My grandfather in law passed away last week. He’d been in the hospital for a few weeks, but somehow you just don’t expect it to happen. We got the call at noon, and were on the 6 pm direct to London, then hopped direct to Belfast. We went straight to his Grandma’s house and were greeted by his large Irish family. The wake went on for four days, due to scheduling problems at the church. Someone stayed with Grandpa in the tiny sitting room, as is the custom, at all times. Over 500 people visited him and paid their respects during those days, according to the number of Mass Cards. He was a well respected patriarch of the family, adored by all. He was small in stature, and quiet, however, he spoke up when he needed to. He was married to Granny for 63 years. They’d lived in that wee house for 61.
The four days of visiting with the family were a gift, a goodness in the sadness. I feel like I know them now, more than the introductions and small talk. We’ve met at weddings, but we got to actually talk for untold hours. From the beginning, the family has accepted me and the kids and welcomed us with open arms, but I now feel I really belong. One day, I will write about the experience of the Irish traditions and how they differ, and how lovely it was to see people join in the procession on the way to the church. Another time, another blog. It’s all stored right here in my heart.
The trip offered me many challenges, not the least of which was travelling 13 days post surgery. Heathrow is a huge, huge airport. The gate agent in Austin promised there would be a wheelchair waiting my arrival. Um… no. At Heathrow, it is not uncommon to be dumped on the Tarmac for a bus, and not jetwayed into a terminal. Huge planes mean big staircases down. After 9 hours of plane ride, I was happy to be moving, even though it meant one stair at a time. Onto a bus, and a surprisingly long ride to the terminal. No help awaited. I hobbled, and hobbled and freaking hobbled through the ugly dirty guts of Heathrow. We did get fast tracked through the “medical” line at immigration after someone finally cared enough to get off their butt and offer. We walked past 4 people who, I assume it was their job to fast track me- considering they were in the medical area. It was a man pushing a passenger in a wheel chair (already doing his job) who corralled us into his wake in the medical queue. Then, it was lots and lots and lots of hobbling. Unpleasant at best, painful most often. Thanks Heathrow, you suck.
My other big issue was food. The Irish diet is not healthy (and is chock full of gluten): sausage rolls, scones, toast, bangers, crisps, chips, fried fish, fruit cakes and I could go on and on. At wakes, people bring lots of food (as is our custom here too) and in addition to the aforementioned delectables, there were tea cakes, cakes, sandwiches, cookies, biscuits, pies, soup (gluten) and every kind of sweet pastry imaginable. I sat there in their midst. Hours and hours of sitting and visiting and trying to stay out of the way of the crowds in the tiny kitchen and sitting room. When you’re sad, and you are around sad people, you just want to eat. That is a fact. There were so many things there to nibble on, and frankly, my husband enjoyed the things that he misses living in the states. I took bites here and there, but for the most part, I would deconstruct sandwiches and sausage rolls eating the protein part and my obliging husband would eat the bread. I didn’t eat much. At night, his mum and I would drive the 30 minutes back to their wee town and make chicken breast. She’s a really good cook and had made a pot of curry and some carrot soup, that I LOVE. I compromised and had a bit of the curry as sauce on my chicken breast. I avoided the delicious soup because the sugar content in the carrots. I did taste it though. Yum!
A few people commented that I had lost some weight. The last time they’d seen me I was 25 pounds heavier just 9 months ago. In fact, my sister-in-law’s wedding was the last time we were there. It was her mother-in-law who really noticed. “You look wonderful and fresh, younger, I think!” This was after the burial at the reception when she’d watched me eat plain sausage, and take the meat from several wee sandwiches. We discussed the low-carb lifestyle. I like being fresh!
Despite the long 20 hours getting home, and the crisps during our wait at Heathrow, and the chips (french fries) I ate the night before we left, my scale says I lost a pound. I didn’t really think I would have, but I’m grateful. I had already decided that emotionally, this week wouldn’t count. It was a tough trip, but I wouldn’t have missed it.
RIP Granda, you will be missed by all of us.