THREE years on from the death of her parents, Theresa Moloney still thinks of all the questions she would love to ask them if they were still alive.
There will always be moments when she wishes they were there - the time she walked up the aisle on her own, without her father by her side, or pining for her mother’s advice and support after the birth of her first son, Harry.
In life, there was a 22-year age difference between her parents, who met on a train from Limerick to Dublin.
Yet, in death just 11 days had separated them, and they were buried three days apart.
The 33 year-old primary school teacher in Cloverfield, County Lim-erick, began writing about her parents and the loss left by their deaths a month after they died in January 2009.
It was meant to be for her own therapeutic purposes, “a way to get it all out”, but now her account of grief, loss and healing has been turned into a book.
Entitled Love Lives On - A Personal Insight into Understanding and Coping with Grief, and published by Veritas, it has the potential to help countless numbers of people deal with their own particular pain from bereavement.
It was, she writes, just after midnight on an otherwise unremarkable night in January when her mother Margaret’s heart stopped beating after a short, unexpected illness, just before her 64th birthday. Eleven days earlier, unknown to her mother, her father Paddy died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Overnight, she became an “adult orphan”, struggling simultaneously to deal with two deaths, each incomprehensible in their own unique way; each leaving a huge void that no one or nothing could fill.
She and her three brothers tried to postpone the funeral of their father in the hope that their mother might be able to see him or be told of his passing. But her condition was just too fragile, and on the night of his removal, Margaret passed away. She had written her children a goodbye note, and had, incidentally, signed it “from mam and dad”, unaware perhaps that her husband had slipped into the light before her. While her father’s death was “a foregone conclusion”, allowing her some time to emotionally and mentally prepare for his passing, the death of her mother just days later was another brutal body-blow.
“It was cruel timing. She had the flu at Christmas and was suffering from back pain, which may have weakened her. But her health was good really. Then she suffered a bad chest infection and the doctors said she might have pneumonia. There was never a question that she would die. We were never told this was really serious. Then she was put on a ventilator in a high dependency unit, and her organs just started shutting down. It was a complete shock. We knew about 48 hours before that she was going to die.”
For the past three years her dad Paddy, 85, a farmer from Athlunkard, was left a “shell” of a person once Alzheimer’s took hold.
“I wondered where he was one winter’s afternoon when I sat in front of him and he didn’t appear to see me. His eyes, glazed over, wore a faraway expression, and wherever he might have been, I was certain he was not with me. I agonised over it, wondering if he was happy in some memory that he could not communicate to me or if he was simply nowhere, lost in the mist,” she wrote. She clung on to the belief that while his mind and thoughts were somewhere else, the disease hadn’t affected his heart.
Throughout Love Lives On, Theresa guides the reader through the various stages of grief – regret, guilt, remorse, and the heartbreaking thoughts of ‘what-if’, ‘if only I could have one more day, or hour with them’. She deals with the crucial tasks which no one in their 20s expects they’ll have to do – organising a funeral, registering their deaths, sending out memorial cards, deciding what to do with their belongings. “Now – when I needed them most – my parents were gone.” As she left the church after her mother’s funeral, she momentarily looked around and searched for her. It is a search that never really ends. Now, she encourages friends to make time for their parents, to truly value them, make new memories and ask them the questions that one day they will not be able to ask.