Rita Walsh – A Beautiful Life

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RIta Walsh – A Beautiful Life

My eulogy for my beloved aunt Rita, delivered at Blackpool Church, Cork, on February 19th, 2015.

The Walsh family would like to thank you all for joining us here today to celebrate the life of our beloved Rita.

Rita Walsh never married, never had any children, didn’t drive an expensive car, own a huge house, nor have much of a taste for designer brands. Yet, Rita Walsh is one of the most successful people any of us are likely to ever know. Rita lived a beautiful life.

Rita valued fun. She had a whole hearted enjoyment of life and brought joy with her where ever she went. Her quick comments, the roll of her eye, singing while washing the dishes, her easy laugh, her ability to make the mundane magical, and to create adventures out of ordinary situations. Rita loved music and art. She played the piano, painted, sang and danced. All the Walsh cousins, share childhood memories of dressing up and belly dancing with Rita in Glenshee.

Rita valued childhood. She had the heart of a child and as children, my cousins and I could sense that. She spent time with us. She walked with us and told us stories, she slipped us the occasional small sherry! She never lost her sense of wonder, and that magic was shared just as strongly with the next generation of Walshs, her gran nieces and nephews.

Rita valued nature. She liked nothing more than taking off to explore the wilds of Kerry and West Cork, off to her beloved Glengarrif. Rita was an adventurer. The journey was as important as the destination. Last night Orla told us of one particular journey that she made to Ballinskelligs with Rita that took nine hours, instead of the usual two and a half. Rita did stop to smell the roses, and to have picnics and to pop into Harringtons, or Molly Darcys, or any other interesting looking spot along the road. Rita loved to spend time in the garden and was never happier than sitting with David and Eilish in their beautiful gardens in Ballinlough.

But above all other things, Rita valued people. All people. She loved up close, hand-holding conversations. She valued family. She was a devoted daughter to her parents Tom and Catherine. She and Mum Walsh were two halves of the same coin. She was a beloved sister to her brothers, John, David, Tom and Michael. She loved John’s jazz and David’s gardens. She took great pleasure in her weekly Sunday evening visits with Tom. She shared a special bond with Michael, whose relationship was a two way street of love and support throughout their lives. She was an organic and integral part of all our lives. She had a talent for sensing need and then going there. Like the Little Dutch Boy of the Walsh family – wherever she felt a hole might appear she went to hold the wall. She did it for my siblings and I during a time of need in our childhood, she did it for our aunt Helen after Uncle John died, and then again for John and Helen’s beautiful family when Helen passed. She didn’t skirt the peripheries of our needs, she rolled up her sleeves and got stuck in.

Rita inspired us all. She truly touched everyone she encountered. Even in her last weeks and her time in Cork Maternity Hospital, through her pain, her beauty and good humor shone. Our cousin David, stuck out in the Middle East right now, had promised to bring her back a handsome sheikh on his return. The day before she died, Rita joked that though she was still open to the sheikh idea, she had concerns about her current ability to get up on a camel! When her consultant, Dr Hewitt, shared the news that the outlook for Rita was not good, he had tears in his eyes, as did all her nurses. They said she was a true lady.

As my sister Audrey and I raced across the Atlantic attempting to say goodbye, Rita told the family that she really didn’t want us to see her like this. Independent as always, she was gone before we got there.

Every member of the Walsh family is grateful to Nollaig, who sensing there was a weakness in the wall, went to be by Rita’s side early Tuesday morning, and was with her as she went to join her angels. So loved was Rita, that the wonderful staff of CMH allowed her to lie in her hospital bed for the day, until Audrey, Roddy and I could come say our goodbyes there, all the while the Walsh family keeping vigil by her side, never leaving her alone, not even for a minute.

Although she never married and never had children of her own, by virtue of her bright and loving spirit, Rita had family, lots of family. She was loved deeply, she continues to be loved. She lived a beautiful and successful life. And though we will all miss her greatly, as my Uncle Tom said to me last night, at least now she doesn’t have to grow old.

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Dear Ireland – Let’s Talk

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Dear Ireland

Sometimes, while having pints here in Orlando with English friends, my husband will slap one of the lads on the shoulder and joke, “800 years of oppression – the next round’s yours!”  We have lots of wonderful English friends, who we don’t, of course, hold personally responsible for the 800 years of oppression that the Irish suffered, but that line gets a laugh, and occasionally even, a beer.

We grew up in Cork, at a point in history when most of the indignity and oppression was over with.  It was almost over because many brave souls (family members included) who came before us, stood up and spoke out, and fought hard for their rights. And their day (our day) did come.  Well, mostly; we didn’t get all of Ireland back, but we got 26 counties.

We had our (partial) victory over British rule where many other, much larger, countries failed.  We accomplished this because we couldn’t live under the tyranny of oppression and injustice.  As Irish people, we simply refused to accept that as a condition of our lives. We Irish are fighters for justice and equality. We work to make things even, no matter where we are. When we crossed the ocean to America, we were greeted with “No Irish Need Apply” signs.  Today we make up 10% of the American population.

So, Ireland, I have to ask; is it really a huge surprise that our Irish gay population are standing up and asking for equity in their lives? Is it a stretch to think that they feel they should have the same rights that the rest of their country enjoy, and are fighting for those rights? They are the subjugated now; they are the underdog when it comes to the legal recognition of their relationships. They are gay, but they are also Irish, and  It would be simply un-Irish of them not to stand up and fight for equal treatment.

The Irish, having suffered subjugation first hand, are world renowned champions of the underdog. We have provided the world with peace keeping forces in the Lebanon, Bob Geldof, Bono, and even Mother Teresa (totally inspired by her time in Ireland). We are the country of Concern, Trocaire, and Mary Robinson.  For a small country, we are pretty darn fabulous in our positive effect on the world. The World Giving Index (2014) ranks Ireland as number four in all the world for donating money to charitable causes. We are a generous bunch. So why is there even a thought of not voting yes in the marriage referendum in May? Can’t we be generous with our own?

Don’t tell me that gays and lesbians are different. Don’t tell me that they don’t deserve the same civil rights as the rest of us. Don’t tell me you don’t want to see marriage redefined (ahem, we’ve already redefined that rather seriously, by the way).  Don’t even begin to tell me that you are planning on voting against gay marriage because God isn’t keen on the gays.  In the Bible, God mentions his disapproval of shrimp far more than his disapproval of homosexuality, but should there be an Irish referendum on the sanctity of the prawn cocktail, I think we know what the outcome would be.

So what if the priests tell us gay marriage is wrong?  As a country we have evolved beyond the autocracy of the church – we do have free will, after all.  And even at that, this is a legal matter, not a religious one. But if you have to think religiously, I feel that God will not judge us for being loving, for being inclusive, for being accepting. Seriously, who do you think Jesus would want to be associated with – the people who shun and cast judgement on consenting, loving adults, or the people who say that everyone deserves to be treated equally?  Jesus was known for being a bit of an advocate for the underdog, if I remember correctly (I’m pretty sure he was bit Irish).

And so what if we don’t like the thought of two guys or two girls having sex?  You also probably don’t like the thought of the next door neighbors having sex –but that doesn’t exclude them from the right to the same civil liberties you enjoy.  And please don’t confuse the issue with that of having children. Being “straight married”, being “gay married”, or being unmarried – marriage is not actually a physical condition of parenthood one way or the other.

So let’s just say that 3% of the world’s population is attracted to the same gender.  Are we really happy, as a nation, to declare, by vote, that we don’t think those people should enjoy the same rights we do?  How would you feel if any 3% of the Irish population was told by another authority that they were not entitled to the same rights as the other 97%?  Sorry, no mass or class for you – go find a hedge, and be grateful.  Sorry, not your language – ours.  Does that get your back up?  How about, sorry, no marriage for you – take civil partnership, and be happy with it. Is that OK?   Could you be personally responsible for that?

Well, we are Irish.   Rebellion is practically genetic (especially if you are from Cork).  We are the country of the arts.  We are the country of writers, actors, film producers, singers and rabble rousers. We are the educated. We are the creative.  We are the inclusive. We have been the subjugated. We don’t stand for that anymore.  We stand for equality throughout the world.  We must certainly take a stand for it in our own country.

So my dear Ireland, let’s get it right the first time around here. Our gay brothers and sisters were given their 26 counties in 2010 in the form of civil partnership.  We understand too well the lingering hangover that comes from being granted almost what you want – given partially what you feel is your due.  In this instance, WE have the power.  Let’s get this done all the way for our countrymen – let’s make sure they get their other 6.  We do this by voting yes on gay marriage. Get out and mark your ballot. Equality is our thing. Now it’s our time. May 22nd – say yes.

Sincerely,

Cathy Tobin

A Slight Touch of Fairly Bad News

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Easter Monday, April 6th, 2015 – 6:32 pm

I knew it wasn’t good that he hadn’t texted me. I was proctoring a state test in our school, and had told him that I would be incommunicado around the time he was getting the results, but I did expect to see a message from him once I fired back up my phone.  Nothing.

I called him on my lunch break. “Well?” I asked.  “So, it looks like I do have a bit of cancer, alright,” he said.  A bit?  I think we’ve joked about that before; you can’t be slightly pregnant, somewhat dead, or have a bit of cancer.  These things are all in definites. So, you’re saying you have cancer, is that it? Jesuuuuuuus!  I don’t say that.  I think it.  “Oh, okay. It’s just a bit. We’ll manage it”. That’s what I say.

He tells me he has to go for a full body scan in a day or two to rule out the chance of cancer being present elsewhere.  Elsewhere? Like in Kuala Lumpur? Or like someplace else in your body?  Because, that would be ridiculous.  I’m holding it together on the understanding that it’s just a bit of cancer on your prostate, but if there’s cancer anyplace else, it had better not be in you. No sir.  He sounds down.  I try to sound caring, but upbeat; I don’t think the mix is good. I suspect I sound glib. I tell him I love him, we’ll talk when we’re both home, and we hang up.

I’m sitting in the tiny break room at school.  There’s another staff member in there, but her back is towards me (on a call, I think). She doesn’t know what’s just happened.  I try to process what has just happened.  My husband, the man who has been my best friend and love for 29 years, has just told me he has cancer (albeit, just a bit).  What do I do now? Seriously, what do I do now? I haven’t had to do this before. I don’t know the right way to do it. Wailing? Total disintegration? Calm denial?  Middle ground – practical minimization – that feels like the way to go.    The three words, “Tom Has Cancer” form in my brain and float out, like a banner, into our reality. I start to cry. But it’s just a bit of cancer, I counter. It’s caught early. He’ll be fine.

Life has shifted, but I’m still on the couch in the break room. The day must proceed. Dry eyes. Back to work.

As I pass her in the hallway, my principal spots my watery eyes and asks me if I am OK. I think to smile and say yes, but instead I say, “Tom has cancer.” I was going to say it and continue on my way, but I think she realizes, more fully than I do in that moment, how seriously not good that is.  She pulls me into her office and gives me a very sincere hug, and more tears come out.  I’ll probably not go straight to the classroom then.  I’ll go sit in my car for a bit and pull myself together.

Sitting in the car, I email my brother, brother in law, sister and Dad (I’ll ask Tom if he wants to tell his mother and sisters himself).  I try to be matter of a fact.  I ask my brother in law, who’s a doctor, what his opinion is.  My sister calls me immediately and we both wonder what the fuck has just happened?  How could this have just happened? What a ridiculously stupid turn of events. Not supposed to happen at all.  Not to my handsome, fit, happy, healthy man.  Total, bloody, rubbish.

After the phone call I sit and wonder some more.  I try to pull myself back to the minimization thing. He’ll be fine.  It’s early days. We know someone who’s been through this and he’s fine.  It’ll be fine.  Then those three words come back into my head, and it’s crying again.  How will we tell our children?  Tom’s on a 24 hour shift at the fire station. I pick up my phone and text him again.  “It’ll all be fine.  Don’t worry a bit,” I type.  “Sure,” he replies.  Is that, “Sure, yes, I know it will be,” or is that,”Sure, it’s not fine at all, but you go on ahead thinking that”?  In case he’s reading my attempts at support and stoicism as a lack of emotional response on my part, I text him back that I’m sitting in the car crying, but am pretty certain that I’m being over dramatic, and it will all be grand.  And, that I love him.  Thirty seconds later my phone screen lights up. “I’m not fucking dying,” he responds.  “I might murder you over the course”, I text back – he does have a history of being an appalling patient.

OK, pulled together, and back in my classroom.  My teacher’s aide, Saoni, tells me she has a stomach ache, and I tell her that Tom has cancer.  I realize I’m being shitty. “Oh,” she says, “will he be okay?”  “He will.”  We get through the afternoon remarkably well.  Young children are wonderfully demanding of one’s full attention, and soon the school day is over.  While straightening up the classroom, after dismissal, my brother calls me from Dublin.  He’s full of optimism, and how great it is that we live in America, and Tom has excellent health insurance, and has been getting comprehensive annual check ups at his fire department.  Maybe, even, that living in America and working at Winter Park Fire Department has actually saved his life.  My brother in law emails me that he is going to do some research into it.  My dad, in Cork, is unreachable. He’s at the removal of a dear family friend who has just died, too young, from cancer.

Saoni, who has been manning the car line, returns to the classroom and grabs my arms gently, and turns me so that we are face to face.  Her eyes are full of tears.  “It just hit me,” she says.  “I just realized how I would feel if I had just heard that my husband had cancer.”  Shit. Maybe I should have been crying more? I envy Saoni her pure reaction.  I’m jealous of it.  But I realize that the purity of her response comes from the luxury of operating in the hypothetical. The reality is more complicated, more messy. I can’t fully feel the weight of it, or travel down the path of it, because I’m too busy denying it, rationalizing it, organizing it. Tom is the one who has to deal with the physicality of the diagnosis.  I am going to be strong for him. To fall apart would be selfish, melodramatic, complicit.  Looking at Saoni’s sad face though, it feels OK to indulge myself in a bit more crying.

I come home and call Tom from the driveway of our house.  It’s okay to tell the kids, he says. I get two of the three, the 11 and 14 year old, who are home, to sit with me.  No big deal.  Dad has a bit of cancer. He’ll be fine. He’d really want you to clean your bedrooms right now, though. They moan a little, and I’m not sure about which part. I think I’ve done well with making it all seem like it’s no big thing.

Our 16 year old comes home from work (super child – full schedule of Advanced Placement classes, and a job).  She already knows.  Tom told her when she’d called him earlier.  She’s teary eyed, wounded.  We hug for a long time, reassure each other that it will be fine, and I go into my room and write this.  That’s how I deal with it in this moment.  I write it down.  Hopefully, soon, we’ll see the bright side of all this, but for now it doesn’t feel good at all.  Seven hours in.