I spoke to my son today
and thought of you.
It was not so much increasing age, infirmity,
which diminished your later years,
rather the impact of two cancer operations:
you moved past the first well, I think,
but when they had to go in again
having botched some aspect of the first,
then, despite it being physically successful,
some inner part of you died in the process.
You never told us, your four sons,
what you were going through –
that would not have been your style:
and would we have been there had you asked?
I like to think so but I’m not sure;
we had all long since moved away,
built different lives in different places.
You told me once when I went back into a marriage
that you had hoped I would have more time for you.
I did not understand
the significance then.
There was only one man in your life – my father:
he was taken from you far too early
but a replacement was never an option.
He left you in straitened circumstances
and with four sons to bring up.
We never knew then either what you
had to go through – you protected us from that;
rebuilt your life, our lives,
and made yourself a new career.
You were an impressive woman;
brought up in rural Ireland,
forced to emigrate to Canada
by the religious bigots of your day.
You told us about
sitting on the stairs
reading a book
whilst people packed,
unpacked around you.
You must have inherited your
determination from your father
who took his family there,
then brought them back
and built a business
from scratch in a new location.
You went to university – got a degree
long before it was a norm for women to do that;
were clearly in love with my father;
I have seen photographs from early days;
some of them still hang on my walls.
Yet in the aftermath of that second operation
you retreated to a place
seemingly populated by voices
which said you were a failure.
You would not be told different.
We struggled to find you,
to draw you out;
but the only person who seemed
able to reach was my younger son;
you brightened up in his presence,
told him things the rest of us
had never been privileged to hear.
You have left us now and yet
your memory and my regret linger on.
But I have only to watch my son
engrossed in a book, even on Kindle,
to know your spirit lives on in him.