"Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds . . ." Wm Shakespeare

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Gorta Mór ~ The Great Hunger

Saint Patrick's Day usually evokes thoughts of the land of green, of finding good luck in the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, green beer and jolly times in pubs across the land. 

For some reason I found my thoughts taking a more somber turn and decided to write along those lines.

Although it began years before, the worst of the famine happened between the years 1845 and 1852 and Ireland was grieving.

Lives, millions of lives, were lost during the Great Famine, either through death or immigration to the Western world.
I cannot imagine how it felt to watch your children go to bed hungry day upon day and in great agony, finally dying of starvation. 

I imagine countless fathers scouring the land for work, desperately searching out whatever food they could for their families, discouraged to the point of death.  

. . . Pale mothers, wherefore weeping?
'Would to God that we were dead -
Our children swoon before us, and we cannot give them bread.
Miss Jane Francesca Elgee (later Lady Wilde)

I think of a multitude of mothers, clutching to their breasts, their sons and daughters now booked for travel by train to the coast, there to embark on a journey across the great sea knowing they would never see them again.

What was it like for whole young families to take the risk, with hope daring to grow in their hearts, for a land of plenty, hope their children would make it and not die as thousands have already died, hope they would find land that would be as kind to them as this land had been harsh. This land, their Ireland, was dying and this journey was their hope. Grieving parents and grandparents watch as their loved ones left them behind, with both hope for their future and dread in their hearts dwelling side by side, wondering ‘will we ever see them again?’ 

How did it feel for the ones leaving everything they knew, everyone they loved as the train left the station, watching their family grow smaller and smaller as the train chugged into the distance, taking them away. As the ship left the dock, leaving the only land, the only country they had ever known, how did they bear the heavy burden knowing for certain they would never set foot in their beloved Ireland again, and never again see the faces of their beloved parents, grandparents and friends.

As she stood at the ships rail, she felt her heart break as a deep sadness enveloped her. Watching her beloved land fade in the distance, not knowing what lay ahead, only days and days of water, she mourned with a depth no words could describe. She clung desperately to Iain's hand and took what comfort she could from him standing so solidly beside her. She knew he understood, she hoped she could give him the same strength he was giving her. She knew they were not the only ones who embarked on this great adventure and as she looked around at the others watching their land recede, she recognized some she knew and this too gave her great comfort. Hope, she felt hope for the first time in many months. It had been a very long time coming.

Here it was, this, the biggest gamble of all time, that life would be better, that this new life which came at such a great cost, would pay off in a life of freedom and plenty for all who dared.

As Ireland lay bleeding out it's sons and daughters as they died or sailed away, there was the faintest of hope that Ireland would live on, if not in the land of their birth, it would live on in their hearts.

I have never lived through such loss and heartache and though I have a good imagination, I don’t think my little thoughts can do justice to all that Ireland's sons and daughters went through during those years of famine and death. That they have stayed strong and proud through it all is tribute to the wonder and beauty not only of the land, but of the people of the land.

Journey Girl, a Friend of Ireland
*all pictures taken from the Irish Famine Museum and Timeline*

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Adventures as a PSW

I knock on the door and hear a shuffling of feet and I know a gracious lady of a bygone era is coming to let me in.

As the door opens I see a face well-lined with advanced age. Her makeup consists of soft powdery foundation and blush, her eye makeup is perfectly applied. She is the epitome of grace and southern charm.

She is fully dressed as every self-respecting woman of her time is. Earrings, necklace, rings and watch are all in place, they are a matched set. She’s wearing a matching pantsuit and everything is well chosen and well-fitted. Her white hair is beautifully coiffed and she looks ready to go out on the town. 

As she greets me with a gracious smile and opens the door to allow me access, I know I’m in for the gentlest of fights to assist her in getting ready for bed. 

“Hello Irene, how are you tonight?” I ask as I enter her room.

“I’m fine dear, what can I do for you?” She asks me that same question every evening and I wonder if she truly does forget my purpose or if it’s just her endless politeness, perhaps hoping to hear a different answer. I know I will give the same answer I do every evening, “I’m here to help you put on your night clothes so when you’re ready to go to bed you will be all ready”.

“Oh thank you dear, but I don’t need any help tonight”, she says as she sweetly refuses me, but I’m not put off.

“Well, how about if you do it all and I just wait till you are finished, that way if you need any help I’ll be right here.”
Once again she smiles and refuses me, “well, I think I can do it on my own”. Her smile is the same, it never wavers a bit. It must have taken her years to develop the ability of disagreeing in this, the politest of refusals.

“Oh, I’m sure you can”, I agree, “but they just want me here to assist if you should need any help while you’re changing”.

She starts to refuse me for the third time, but then, still smiling, she suddenly gives in and I’m surprised she gave in so quickly this night.

We go through the process of removing one earring after another, the necklace, her watch and one by one the various articles of clothing. 

I go to her dresser and pull out her pajamas, one pair after another, holding them up as she considers and refuses one by one till she finally makes her choice. 

I help her put them on, do up the buttons for her as most of the elderly have difficulty with buttons and she is no exception, even thought she insists she can do it all herself.

I am a bit surprised when her husband comes out of the bathroom and says, “Are you ready to go down to watch the movie?” Well, why didn't she tell me they were ‘going out’???

She says she’s not sure she can go out ‘looking like this’, but I assure her if she puts on her sweater it will look like a pair of lounging pants and quite acceptable. She agrees and I help her put on the sweater and say my goodbyes. As I close the door behind me I hear her softly say to her husband, “do you think she will notice if I change back into my clothes?”

I chuckle to myself and walk on to my next client. I never gave it another thought.

At the end of my shift, after all my senior clients are all washed up and changed ready for bed, I’m sitting in the lounge doing my report in my phone and the elevator opens up. Out comes the little lady and her husband. She has on her earrings, necklace, rings and watch and is fully dressed in the suit I had helped her out of just a couple of hours ago. 

I never said a word and they never let on if they knew me, and very sweetly she wished me a good night as she smilingly walks by on the way down the hall to their room.

I know she will begin the process of removing her clothes one by one, taking off her earrings, necklace, rings and watch. She will set them on the same bedside table I set them on just a couple of hours ago. 

Putting her on pajamas once again, she will be ready for bed and I wonder . . . . does she even remember doing this the first time?

And this is what makes my life as a PSW such an adventure.