A month for re­mem­brance and con­nect­ing with the dead

Irish Independent - Farming - - RURAL LIFE -

IT is Novem­ber, the month of re­mem­ber­ing. In the cal­en­dar of his­toric events the month is ded­i­cated to re­mem­ber­ing the fallen in war, par­tic­u­larly the dead of the First World War.

The guns fell silent on the Western Front at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month.

For those in the Ro­man Catholic tra­di­tion, the month is ded­i­cated to pray­ing for the dead and is known tra­di­tion­ally as the month of the Holy Souls.

It is a pe­riod when some of the most lapsed of Catholics will mark the time and stay off the drink or en­gage in some such act of ab­sti­nence, ‘be­cause of the month that is in it’.

And it is good to re­mem­ber, to con­nect with the dead, with what made us, what gives that par­tic­u­lar twist to our DNA.

For me, this Novem­ber there is a fresh grave to visit mark­ing the place where my fa­ther re­turned to the earth.

My re­mem­ber­ing started early when a book ar­rived in the post last week. A friend whose mother passed away in the last year sent it. In a short post-it note at­tached to the cover he wrote: “When I read this book I knew why God stopped me send­ing a Mass card.”

My Fa­ther’s Wake – How the Ir­ish Teach us to Live, Love and Die is a me­moir by jour­nal­ist and film-maker, Kevin Too­lis. One of seven chil­dren, his par­ents came from Achill Is­land and em­i­grated to Ed­in­burgh. As a child he spent ev­ery sum­mer in Achill and his de­scrip­tion of the jour­ney “home” and the events that made up his time there, along with the sad­ness of the farewell, will res­onate with many.

His book is a homage to the Ir­ish wake, to its cen­tral­ity in Ir­ish life, where the re­al­ity of death and dy­ing are not shunned or avoided and are nei­ther al­lowed to brood over ev­ery­thing.

Rather, death is ac­cepted as part of the con­tin­uum of be­ing hu­man.

He cas­ti­gates what he calls the ‘Western Death Ma­chine’ that seeks to sani­tise the re­al­ity of death and pre­vent it from im­ping­ing on us.

He asks: “How can it be pos­si­ble to never talk out loud about death in a world where ev­ery­one dies?”

And even more starkly he says: “We don’t want to see the sick, smell the de­cay of wiz­ened flesh, feel the cold­ness of the corpse or hear the cry of keen­ing women. We don’t want to in­trude on the dy­ing be­cause we don’t want to look at the mir­ror of our own death.”

As a very young man Too­lis lost his brother to leukaemia, and his mother died sud­denly in her 60s. In an at­tempt to un­der­stand these events, his life be­came a search for death and its re­al­ity.

As a jour­nal­ist he took him­self to the trou­ble-spots of the world, to the North at the height of the Trou­bles, to Gaza, Le­banon, the famines of Africa and the heart of the AIDS epi­demic in Malawi. He even took a job at a city mor­tu­ary.

The book cen­tres on his fa­ther, Sonny, who re­turns from Ed­in­burgh to Dookinella in Achill af­ter his wife dies. He spends the rest of his days in his home-place.

Af­ter many a death-seek­ing odyssey, Too­lis even­tu­ally comes to em­brace the re­al­ity of death and dy­ing through the death, wake and fu­neral of his fa­ther.

Along with his fam­ily and the neigh­bours he ac­com­pa­nies Sonny through “his

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