Friday, March 18, 2016

Rest in Peace, Joy.

Back in 2007, my husband Mark and I decided to move to Ireland (where he grew up) because he is an only child and his parents and uncles were elderly. We didn't want to be in America and receive a phone call with bad news and be helpless to do anything to help them. Also, we wanted to be able to spend some time with his family while they were still relatively well. So it took us well over a year to do it, but we moved in 2008. Sadly, two of Mark's uncles passed away before we got here, but we enjoyed over seven years with Mark's parents and his uncle, Billy.

But last Friday we had to say our final good-byes to Mark's mother, Joyce. She was 86. She died peacefully in hospital with her family by her side, holding her hands. She leaves a huge hole in our lives. Please keep Mark and his Dad in your thoughts.

I wanted to share the eulogy I read at Joyce's funeral. I didn't have much time to prepare it, but I did my best to convey what she meant to me. 

My mother-in-law was a person of many names. Her given name was Sarah, but she went by her middle name, Joyce. Those of us close to her called her Joy. Just a couple of days ago, we found out that for some reason, Joy was known around Cabra West as Grace. Mark and I had to laugh, because we can only speculate on how she earned the nickname. Yet, it’s fitting in a way because she had a certain grace, a comforting way, and a talent for the art of conversation. And, most strikingly, the woman had style.

When I suddenly appeared in Bill and Joy’s lives seven years ago – a stranger from America they’d only met briefly once before – I didn’t know what to expect. I remember feeling intense relief that this new, second mother in my life was a down-to-earth, likeable, generous, and independent woman with no pretentions that I could happily spend time with. You could confide in her about your life, your interests, and your beliefs and always know that she would never judge you. She didn’t preach and she never told people how they should live their lives. She embodied a ‘live and let live’ philosophy that helped people feel more comfortable around her.

The best and most challenging thing a parent can do is accept their children for who they are, and I must say, her unconditional love for Mark flowed out of her with every breath she took. I feel honoured to have been able to witness such mutual respect and admiration between a mother and son.

I admired Joy’s devilishness. If anyone in this room ever had the pleasure of making Joy laugh, you know what a thrill it was to hear. She was proper, but also a little bit mischievous. I imagine that growing up in an era of poverty and very few opportunities for women forced her to find creative solutions in order to do the things she wanted to do. Mark and I have often lamented that we weren’t alive to hang out with her as a young wan in her mini-skirts and heels, fancy Chanel-styled suits, and the trouble-making twinkle in her eye.

Joy bucked the conventions of marriage and children until she was good and ready, with the right person. She didn’t need taking care of – she worked. She dated, and she also had a close knit group of friends that she socialised with. She and I might have come from different cultures, different backgrounds, and different eras, but these are things we had in common with each other. As a result, I felt that she fundamentally understood me in a way I never had to explain. Mark and I never had children, and you’d expect an Irish mammy to have something to say about that. But Joy never broached the subject of whether we’d have kids because she understood it from her own experience as a private decision. She didn’t make us feel that we were less-than or lacking because we didn’t give her grand-children, and I think it reflects the unspoken love and respect she gave us. Because with Joy, she often made her feelings known not by what she said, but by what she didn’t say. So when Joy spoke, she spoke sincerely and from the heart.

BUT… if she needed to, she could go up one side of you and down the other with a single sentence. She was a lady, but she was a strong lady who could speak for herself. This is a skill that many of us are still trying to master. She was able to do it by quietly observing and sizing up people and situations. Nothing got by Joy. Just when you thought you’d pulled a fast one on her, she’d kindly remind you that she knew what you were up to in the subtlest way possible.

When we moved to Dublin, I saw the true level of care and attention that my husband was capable of giving when he was with Joy. Not just when she was sick, but all of the time. To say he doted on her doesn’t begin to cover it. And I know he learned to show such careful attentiveness from her. Joy cared for people. I think a lot of people who didn’t know Joy probably knew her to see because for many years, she’d be walking every day back and forth from her own house on the Quays or in Drumcondra up here to Cabra to mind her parents and her brothers, only to go back home to mind Bill and Mark. In fact, she was still calling over to help Billy with the housework – whether he liked it or not – until quite recently. In the best way she could, she showed her love for her Mother, her Father, and her brothers Jimmy, Billy, and Johnny with physical actions over words.

And now I need to say something about what Joy taught me about love and mutual support. Despite the fact that she married Bill at the ‘ancient’ age of 38, they celebrated their 47th anniversary last August. Forty-seven years isn’t just a long time to be married, it’s a long time to stay in love with someone. It’s a lot of cups of tea. It’s a lot of trips to the pub. It’s a lot of trips to the doctor. It’s a lot of negotiating tasks. It’s a lot of birthday cards – and when it came to cards, Joy liked the ones with a bit of verse. Watching Bill and Joy master the art of marriage was like watching a finely choreographed act on the flying trapeze: It often seemed chaotic, but they always caught each other and held on tightly. Through simply living their lives together, they showed Mark and me what it looks like to mutually depend on someone for life but still remain your own person.

Bill was telling me yesterday that one of Joy’s favourite songs was ‘What the world needs now’. I’m sure everyone here has heard it: What the world needs now is love, sweet love. The song is about how there are enough mountains to climb, oceans to cross, enough fields for growing things, and enough sunlight and moonbeams. But what everyone really needs is more love. It’s a simple message, but it’s true. Joy recognised that all people want in life is a little love and attention. Someone to be there for them. Someone to have an aul chat and a drink and someone to be there for you when you’re down. For her friends and family, that love, sweet love came from Joy.

No comments:

Post a Comment