reflections: irish words of wisdom

* May you have the hindsight to know where you've been, the foresight to know where you're going and the insight to know when you're going too far.

* May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, and the road downhill all the way to your door.

* A friend's eye is a good mirror.

*Even a small thorn causes festering.

* When a twig grows hard it is difficult to twist it. Every beginning is weak.

* As you slide down the banisters of life may the splinters never point the wrong way.

* May your troubles be as few and as far apart as my Grandmothers teeth.


widowhood way back when: wakeful irish; part 2

With a nod to St. Patrick’s Day, here is part 1 of an excerpt from the book, Of Irish Ways by Mary Murray Delany. We discovered this on http://www.funeralwise.com/:

Mourning and Merrymaking

Wakes lasted through two or three nights. Food, tobacco, snuff, and liquor were plentiful. Out in the countryside, the liquor served consisted of whiskey or poteen, which is a very potent and illegal Irish homemade brew.

Laughter and singing as well as crying filled the air as mourners shared humorous stories involving the deceased. In addition to this seeming merriment, games were played.

While this may appear to have been disrespectful of the dead, it was not the intention. It is thought that the merrymaking aspects of these wake customs were influenced by the Irish pagan heritage as well as the need to stay awake for such a long period of time. The church frowned upon these activities and tried hard to discourage the people from indulging in them, mostly to no avail.

No emotion was left out of the mourning process. Between the extremes of tears and laughter, heartfelt poetical lamentations and boisterous songs, there were debates. As the mourners gathered round the kitchen table, poteen or whiskey laden tea in hand, it was inevitable that discussions would begin. Often these debates turned heated as one might expect given that the most common topics concerned religion, politics or economics.

Mourners Pay Final Respects

One last opportunity for friends and neighbors to pay respects to the deceased came on the morning of the funeral. The body was placed in a coffin and brought outside the house. There, the open coffin was laid across some chairs, where it remained until time to carry it to the graveyard. Mourners kiss the deceased prior to the lid being placed on the coffin.

The journey to the church and then onto the graveyard was a long and arduous trip. Four of the closest relatives carried the coffin at a quick pace. They would be relieved by four more along the way and so it went until they reached the church. After the service, the procession would continue, again on foot, until reaching the graveside. The coffin was lowered into the grave and the clay, the common soil in Ireland, was shoveled over it. The spade and shovel were laid on top of the new grave in the form of a cross. Prayers were said, bringing the wake and funeral to a close.

Who says funerals have to be dull?


widowhood way back when: wakeful irish; part 1

With a nod to St. Patrick’s Day, here is Part 1 of an excerpt from the book, Of Irish Ways by Mary Murray Delany. We discovered this on http://www.funeralwise.com/:

Part 1
Irish Wakes and Funeral Customs of Old

Until modern times, Irish wake customs ran the gamut from profound grieving to what appeared to be rollicking good fun. This was especially true if the deceased was elderly. This curious mixture borne of a cultural blend of paganism and Christianity survives today in a severely toned-down fashion.

Wakes of times gone by began with neighbor women washing the body of the deceased and preparing it to be laid out on a bed or a table, often in the largest room of the house. The body was covered in white linen adorned with black or white ribbons, flowers for the body of a child. Lighted candles were placed around the body. Clay pipes, tobacco and snuff were also placed in the room. Every male caller was expected to take at least a puff. The smoke kept evil spirits from finding the deceased. Usually, a pipe and tobacco were placed on a table next to the body. Occasionally, a pipe was laid on the chest of the deceased male. Clocks were stopped at the time of death. Mirrors were turned around or covered.

Watching Over the Deceased and Keening

Once the body was prepared, it was never left alone until after burial. Someone, usually a woman, sat in the same room until it was taken away. According to custom, crying couldn’t begin until after the body was prepared lest it attract evil spirits that would take the soul of the departed. However, once the body was properly prepared, the keening began. The Caointhe, the lead keener, was first to lament the deceased. Keeners, especially the Caointhe, recited poetry lamenting the loss of the loved one in addition to crying and wailing. All the women in the house joined in, especially as each new caller arrived to pay his or her respects.

Find out more in Part 2.


7 tips for deciding what to do with your spouse/partner's belongings

How do you know when the time is right to clear out your spouse/partner's belongings?

This important decision has few clear guidelines. Well-meaning family and friends may pressure you to "get rid of" cherished possessions you don't feel ready to let go of. Or you yourself may feel anxious to "get rid of" painful reminders of your loss. But what's the rush? We urge you not to dispose of anything before you first consider these tips:

1. Trust your own instincts about the right time to tackle this difficult process. Take your time and don't rush. The hasty decision you make today may become tomorrow's regret.

2. Ask a trusted family member or friend for help in packing things up and/or making arrangements.

3. Set a realistic timetable for completing this process. Make allowances for how grief is affecting you. Assume there will be times when, despite your best intentions, you won't feel up to dealing with this.

4. Start by first getting rid of items you feel least attached to. Try to imagine what your spouse would want done with their possessions.

5. Don't kid yourself into believing that by getting rid of painful reminders, you can avoid the pain. Allowing yourself to feel the loss is an important part of getting through it and is actually emotionally beneficial in the long run.

6. Hold on to whatever possessions give you comfort right now.

7. Move items you're undecided about to another location, such as rented storage. This allows you some breathing space before making more permanent decisions.

Be sure to give yourself the time you need and trust your instincts about what's best for you.


when sudden death strikes

Whenever we hear of the recent, unexpected death of a celebrity it reminds us of the fragility of life and highlights the special challenges facing surviving spouses, family and friends.

If you’ve lost your spouse/partner to a sudden death or know someone who has, understanding the following tips from our book may help you cope:

1.) When death comes unexpectedly, it seems unreal, like a bad dream that will be over once you wake up. Expect this sense of unreality to persist for awhile.

2.) With any sudden death, there is almost always unfinished business: unresolved conflicts, words either spoken in anger or not at all, plans left unclear or incomplete. You’re cheated of the opportunity to put things in order before the finality of death.

3.) You may feel rage over the unfairness of what has happened.

4.) You have to struggle with a sense of helplessness as events following the death move you along with them. There is often a need to place blame somewhere.

With any sudden death, expect the mourning process to take somewhat longer than usual, as the shock of the loss is generally greater than with a death that was anticipated. Be gentle with yourself and take the time you need to grieve. Learn more in this excellent article by Barbara Paul, Ph.D., Reactions to Sudden or Traumatic Loss.

Please send us your thoughts and/or reactions.