Remembering those who never came home

In the midst of that wonderful book Solar Bones written by Mayo author Mike McCormack, there is an intensely moving passage which encapsulates the atmosphere of a house after its children have grown and left. It is as if the soul of the house has been hoovered out and what is left is a void within a space made for many, but now occupied by just one or two. It is feeling that many of you have experienced as your own children have grown up and left, the end of a slow metamorphosis of your home becoming just a house again, its four walls no substitute for the noise, the bustle, the drama.

The rooms they leave behind a perpetuation of your agony, the markings on the walls of their increasing heights scribbled in a place where you are reluctant to paint over lest it hasten the day they depart or hasten the day they cease being children, your children.

Their rooms a monument to the drama they brought to your lives, and now these rooms are just a stage where, with props and set intact, the actors have exited and you are left there to stare at it, and wonder what happened and where the years have gone.

And though you know that they will come and visit, you know that it will never be the same again, that now that they have the ability and will to go somewhere else, they will.

But for many people, the luxury of the slow process is robbed from them. For many, it happens unexpectedly, in the blink of an eye, in an instant everything changed forever. How many of those who went to watch country music this week in Nevada thought that their rooms would never be visited again? How many of those who went to watch Ariana Grande in March would have ever thought that a visit to see the hero who adorned the poster on their walls, would be a tragic link to them never returning home again alive?

Ten years ago this week, a young Swiss woman had excitedly packed her bags in the room of the home she shared with her loving parents. It was to be her first trip overseas without them, and although they were nervous and filled with the normal apprehension of a doting parent, they knew that this fleeing of the nest would make her stronger, give her the licence to go on to become the type of person she wanted to become, allow her to be a giver to society, to contribute to our understanding of each other. She had it all mapped out, but first there was Ireland....

And on that day as she brought her bag down the hallway and her departure brought the silence that seems so loud each time a teenager leaves the house, they would have looked at each other with pride that she had come this far.

Alas, they were not to know that they would never see her alive again.

In remembering Manuela this week, I remember all who have lost their lives in a variety of tragic accidents and incidents in the city and county over the last decade or so. Even in the past few weeks. There are so many empty rooms that are left as shrines to those who organised their contents in the manner they remain. I know many families in towns and villages around Galway and the west who lost a child at the blink of an eyelid, through means violent and unexpected and heartbreaking.

We take each other for granted. Where once we feared that roads or rivers would take us, now the ways in which our mortality is being challenged are myriad.

This week, at the end of their 10-year existence, I say thank you to the Manuela Riedo Foundation who under the driving leadership of Shane Lennon, have spent that decade honouring Manuela but also more importantly, leaving behind a legacy of which she would have been proud. It is to be hoped that in their educational programmes funded by the foundation and the many miles they have run and walked to raise funds, that a greater understanding of human dignity and respect will have been nurtured in the generation coming through.

Tonight, I bow my head and think of all those families who have an empty room in their homes. I hope that the passage of time enables them to adapt to the new reality, although they will never repair that hole in their hearts.


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