Remembering a ‘mum in a million’

The late Eileen Sweeney who moved to Galway in 2001.

The late Eileen Sweeney who moved to Galway in 2001.

When Mary Sweeney died in March 2006 her daughter’s greatest fear was that as time passed she would forget little things about her.

“It wasn’t the big memories that I was worried about, like what she was like in general or her love or advice,” explains Eileen who grew up in Dublin but now lives in Newcastle.

“But rather the little things, the failings, the things that make a person real and make a mother your mum and friend rather than a saintly figure.”

While trying to come to terms with her loss she began keeping a journal. She wrote down all the memories that flooded into her mind, the childhood recollections, the special moments, the shared laughter, the witty comments and the heartbreak of the final days as she realised she was losing her 62-year-old mother to cancer.

“I found it great to write them all down. Later I decided to put them on a website and add photos. It was a way of sharing those little memories with the rest of the family, especially her grandchildren. I hope it brings a bit of what mum brought to my life and to the lives of those who were lucky enough to be around her.”

Positive response

Eileen was overwhelmed by the positive response to her blog [www.mumliveson.com] not only from family and friends but also from strangers.

“In its first week 1,000 people logged on. The feedback was brilliant. Our family love it. Also, strangers have been e-mailing me and telling me about their [deceased] dads and mums.

“I started the blog to keep the memory of mum alive. I think it focuses on the importance of dealing with the loss of a loved one in a positive manner. I have certainly found im beneficial to remember all the great things about my mum.”

The late Mary Sweeney moved to Galway in 2001 after the break-up of her marriage. She lived first in Rosscahill before settling in Oughterard.

The move west was a rebirth for her, recalls Eileen, the youngest of her four children. “She took to Galway straight away, she loved it. It was a whole new scene and she made a new circle of friends. She had links with the west already as her father, Aloysius Dunn, was from Clifden but had emigrated to Scotland. That was where mum grew up.

“Her marriage break-up was 10 years happening and she was 60 when everything settled. Afterwards, she became empowered and independent. She started to use e-mail and her address was iw60 - independent woman 60! She went on holidays with the girls. She became heavily involved with the St Vincent de Paul in Ballybane. She had been married for 35 years and now a new life opened up for her.”

Significant figure

Eileen, who runs an Internet business called dinetomeet - a dinner party service for singles - says her mother was a very significant figure in her children’s lives.

“Most people have a mum in a million and I certainly did. I think my mum sent me and my brothers and sisters on a very interesting path in life. She created a really strong sense of family loyalty along with a confidence to stand up on our own.”

Eileen remembers her mother as someone positive, fun, enthusiastic and caring.

She felt strongly about celebrating birthdays. “The day was made about you, we could choose our favourite meal which mum would prepare for the whole family. Everyone would give cards at the start of the meal then presents at the end. Mum carried on a tradition from her own family of birthday speeches. Each member of the family would stand up and say what they liked about you on your special day.

“Mum’s speech for all of us was the same each year, beginning with ‘I remember the day you were born…’ and telling us about what she thought on seeing us for the first time. We all had a collective annual sigh when she started but loved to hear about her joy on seeing her first through to fourth child born.”

Reluctant Catholic

While Mary was brought up in a strong Scottish Catholic household, Eileen feels she was a reluctant Catholic.

“She would defend Catholicism at any family discussion but internally I think she questioned it as much as the rest of us. Having said this, I distinctly remember at exam time Mum would always attend the novenas held in our local parish. It was such a lovely effort to make, to take time out to focus on the whoever in the family was sitting big exams that year.”

She had a “great habit” of addressing herself if she was frustrated or annoyed or just basically at her wits end, recalls Eileen.

“Burning something or forgetting an errand or the like I’d hear a ‘Oh Mary….’ when Mum was reprimanding herself.”

Nursing career

In the early eighties when her husband lost his job Mary Sweeney returned to her nursing career.

“She went back to working nights as a nurse to help with the family income. She continued her role as housewife too, bringing us to school, making lunches, etc.

“As the youngest I was fairly attached to mum. One night I lined up all my teddies along the front door to keep her from leaving. Of course they weren’t up to the job and mum went to work as planned. I spoke to her about this as an adult and she said it was one of the hardest things she had to do.”

On February 3 2006 after returning home from a holiday in Australia Mary Sweeney was diagnosed with cancer.

“Six days after her 62nd birthday on March 30 we watched mum slip away into another world. It was the most awful experience of my life.”

Eileen hopes her decision to share her precious memories of her mother will help not only to keep them alive but will also offer solace to others living with loss.

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