Those final moments with Mum


I got back to Southampton on Oct. 23rd after having buried my mother 2 days previously, and went straight into 2 days of trustees meetings for our two schools with Brothers over from Liverpool + France. My cycling friend from Liverpool who rode to Assisi with me, Pete Smith arrived a few days later for some cycling together and to help us with some jobs around the house (inc. the day and a half the 2 of us spent clearing out and tidying up the dumping area that was our cellar workshop). This meant that I was kept occupied at a time when I needed to be. Physical work in particular was of great benefit, but even more so was the presence of a dear friend.

Pete's visit was only possible because I was on half-term that week. Things would have been harder for me if I'd had to go straight back into school. So, the timing of Mum's death was a Godsend for me, having this week to recover + reflect, but be busy enough not to be just sitting + moping.

Indeed, the whole circumstances of Mum's death were blessed, to the extent that I cannot say that her passing has left me depressed, deeply saddened, or in a state of grief. Events seemed to be so tightly choreographed, guided by a divine hand, with God's presence so palpable through it all, that when the tears came they were filled with such a lightness, love, tenderness, sense of wonder and even joy.

First of all, I was able to get to the nursing home 90 mins. before she died, having flown to Dublin within a few hours of getting the news from the home that this time it really did look serious, and then driving straight down to Co. Limerick WELL above the speed limit. I'd warned my cousin Pat Hayes and asked him to go in and be with her whilst I was journeying being there. He had been with his Mum when she died and when I got to the home he started briefing me as to what to expect as time went on and Mum's breathing got weaker. He said, "You watch, she's going to open her eyes and look at you before she goes and it will be the most wonderful thing for you and will stay with you for the rest of your life." At the time this struck me as an odd thing to say... what if she didn't? How would I then feel? Let down? But somehow, he intuitively knew. She did open her eyes, it was wonderful and it will stay with me for ever.

Once she had, he stood up, gripped my shoulders and said, "I'm just going to pop out for a cigarette…" leaving me to be on my own with her in what, again, he intuitively knew were going to be her final moments. I made a "confession" to Mum, thanked her for everything she did for me, etc... and said something to her + God that closed the circle on something she'd said to God when I was born and which she only told me about once I'd become a Brother… "James, I'd been praying so hard for a 5th child that when you were born I said to God, 'You've given me what I asked for… now I give him back to you.'" (Just like so many great women of the Old Testament!) So, at that moment at Mum's bedside I thanked God for having given her to me and I gave her back to him. I then blessed her with the holy water from Mount Melleray that was on the beside table, kissed her on the forehead and sat back down. As I did so, she then took what was to be her last breath. At that point she closed her eyes, hunched her shoulders, as if trying to reach up, and her facial muscles suddenly - just for a few seconds - seemed to come alive again, as if she was awake with her eyes closed, but very relaxed. Then after a moment, she slowly exhaled… and she was gone, but looking as if she had just fallen into a deep, restful, peaceful sleep. 

Then, a minute or 2 later, Pat came back in. Nurses followed and we all said a decade of the rosary together, all of us tearful, but all, I think, deep down happy for her. The nursing staff had all grown very fond of our Mum. Everyone did. You couldn't help it. She brought light into the life of every person that she met.

I will be able to remember these moments for ever (at least until Alzheimer's gets me) and feel so privileged to have experienced them. I couldn't have scripted it… no-one could have. This is why my "grieving" has had such a lightness in it too. All light and no dark, just like the beautiful, simple pine wood coffin that we chose for her. 

I now pray that whatever happens to Dad may be the best for him. I went over to be with him last weekend and although frail physically (he is 87, now weighs only about 6-7 stone, about half his "fighting weight", and has Parkinson's) mentally he seems ok, though it is clear that the fact of Mum's death seems to be buried deep in his mind. He didn't mention her and neither did I. His way of coping. The way he looks at me though is enough to make me cry... all his old barriers have gone in his current vulnerability and all I see is love. The "butch" butcher is no more and he seems genuinely at peace for the first time that I have known.

He's in God's hands and there is no better place for him to be.


Dad on Oct. 23rd, just before I left to come back to Southampton - the chocolates were for his birthday. We was 87 on the day of mum's funeral.
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