new found vantage point. And of course she was always up for a chat with the other passengers. For a woman who’d been driven everywhere all her life, the bus must’ve have felt strange for a while. In the mornings my father and she used to listen to Radio Breffini as they tucked into their porridge and toast. I often wondered what they made of the radio’s daily roll call of the newly deceased.
My parents’ deaths have proved a defining point in my emigrant life. While they were still around, I always assumed I could and would go and see them one more time – and that there’d always be a next time. Now, that’s no longer the reality. I see them as still there but of course they are not. And sometimes I wonder if my not going back, yet, is my way of denying they’re actually gone.
Living at the other end of the world makes the trip home a difficult undertaking, and it’s not just the logistics of the long journey. I realise I’m older now than my parents were when I left home, yet I regarded them as well and truly middle-aged when I first headed for the ferry, on my way to Australia, back in the early 1980s.
Do we migrants feel the loss of our parents more keenly than those siblings who stay at home? For those of us who’ve left, I think perhaps their passing serves as some sort of double whammy; having already bade them farewell once, we now have to farewell them all over again – for ever.
All I can do now is to somehow send my silent apologies for my absence – yet again – for Cemetery Sunday. I won’t get to smell the newly mown grass or to regard all those freshly cut flowers and the wreaths, or to take stock of the irrefutable inscription on their headstone. No doubt there will be a throng of neighbours and relatives gathered to pray and to pay their respects. And, afterwards, maybe there will be time for a meal at the local hotel.
Of course part of me will be there all the same. I’ll always be there. Of that much, at least, I’m certain.