14th January 1968
The US president was Lyndon B. Johnson. Hello Goodbye by The Beatles was in the top five. But on this day 50 years ago today, our quiet family life would be turned upside down.
Five years previously we’d left Dublin, and moved to London. Like a lot of Irish people before, it was about starting a new life. Hopefully one full of joy and happiness.
To start with, it was just that. We may have initially struggled financially, but it was a lovely, protective environment for a young boy to grow up in. My Dad worked hard ensuring his family were provided for, whilst my Mum did what all mothers do best.
All of this was to change over the weekend of 13-14 January 1968. I remember it well. The 13th was a normal family Saturday full of expectation of what the weekend would bring. If only we’d have known what was to come.
I remember waking up on Sunday morning and realising something wasn’t quite right. My Mum seemed upset, but was trying to hide it from me and my sister. The neighbour popped around and looked after us, whilst my Mum dealt with various visitors including an ambulance, priest, and the police.
It transpired that my Dad had woken in the early hours of the morning feeling unwell, and suffering chest pain. He’d got up, taken some painkillers, and gone back to bed. Later that night my Mum woke up to find him dead next to her. He’d had a heart attack and died.
As an eight year old, this was all a bit too much to take in. Looking back I don’t think I really understood the severity of our predicament, when I was finally told what had happened.
Times like this is when you find out who your friends are. Our neighbours were superb. They needed to be, as all our family were still in Dublin. My Mum’s sister arrived a day or two later to look after us, whilst Mum went through the formalities of arranging the funeral.
I remember wanting to go to the funeral, but was told it would be better if I didn’t. It is a decision I deeply regret. I understand their reasoning behind it, but even today I wish they’d let me go. I still find funerals very emotional, particularly those involving men, and put this down to my inability to say “goodbye” to a warmhearted and loving father.
14 January 2018
Roll the clock forward 50 years, and a lot has changed. My sister and I have carved out successful careers, and met our “special one”. We’ve very contented lives. We’re very lucky.
Our Mum is still going. I was going to add “strong” on the end of that, but as she’s well into her 90s, her health isn’t quite what it once was. That said, I firmly believe that one of the major reasons why she’s kept going this long, is that she takes great pride and joy in seeing what my sister and I have become.
They say pride comes before a fall, but in this instance it is entirely justified. She is the one who brought up two children single handed. She is the one who overnight had to find a job that provided for her family. She is the one who had to hold down this job, whilst doing everything a mother needed to do. It is largely down to her that we’ve both turned out the way we are.
Thank you Mum. I know it wasn’t easy, but we’ve all turned out OK.