‘My only regret is that I have to leave now’ – Emma Hannigan in her own words
Author’s funeral message: ‘There is enough grey in the world already. Let the pink fluff and sparkles break through’
Author Emma Hannigan’s husband Cian, with blue tie, watches as her remains are carried from Our Lady of Perpetual Succour Church, Foxrock, on Wednesday afternoon. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin
Emma Hannigan wrote the words she wished to have spoken about her at her funeral on Wednesday in Foxrock, Co Dublin. The eulogy was read at her request by Fr Gerry Byrne, chaplain at the Blackrock Clinic.
This is what she said, with one or two small edits: Firstly, I would like to thank Father Gerry for taking on this task today. I didn’t want any one of my family having the pressure of standing up and speaking. So Gerry kindly and graciously agreed to take the baton from me.
He has been my friend over the years. We have had the best laughs, chats and doggy-driven discussions as we shared the trials and tribulations of Ned Byrne [a character in Ms Hannigan’s latest book] and our darling Herbiedoodle [Emma’s family dog].
I’ve made a living out of words. I’ve never suffered from writer’s block. But now as I sit in my hospital bed, knowing that the sands of time are seeping away from me, I’m struggling knowing where to begin.
How do I find the words to say what I really want to say? How do I share what is nestled in my heart as it slowly breaks?
Now I will put on my big girl pants and get the job done. Just a few words from me to you before I go. . .
One thing is glaringly obvious: when it all comes down to the wire, all that matters is love and the people who have made my life worthwhile.
I was incredibly fortunate to have an idyllic childhood. I grew up in Bray and went to St Gerard’s School from beginning to end. Mum was a Montessori teacher and ran her little school from our converted garage at home while Dad built Hard Metal, his engineering empire.
With my older brother Timmy, we bundled along and I never remember a day of hardship or strife. It has been well documented that Timmy tried to do away with me once or twice but thankfully I survived.
I don’t actually remember him pushing my pram down a very steep hill where I crashed and rolled into the brambles and was found astonishingly unscathed. I do know that we fought like cats growing up to the extent that Mum would calmly push us out into the back garden and lock the doors.
Eventually, we’d say we were sorry and once she was certain the fighting was over, she wordlessly and silently let us back inside. Job done; discipline, ’70s style . . .
Right to stand up
I was always encouraged to express myself to be heard. I had it instilled in me that it was right to stand up and to fight for what I thought was important and I thought that speaking my mind was normal and I never failed to do so.
I loved school as a little person but found it stifling and limiting by the time I did the Leaving Cert. When are they going to change the system that’s all about regurgitating reams of information with no rewards for creative minds or a sparkling personality? As the final exam was done, I was more than ready to enter the real world and all that it had to offer.
I always knew I wanted to be a chef so I skipped happily down to Ballymaloe, did a cookery course and worked in a kitchen for a couple of years.
I returned to Bray and set up a catering company and cooked for anybody who wanted to be fed. After a few years of far too much hard labour for not nearly enough money, I hung up my apron and did a business course. . .
It soon became apparent that the corporate world and I were not the best fit. I missed the buzz of dealing with people and thought beauty therapy might be the answer.
I studied at night, got my diploma and, although I did enjoy removing hair from stranger’s bits, it was not my calling in life.
During this time, Timmy and I finally put our sibling rivalry aside and decided that we didn’t hate each other after all. Instead of fighting with my brother in the garden, I followed him through every nightclub door from Belfast to Cork, and being related to Mr Spring was pretty special and I idolised him along with every skanger on the underground dancefloors. . .
At the tender age of 23, I was ready to give up on men, deciding that you were all a shower of losers.
Minding my own business
But they say that love comes along when you least expect it. And so in February 1997, I was at the Pod in Harcourt Street, minding my own business, when a well thought up chat-up line, clearly well polished, came my way. ‘Hey, I remember you from Gerard’s’.
We recognised each other from school but we’d never spoken to each other. But there must have been magic in the air that night because Cian and I came together and we never looked back.
Everything seems to take on a life of its own. Within three weeks, we were living together, within a year we were engaged and six months later, we were married. We were simply meant to be together.
Not long after we were married, we went to Paris together for the weekend and for the first time in our relationship, we sat down to do some planning. We decided we wouldn’t have children for a few years. Instead, we’d spend time to see the world while building sparkling careers that would set us all up for life.
Two weeks later, I found out I was pregnant.
We figured that plans were not for us after all and we decided to let life meander whatever way it resolved to take.
In January 2000, our darling son Sacha graced us with his presence. We hadn’t the first clue what to do with a baby but miraculously, he survived his first year.
A year and a half later, Kim made our family complete.
All my dreams had come true. I had a loving husband and two perfect children, one of each flavour.
We eventually got planning permission and built out home next to my parents in Bray and began out lives as a family of four. Cian worked day and night while I was lucky enough to be able to stay at home and mind my precious babies. Marie was always there to come and babysit and has been a rock solid part of our lives ever since.
By the time both Sasha and Kim were happily settled in Gerard’s, I was at a personal crossroads: what did I want, what did I really want? Yes, in truth, I wanted to be a Spice Girl but seeing as those jobs were already taken, I had to think of something else.
As it turned out, the decision was made for me, taken out of my control. BRCA1, standing for breast cancer, came trundling down the corridor of our lives.
I discovered that I carried this potentially deadly cancer gene, so I did everything in my power to stop the beats. But multiple surgeries proved to be too little, too late.
In 2007, cancer hit for the first time. I decided not to fight in silence, however. Instead, I stood up and talked – on the Late Late Show, Ireland am, the Saturday Night Show, midday on radio shows across the country and anywhere else that would listen to me. I became an ambassador for Breast Cancer Ireland and loved my time with Aisling and Sam and all the incredible people I met along that path.
All the while, the books kept coming – Talk to the Headscarf, which charted my own long fight with cancer, but the rest were fiction. Stories that took me away to wonderful places where nobody was sick [and] I could make fictitious friends.
Each title brought fresh life and allowed me to hold down the job, which was a good thing because, God knows, we needed the money. After all, I was a great shopaholic with a firm belief that a girl can never have enough shoes or handbags.
Behind the scenes, our home life ticked along, just like anyone else’s. I did my best to stop the cancer from taking over and made the most of the good times that we were afforded. I never took a day for granted.
I didn’t follow any formal religion but I always had my angels to mind me. I spoke to them and begged them to give me more time with my loved ones.
Along with his team, Dr David Fennelly, aka St David, minded me and went above and beyond the call of duty. The team at Blackrock Clinic became my other family.
My car went there and back on auto pilot and I can never thank them enough for what they did for me. They kept me going and they helped me to wage the war against cancer so that I could get on with living. No matter how bad things got or how sick I was, it never deterred me from fighting.
Why should it? I had so much to gain by sticking around – [the children] turned to teenagers and our relationship took on a whole new role. We enjoyed days out, dinners out and lots of wonderful holidays together.
And even though they lived next door, Mum and Dad were the first people I called each day. Dad would be at the office and Mum would be home. I would often walk through Mum’s front door and into the kitchen while speaking to her on the phone.
. . . Cian would call [and] we probably had the same conversation, word for word, each morning but I will miss it so. And though the kids were in school, I still got a steady stream of messages from them during the day. In between classes, I assume.
So suffice it to say, there was a constant line of communication between us and that set me up for whatever else life threw in my direction. If I had one wish, it would be that I could bring my phone with me so that we could all text forever.
I know how hard it is going to be to break our wonderful habit but I hope you know that I will be there in your hearts and you will always be in mine.
The nightclubs and the parties for Cian and I have now begun in earnest for Sacha and Kim. Both have thrown themselves so beautifully into the social scene that Dublin has to offer.
Keep dancing both of you; keep having fun but be careful, won’t you? Never go out on your own and stay with a group.
Connemara became a firm fixture on the map of our lives. Several years ago, my Mum and Dad bought a house there. It’s the most wonderfully unspoilt and rugged part of Ireland. And we created such gorgeous memories here.
Herbiedoodle, our great big cuddly teddy-bear of a dog, loved nothing more than being brought there. Watching him roll, the colour of his coat almost amalgamating with the sand, made the long hard journey, with several pit stops along the way, made it worth while.
Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am as lazy as sin. Me and exercise go together like oil and water. And the only reason I swim is so I can eat more chocolate and still fit into my jeans.
But nobody got me up and out like Herbie. He’d come over and give me that look, from under his long eyelashes, begging me to move, and all it took was the sentence ‘does Herbie want a walk?’ and the leaping and bounding would being as he bounced and tear around in a circle while wagging his tail with such violence that he could possibly have taken out a small village with the excitement.
He was probably right about that
Our favourite haunts were Powerscourt river walk or Bray seafront where he figures everyone was there purely to see him and he was probably right about that.
Yes, life was great – surrounded by my family and so many great friends.
I can hold my head up and say that I never had a day where I felt lonely or as if I had nobody to turn to. I never felt on my own.
My cancer fight was up there for all to read on Facebook or through my blog. The peer to peer support that I received there was priceless. I had such loyal readers and followers who took my hand and walked along by my side. I could go on and on forever and I wish I had the time but that’s where I am falling short.
To each person I met along my way – thank you; thank you for helping to shape my life.
I have no regrets, only that I have to leave right now.
But they say that all things happen for a reason. I don’t want to go looking over my shoulder or waving my fist in anger. That was never my style. But the truth of the matter is this: I would never have wanted to go, there would never have been enough time so I am trying to be gracious about it.
I know it is practically illegal to champion all things pink in this all bustling world where being girlie can be mistaken for being stupid. But I would like to be remembered as somebody who believes that fairies live at the bottom of the garden, that unicorns exist but they are simply shy and that angels flutter on all of our shoulders.
There is enough gray in the world already. Let the pink fluff and sparkles break through. There’s enough sadness, suffering and strife. Let the laughter be heard.
Farewell. Look after each other. Be kind. Be happy. Be grateful. And most of all, be yourself.
Life is short. It is so very, very precious and it’s not a dress rehearsal. So enjoy; eat chocolate, drink strong coffee, have a fabulous glass of wine and buy those clothes; walk in those high heels and let world know that you are here to work hard and to play even harder.
Thank you all for making my life so amazing. I’ll watch over you and please know that I am never truly gone. I will live on in the sparkles in your heart.
Love always – Emma.