Granny Mc

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Mary Mc Gowan as she was then, around 16 years old. 

My Granny Mary Mc Callion, my beloved ‘Granny Mc’ passed away on Friday 15th September at 4.am. She was 87. We weren’t ready.

It remains surreal, over a week later, and we passed through the wake and the funeral as if in a dream. Thankfully, miraculously, great peace was felt by all after the beautiful funeral ceremony.

My Daddy, brave but devastated, asked me to write something for the newspaper. He wanted people to know about my Granny, and also for them to know how beautiful the funeral was.

It appeared in the Derry Journal one week later. (Thank you) I wrote something like this:

Wee Mary, our Granny Mc.

 

By Fiona McCallion

 

‘A wee woman, but a big light.’ How Fr Joe Gormley described Mary McCallion, who died on Friday morning. She knew it, in the end it seems, but she still sent her family home with reassurances, from Altnagelvin hospital, where they had been at her side since she was admitted on Wednesday.

The visiting priest who was visiting on Thursday night, to bring her Communion was a friend too. He was rushed away early by doctors before he could do a little job Mary had asked him to do: write a love note to her husband of 57 years, Jim.

There was shock and numbness when the call came in the night and the rush to the hospital for her five children. She was 87 years old, and up to a few weeks ago full of life and joy. She was full of love until the end.

The wake took place in High Park, where Mary’s devoted daughter, also Mary, lives. It was the house she raised her five children (she lost one more as a tiny baby) through the Troubles, the street full of loving neighbours and friends, a place brimming with memories.

The rain poured but the people streamed through the door, tears and laughter, lives touched by goodness. Pain shared, support lent, stories traded.

The former Tillie and Henderson ‘factory girl’ had friends far and wide.

‘She was a wee saint.’ People spoke of the way Mary talked to them, holding their hand, deeply interested, placing value on them and making them feel special. She made everyone feel like they were no. 1 in that moment. ( I always thought it was just me!)

Generous and always providing, her son Jim observed, ‘She’d give you her last and make you feel like you were doing her a favour taking it.’

Mary’s other son Joe called her ‘a daughter of compassion.’ She never turned anyone away.

The day of the funeral on Sunday dawned glorious, bright and warm. A big change from the wintry, dark days before. Butterflies were seen during the familiar walk from High Park to St. Mary’s Church, Creggan. Sons, grandsons, her brother and friends carried Mary to her beloved Creggan chapel. There was a poignant pause outside Mary and Jim’s home of 68 Iniscairn Road, where many people stood at their doors.

‘Faith, family and fun.’ Fr. Joe Gormley, a relatively new friend of Mary’s, spoke of her beautifully, her love, dedication to living the Gospel and her lifelong preparation for this day. He said she is a great loss to the community of Creggan.

Tears flowed in the packed congregation. But peace was felt and love pervaded the church.

Mary’s husband Jim, never seen without her at daily Mass, was solitary but strong and composed as he sat beside his wife for the final time.

Many lessons of giving and selflessness were learned and will be learned.

23 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren to celebrate her life and pass on her messages.

The graveside was peaceful, beautiful even, flowers and family under the shining September sun. A new plot beside the Lecky Road, Mary’s first home. Jim sat in a chair as the final prayers were said. The family held hands in composure and love.

Her death is still surreal for those that loved her. She will leave a huge gap in this life, and many hearts are heavy and a little broken.

Her family feel blessed that she reached the age of 87. Her example of  love will live on through them and the hundreds of hearts she touched in her humble, giving way.

My Granny Mc is survived by her husband Jim, her daughters Catriona, Ann and Mary and her sons Jim and Joe. 26 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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The wee photo of my Granda Jim and Granny Mary Mc Callion, taken a few years ago. It appeared in the paper too. 

I have an image emblazoned in my mind of my brothers Jimmy (27) and Jacob (7) hand in hand in the dying sun, carrying a wreath of flowers towards my Granny’s final resting place just before Jimmy helped carry her coffin there. Jimmy in his shirt and tie and Jacob in a full suit bought for a wedding. Jimmy bent to speak to Jacob. When they came back they told us that they carried the wreath from my mother’s brothers and sisters, quite by coincidence.

One of many beautiful moments from a day that I thought would be close to unbearable.

Also, can I just say that I thought it was heart-warming that my Mum’s whole family were there to support my Dad. Especially after losing their own Mum, our darling Granny Breslin just 7 months and 1 day before. People are so kind, in general actually. And people’s presence and care and warm words mean the world, and I’m so glad for my Daddy that people have been so kind.

My Mammy’s big brother Eddie wrote to me yesterday, ‘ Mary didn’t do miracles for all to see, but a saint she’ll always be to me.’

I wrote most of my newspaper piece opposite the chair my Granny always sat in when she had soup and tea and cake in my house a few days a week. How utterly strange that she won’t sit there again, I won’t speak or listen to her wise words and kindness again.

My sister Clare cried as Granny won’t be there at her upcoming wedding. But she will be, C. In all the ways it matters.

I keep saying that I have lost my biggest fan, I really could do no wrong in my Granny’s eyes and even when my life was not going anywhere near how I hoped, she would heap the praises on me and I would feel a million times better about myself. She prayed for me everyday and I know it really helped me in my life, I can only hope she has a little more influence in the prayer department where she is now. Awk, I didn’t deserve it ever and we really didn’t deserve her.

My Granda has lost his ‘sweetheart’ and I can’t imagine what he is going through. He is blessed to have caring and loving children, I hope they can all find the solutions together and be comfortable and find peace.

Everyone can learn a lesson about what is important from my Granny Mc, and she will live on in many, many hearts. Not least mine.

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Show me the way to go Home…

“I just feel so proud of her.” My strong mother said through her tears as we followed the lone bag-piper as he led my Granny Breslin to her final resting place. The song was called Going Home.

90 years on this earth. 1 month and one Mother’s Day she’s been gone.

Barely 2 days she shared with her own mother, who died through complications with birth. In the last maybe 15 years she kept her close to her heart on a photo pendant my dear uncle John bought for her. My Granny didn’t really talk about her mother much until she developed dementia. But it was the biggest pain and loss in her life, and she really could not wait to be reunited with her.

“She’ll be soon after her” they said when little Margaret Burns’ mother died. But 90 years, 14 children and 101 grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren later… and what a legacy, what a life.

In one of our kitchen table mammoth tea and talking sessions my sister said “Think how terrified she must have been every time she was pregnant.” And it’s true…Yet she went through it 14 times, with only two of the younger ones born in hospital, the rest at home. Such a brave and selfless woman who just used her life to raise her children with her simple faith, strong morals and a lot of laughter.

My friends, and others who had never met Granny were reduced to tears at the funeral listening to all she had overcome between Derry and Scotland. Her father, a good man, died when she was 12 and herself and her sister found him when they returned from the cinema.

She was then raised by her beloved Aunt Annie in Derry, where both parents were from. “If he’s meant for you, he’ll come into the fireside.” Annie always said. And my Granda did just that, coming into the house to wait for Annie’s son Paddy every Friday night before they went to the pub. One day he asked Annie could he take Margaret to the ‘pictures.’ “You’ll have to ask her yourself.” Annie replied. My Granny was listening on the stairs, delighted.

They lived in a little house in Creggan, paying up for groceries, battling through the riots of the Troubles, and doing a miraculous job of raising 6 girls and 8 boys without murdering any of them!

I have to say, I’m biased, they’re my aunties and uncles, but the Breslins are an absolute credit to my Granny. I’m just so proud to be part of this family, and watching as they handled themselves, their grown up children, all the visitors with such grace and dignity at the wake and funeral. They are a big loving family of absolute characters, and although it was the saddest of circumstances we were delighted to see each other. The wake at times was an almost joyful occasion, which I thought maybe would have upset my mammy but she said it’s exactly what Granny would have wanted. Some of us (mostly cousins) had a drink after the soup and sandwiches of the funeral (I was the only one to volunteer to show my family up) and now we are hoping to organise a big cousins meet-up at least once a year.

Mother’s Day was yesterday, and the first one my own mother has spent without hers. I knew it would be difficult, so I had the idea of a version of my granny’s beloved photo pendant featuring a wee song my granny in her dementia especially liked to sing.

From here.

One of my favourite stories about my Granny, and it was told at the funeral, highlights her very healthy relationship with God. My auntie Eileen once found a piece of scone far from my Granny’s chair and jam dripping from the Sacred Heart picture. “You fairly knew your own mother!” she accused Jesus. Kind of regularly, actually!

She died on 14 February, Valentine’s Day. “She’s a wee lover” my Mammy said as she left to say her final goodbyes.

It comforts us all to think of the first Mother’s Day for two amazing long-suffering women. After 90 years. That’s love.

 

Margaret Breslin

7th October 1926 – 14th February 2017

A little tribute to a special lady

Maria on her 69th birthday on 12 June, the day after my 23rd birthday.

My boyfriend lost his grandmother on Monday 12 November. She was 69 years old and had been battling lung (and then bone cancer) from about April of this year. She was a special lady and I’d like to dedicate a little slice of lemon cake to her.

Maria was a small Scottish woman, the centre of her family. She had a great accent and a wonderful sense of humour. She lost her parents at a young age, and moved to Derry, N. Ireland to live with a relative. She was married to Frankie, and they had five children. My M was the first grandchild, she had 11. When M was 7 his Mum moved back in with her parents for a few months and Maria and Frankie graciously welcomed her, M and his little brother and two baby sisters into their home which already housed their 4 remaining children. M and his brother slept in a room with their 3 teenage uncles, and as we quietly sat by Maria’s side at the wake telling stories, we marvelled that they had all fitted into that little room.

The wedding album was on show at the wake, the photos were beautiful. It was 1968. Maria wore a simple dress with long flared sleeves, a very puffy veil, and wicked eyeliner. M’s Mum is the image of her. Frankie looked tall, proud and happy. I wish I had a photo to show you. I will ask M. Everyone admired it. It was gorgeous, I would be glad to have such a lovely wedding album and so bittersweet  to see all that life and hope and happiness.

Maria would make dinner ‘tea’ for her whole family including the grandchildren every Thursday, and in her wonderful Scottish accent would ask them, ‘Do you want tea with your tea?’ We said it so much that about 5 years ago, I think it was M’s 20th birthday, our friend Aisling made him a mug that had those words on it. Tea and custard creams were her favourite, and on the first night of the wake one of the younger children put a cup and a custard cream in with their Granny.

It must have been New Years 2011, at M’s family home, we all stood up to hug and kiss and go outside to see the Chinese Lanterns filling the skies, Maria took my arm and said ‘Open the window. We did that in Scotland to let the old year out and the new year in.’ I really liked this and it will always stay with me.

M and I had a break earlier this year, it was a very hard, sad time for us. We missed each other a lot and one day we decided to meet to chat the next time I was home from Belfast. We went to our favourite Starbucks in the car and before we had any sort of talk we caught up and he told me both his Granny and Granda were ill and his Granny had cancer. I just cried. It was a mixture of everything, not being there for him when he found this out and for wee, gentle Maria.

Even though she was ill she came to family gatherings for a little while, she gave all she could. She was very excited at the birth of her newest grand daughter Annie in August.  The end still came as a shock to her husband, daughters and sons and grandchildren and friends. She got taken into hospital on Sunday morning, and she died peacefully surrounded by her family in the early hours of Monday morning.

So many people came to the house over the two days, it was really good for the family. They all pulled together, and as they are a close family anyway, it wasn’t strange to have everyone together , just comforting. I have learned that their are different ways to be close.

M did a reading at the funeral Mass, it was very difficult for him and both his auntie and the priest quietly offered to do it for him. He refused and battled through it, I know he was determined to do it for Maria and I was so proud. He feels like he has let his Granny down but I know she would be even prouder. I wished I could have walked over and cuddled him in the middle of Mass. I know he held a special place in her heart, he made her laugh more than anyone.

I was glad to know her, she was greatly loved and will be missed dearly.

God bless, Maria. You have a beautiful family who will make you proud. Look out for them all and we will keep you in our prayers as you always prayed for us x

The two brothers with their Granny in 2010.