INNOCENT LANDSCAPES REVISITED: 30 / APR / 2010
A DAAARLIN WOMAN
Posted by David Farrell
"An’, as it blowed an’ blowed, I ofen looked up at the sky an' assed meself the question - what is the stars, what is the stars? ... An’ then I’d have another look, an’ I’d ass meself - what is the moon?" Captain Boyle, Act I, Juno and the Paycock - Sean O'Casey.
When I started this blog some months ago I wasn’t really au fait with blogs in general and I haven’t looked at too many since. I did decide though that I would try not to have a "yesterday I had Lasagne" type of dialogue and it was with a certain reluctance that I mentioned my mother’s illness in my last posting. Sadly since then, a number of things overwhelmed her over the Easter period and she slipped away from us on Saturday 3rd of April. Our only consolation was that she spent her last few days in the St Francis Hospice in Dublin and her passing was as serene as possible. While whispering to her in those last moments as I held her hand and stroked her forehead, an incredible energy surged through me releasing a strength and tenderness that allowed me to let her go into the good night. Kay had her first encounter with Mr C in the Autumn of 2004 and the following Spring I started the series Desire as a response to her drive and determination to continue. As often with my way of working, this work contains a double and contradictory metaphor - the desire to renew and begin again each year, but also the inevitable risk of another unsought and ill-desired return of growth. As a result every year since then, I have made a small set of photographs but never made any reference to their source so there was a strange circuitous closing in her passing at this time of year. Below is an edited version of the few words I spoke at her funeral mass should you wish to read them.
A Few Words: How do you possibly begin to talk about Kay - I can only touch on some things otherwise we might be here longer than one of her marathon phone calls. While she had a long engagement with and love of musicals and in particular pantomimes in which she played Principle Boy many times, I always associate her with theatre and in particular with the playwright Sean O’Casey and in a certain way his character Masie Madigan from Juno and the Paycock, a part that my mother played many years ago. As Masie enters for the party scene she is introduced by Joxer as being: "fair as the blossoms that bloom in the may, an’ sweet as the scent of the new-mown hay". Kay was, to modify another O’Casey phrase: "a daaarlin woman, a daaarlin woman". She was also, in Dublinese, a "gas woman" - a woman you couldn’t but like. Sitting with her overnight in her final days the song Young at Heart with those great lines "fairytales can come true, it can happen to you, if you’re young at heart" came on the i-pod playlist that my sister Lorraine had compiled for her and tucked under her pillow. And amongst many songs you might associate with her that must be Kay's song. Looking at her closely then even though she was 78 her skin was still quite fresh, no doubt due to Sunlight Soap, which she often claimed was her secret agent against ageing and this feature was mentioned by numerous people who came to visit her in the mortuary room at the Hospice.I think one of the factors that kept her so young was that Kay had a perpetual, curiosity and interest in people and would hold an opinion on anything, whether she was informed or not, just to keep the conversation going - for boy did she love to chat. A number of my younger cousins who came to her funeral commented that they always loved being beside her at family functions because she was warm and bubbly and always made you feel you were the only person in the room. She also spoke to everyone, prince or pauper, in the same way - she wasn’t phased by status in any way.Another thing that kept her young was her love of the city centre of Dublin, or "town" as she would write as part of her notes teaching me how to cook: "Gone to town, pork-steak defrosting put in oven at 180 degrees at half past-four". I think it is only fate that prevented me from being born in either Clery’s, Arnotts, or Boyers or some other department store and I do believe that being carried around those streets, floating inside her, created a map in me of a small universe that I continue to explore when I go wandering in Dublin with my camera - for I too love the "divarsion" of town. I heard someone recently quote the poet Philip Larkin, who was no sentimentalist, that: "What will survive of us is love" and her recent dignified struggle against illness in which she regularly and politely stuck two fingers up to her troubled health, could not have been continued for as long as it did without the love of a lot of people but particularly my father and sister who not only lived recent events 24/7 but also supported the peculiar madness of an artistic mind over all the years. And their love remains as does mine. Us Dublin men know what it’s like to have a "Ma". What also remains though is her spirit which in Kay was not the supposed 21 grams we possess but perhaps a couple of kilos - Samuel Beckett wrote in Waiting for Godot that: "the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more" - Kay’s light was surely powered by Duracells - boy oh boy had she got spirit - she was in many ways, as a wise woman called her, SuperKay However she was deceptive in this for she was such a gentle woman, and I never realized - until she decided to fence with Mr. C as I called her tussle with illness - how steely her determination was. But reflecting on it recently I realized that it was always there in her attention to detail, whether that was in her making of a wedding dress, or deciding on a theatre set or prop, in a direction to an actor or even choosing the right sound for a radio play. It was also there in her determination to go on in spite of the difficulties that arise with a longterm illness. Hopefully some of this spirit will live on in all she met and most importantly for me, her creative spirit lives on in me - it’s an umbilical cord and gift I will always be grateful for, and I will continue to tug on it as much as I can.The final quality I wish to refer to was her gentle sense of humour, which in spite of considerable pain, was still present even in the last days. She truly was a daaarlin woman, one of a kind - we will truly miss her, but our memories of her are sweet and will always make us smile as we carry a little of her with us as we go. Ciao Bella.
Postscript: tI have very few photographs of my mother - anytime we met in the last few years I was more interested in talking, or perhaps more accurately, listening to her so I always found it difficult to introduce the shield of the camera between us. I did have the small joy of photographing both of my parents at the church where they got married 50 years ago last August and game as ever for a bit of fun she donned a small veil and posed for a few photographs. I also made a decision, as one might be tempted, not to turn her illness into a project and I have no regrets about that. I was compelled though, prompted primarily by the sweet Mona Lisa-like smile she exuded after her death, to return later that evening with my camera and make some photographs. It was hugely comforting to see this serenity and I needed to hold onto it for another time and not rely on an fragile liminal memory. I have decided, rightly or wrongly, to share some of these with you - our dying is part of our living and should be acknowledged in some way, this is my small contribution at the bookend of a daarlin woman.
Addendum: I recently came across this performance of You Must Believe in Spring, with its wonderful lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and music by Michel LeGrand, by Bill Evans and Tony Bennett and through the wonder of YouTube I offer it to you as a wee gift.