Dad was brought home on Saturday October 26th. His wake was the next stage of my journey. Almost three weeks prior to this I drove Dad this same journey home in his wee VW Polo and I knew it would be the last time I would drive my Dad. My gut told me this. Dad drove me all over Ireland over the past 50 years. To be the person to drive him home from hospital that day will be a privilege I will always treasure. But coming home on this Saturday behind the hearse, with Dad on board, will be the most poignant journey of my life. The tears flowed and yet my heart was filled with pride. Pride for the man who made me the person I am today. Pride to be the daughter of this truly amazing man. Pride to know I had the honour of being so close to this wonderful man for 50 years. The wake was about to begin.
The Irish wake is a very important part of Irish culture and tradition. If features highly in Irish writing and Irish stories. I’ve been attending Irish wakes from a very young age. But it wasn’t until this day last October that I was to truly understand the importance of this, the Irish wake.
We arrived home on that Saturday afternoon. Driving up towards my parents’ home was so sad. Knowing this would be the last time we would take Dad into our family home. And knowing that he would be leaving that family home in just two days’ time for the very last time. That home would never be the same again. That home would have an ‘empty chair’ forever. But this was to be the awakening for me that the Irish Wake is of such importance.
Over the next two days my family home never emptied. There was never a moment’s silence. Family, friends, neighbours and associates of my Dad called to pay their respects. It was a time of such joy, such laughter, much talk, and yet a time of utter sadness. But it was a truly special time in so many ways.
Our wide and vast family came from all over the country, and indeed the world. They came to pay their respects to Dad. And they came to tell stories of Dad. Work associates and many friends of Dads came. They talked about their experiences with Dad. It was a time of stories, and it was a time of togetherness.
My Mum is a twin and she and her sister are the eldest in a family of 12. My Mums siblings were so very sad over these two days. It was during these days that I realised what an important part in all of their lives that my Dad had played. When Dad was courting my Mum over 53 years ago, he used to call to my Mums homestead on his scooter motorbike. One of my Mums sisters told me at the wake that she would sit at the window of their little house waiting to hear Dads scooter come up the road. This visit from Dad was the highlight of their week. It brought excitement and joy to their lives at that time. All of my Mums family loved Dad so much, but it wasn’t until the wake that I realised just how important a part he played in their lives all those years ago. They told many stories about Dads courtship with Mum during the wake. All those stories made me smile. But still the tears would come alongside the smiles. My Dad had such a special place in the lives of my Aunts and Uncles and my grandparents. Before this time, I’d never contemplated that Dad was so special to each of them.
People from my Dads first work experience visited and told us stories about working with Dad. People from Dads work over the past 60 years told stories of Dad and his work. And it was all insightful into the man that my Dad was. I was learning that my Dad was so much more than my Dad. He was a man loved and respected by so many.
During the wake I would sneak out and go for some ‘me time’, and just weep. Weep for the man who lay inside in his bedroom. The room that was ‘theirs’ – my parents’. I went home those two nights and cried myself to sleep. Crying from my broken heart, and crying with joy knowing my Dad was loved by so many people. The stories I was hearing throughout each day was allowing me to love my Dad even more – something I didn’t’ think was possible.
Over these two days, our local community brought food and friendship; they brought companionship and comradeship; they brought stories and they brought smiles. And they brought warmth and wonder. They brought life to the death that had taken place.
The Irish wake is a time of celebration. No matter how sad the experience is, it really is an opportunity to celebrate the life of our loved one who has died. These two days were a time of coming together. Dads life was always a time of togetherness. He loved being around people. He was a people person. His wake showcased this to extremity. And it’s a part of my journey of grief I will be eternally grateful for.