I saw mum for the last time when I called in last Wednesday. As usual, she was sitting in the kitchen enjoying a cigarette. She was full of chat and very positive. She hadn’t looked well for a few weeks, but she was much brighter. We had a coffee together and I promised to bring her duty free cigarettes back from New York. I kissed her goodbye and flew off the following morning not knowing she would die less than 36 hours later.
Mum was just 15 days shy of her 67th wedding anniversary. Another significant milestone would have been reaching her 90th birthday next April, although you daren’t mention her age in her presence. When I blurted out her age once during a radio interview she nearly killed me.
Mum was a voracious reader. She liked history mags, Hello and Ireland’s Own, had the Irish Daily Mail delivered to her door every day instead of the Examiner where I worked, and, unforgiveably, bought the Irish Sun on Saturday for its TV supplement and put the paper in the bin.
She had a large book collection, mainly on history and royal families. She fancied herself an Irish Republican, but she watched all the British Royal family weddings. This year Sarah Jane and herself shared prosecco and strawberries while watching Meghan Markle’s big day on the TV. And yet, when Queen Elizabeth visited Cork a few years back, mum wore her republican crown and refused to go.
For the last 10 years she acted as matriarch of the extended Hickey clan, a role she loved with a passion. She may have been a widow in those years, but she didn’t wallow in self-pity. Instead she embraced a hectic social life which started late in the day.
It was an unwritten rule in those years not to call before 1pm because she was rarely up. Her routine was to meet her friend Noreen in Wilton Shopping Centre every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday afternoon. Thursday afternoon she went to the hairdressers, and two or three nights a week she called her taxi driver Steve to haul her over to her best friend and first cousin Esther, before descending on the Flying Enterprise or Fordes. They were often the last to leave as the bar staff cleaned up around them.
She was not afraid to express her opinion on just about every issue, but you could always tease her about her views. When Micheal Martin banned indoor smoking she came up with some choice words for him. ‘I’ll give him a piece of my mind if I ever meet him,” she said furiously.
One day she arrived in Wilton to meet Noreen in their usual spot in the café. When she rounded the corner who did she spy sitting in her seat but the Minister for No Fags, Micheal. Stunned and apoplectic with rage she somehow kept her mouth shut and found another seat. Naturally we never left her forget her failure to confront her enemy.
The year dad died I took her to London where she had worked just after the Second World War. I found us a lovely hotel near Russell Square where she could sit outside in the café, sip her glass of wine, pull on her cigarette, and enjoy one of her favourite pastimes – people watching.
We went to the Tutankhamen Exhibition at the 02 Arena, Hampton Court, Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace and the British Museum. We made it an annual trip for some years, once with Lorraine, but mainly it was just mum and son sharing some great times together. Her sense of historic injustice flared up once when we trekked around Westminster Abbey. Seeing the burial place of Oliver Cromwell, her eyes flashed with menace as she quickly looked around to check no one was looking, and then spat at the spot.
She was a woman ahead of her time. She loved and protected every one of her clan whether you did well in school or not; were a single mum or gay. To her we were winners not failures. She believed in each and every one of us, always encouraging and praising, offering advice or words of hope.
Life wasn’t easy for her. She absorbed life’s setbacks as best she could, trying to shield her children and bring us up in a loving environment. She adored her father, Tom, who died just before I was born, but my accident a few years later showed a true mother’s love.
For the next 2.5 years she visited me in hospital, often staying the night, while at the same time trying to raise a young family. She and dad eventually decided it would be better to take me home rather than have me institutionalised as was suggested. Mum also resolved to treat me just like John and Lorraine. If I stepped out of line I wouldn’t escape punishment.
In later years when I worried if I would ever find a girlfriend, she would always insist there was a lovely one out there waiting for me, I just hadn’t found her yet. I didn’t believe her, but at the same time it gave me that little bit of encouragement. Many years later when I did meet Trish she was naturally thrilled, although she never stopped reminding me that her words had come true.
When our second son Alan was born with spina bifida & hydrocephalus mum suffered with us, and was always there to help. Whenever Alan was hospitalised she would visit him despite the objections of hospital staff. He was her grandson and nothing was going to stop her supporting us.
If Trish and I were going through a difficult patch with Alan she would help mind Daire or Sarah Jane, or take us out for a meal or drink to keep our spirits up. She was there for us right through those 22 months and we’ll never forget her kindness and love.
In January of this year mum’s social partner Esther died suddenly, turning mum’s world upside down. A few months later she suffered a fall, forcing a dramatic change in lifestyle. Less mobile now and forced to sell her car, she found the curtailment of her much prized independence difficult but adjusted enough to make our daughter Sarah Jane’s wedding in June where she stole the show.
My birthday is coming up in a few weeks, Lorraine’s too. What I’ll miss most on the day is picking up the envelope from mum with a card inside and a nice crisp 50 euro note. It’s not about the money, nor the card, but the fact that she gave both with so much love, and I miss it and her so much.
This was the eulogy I delivered at mum’s Funeral Mass on September 11, 2018.