WHAT WE LOSE WHEN A GENERATION DIES

June 26, 2016

The only grandparent I knew, my granddad (mum's dad) died at the age of 92 when I was 18. He was born in New York and on a trip to his Auntie's in Leitrim as a young boy decided he wanted to stay - he died on the 4th of July and we all felt that was appropriate. At the time I didn't appreciate what we had lost as a family and what I had lost. I remember he smoked Major cigarettes and always wore a trilby hat. And when I visited him and when he saw me how his smile would light up his whole face. 

This weekend the last of my Dad's siblings passed away. My auntie Mary (RIP) lived a long life and died at the age of 95. She, like her dad before her, and her brother Billy (RIP) ran a shop in Belmullet for many years.  

There's nothing special about my family's loss - it's happened to countless other families. But to our family, and to me, her death means a fundamental change in who we are to each other.  Now she is gone, a whole generation of part of my family has too. It's an odd thing to get older and to watch the family structure change.  

As I know, when you don't know your grandparents very well it's hard to decide what you've inherited from them. How you connect to them and how you might have picked up their features and their mannerisms. My granddad McAndrew had a shoe shop and I always tell Tom when he comments on the number of shoes I have that it's in my blood. All joking aside I have to wonder is a career spent in retail is part of my DNA or just coincidence. And to think I would be operating my own shop in the town of Belmullet - would that have happened if it wasn't in the family 

I've always feel sad that my daughter won't know my dad and I talk to her already about him. I wanted to ask my dad and mam what their childhood was like, capture stories to pass on but to do that acknowledges that they won't be here themselves to tell the stories so it's avoided.  When my dad passed I regretted it and thought I wouldn't make the same mistake with my mum but my efforts are half hearted and I'd rather think she can tell my kids herself. 

As kids we grew up in a sort of bubble. In Nottingham away from aunts and uncles and cousins we were a small family unit that knew we were part of this bigger family but never felt that connected to it. Fate brought us back to Belmullet and despite what probably most people think it was Tom not me that instigated it. Moving back to Belmullet has strengthened mine and our daughter's ties with our extended family and the value of this when you have children can not be underestimated. But this weekend has shifted something for me. I realised I'm no longer the child, I'm the parent and my mum is the grandparent. It's like watching the adults slowly leave the room and realising you'll be the one in charge. I'm the grown up, I'm the mammy and I think I want to shout 'come back I don't know what I'm doing'. 


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