Life

Nuala McCann: Retirement has its magic – there's a book to read and a snooze to be had

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann is an Irish News columnist and writes a weekly radio review.

It's time to sit by the fire and reflect on those who have gone before us
It's time to sit by the fire and reflect on those who have gone before us It's time to sit by the fire and reflect on those who have gone before us

MY brother meets me in the chapel at home. Marble altar, Saint Bernadette, Our Lady, dark wooden pews... little has changed.

In the long ago, men would remove their hats for Mass and set them on the sloped sills under the stained glass windows where the sunlight made yellow and blue and purple patches on the walls.

It is my mother's anniversary and it is also someone else's mother's funeral. The woman singing in Irish and English with just a guitar for company makes it special.

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"I might get her details," I whisper to my brother as we walk out the side door.

"Morbid," he says.

He opens a fist to reveal three conkers he picked up on the path outside.

"I couldn't resist," he says, showing me the burnished brown horse chestnuts nestled in his palm.

And it sweeps me back to long ago autumns in Curles' lane when boys threw sticks up into the trees, brought down the prickly green orbs and ripped them open to reveal the polished conkers sleeping on cream satin beds.

What I loved was the river's gush; the piles of yellow and copper and orange leaves hemming the path; the Shetland ponies nuzzling at our fingers for a sugar lump.

And after Mass on my mother's anniversary, we bring yellow roses, her favourite, up to the grave and have a quiet word.

"Sorry we couldn't quite give you the send off you wanted what with the Covid bother," I tell her.

I know she's in the best of company, she's with all those she loved dear.

And I tell her I hate driving home but not really driving home because the family home is sold and I have no right to sweep left on the corner and swing in by our gate, walking to her front door, under the cherry tree on the front lawn and past the crazy birds squabbling over her used teabags on the porch.

"Honestly ma, I can't go there," I tell her.

It was the same when our father died suddenly, nearly 40 years ago.

When I got the call, I picked up my sister and we drove down the familiar road home.

"I just want to get there now," she said.

"I just want to drive on and on forever and never get there," I said.

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Even now, chatting to my sister about something lost, I catch myself saying: "It might be down home," then remember that home belongs only in dreams when the weather is forever sunny, the tar melts black molten on the road outside and my father stands in our doorway, calling us in for tea by name.

But time rolls on and here is November. We're wintering.

My old 10,000 lux light died a death and a new therapy lamp has taken its place.

As I'm sitting on the bed typing, it's like snuggling up with a lighthouse. Everywhere else is dark black in comparison.

It's 10am and I'm feeling my way to our bathroom. Later, I'll take the natural light in the park.

Retirement has its magic. No early starts and even if the day starts at 6am, then the front sofa is spread out with a blanket and there's a book to read and a snooze to be had.

They say they can hear me snore from upstairs. Those snatched sleeps are the sweetest.

It is fire-making season too. The copper coal bucket – a gift from ma – is gleaming and loaded with coal.

Time to sit by orange flames and remember those we loved who have gone before us – all their souls like small black bats flittering just beyond our gaze. They have never truly gone away.