Saying goodbye from afar
By Niamh O’Neill
Never in a million years did I think I would not be by my mother’s side as she passed from this life. I had sat at my mother’s bedside for years as she struggled with different aliments and I was sure I would be there with her at the end.
I moved to New Zealand in April 2017 to be with my then boyfriend and now husband Shaun. It was a big decision to leave Ireland, my family, my friends and I hummed and hawed while making this decision.
But the decision was made and encouraged by my mother’s words who said to me, “You need to go. Now is your time.”
Technology has been a wonderful gift to my relationship with my mother while living so far apart. Every Monday morning was our time when we would talk on the phone. My mother was not advanced on video call techniques, so it was old fashioned talking and listening over the phone. One of my last conversations with my mam was as she lay in her bed in Ireland and I sat on a sand dune at Te Arai Point on New Zealand’s east coast.
Looking out into the ocean with my mother’s voice in my ear along with the ocean breeze, I remember saying to her, “We’re so blessed even though we are so far away from each other; we can talk and hear each other’s voices, isn’t this wonderful?”
And it was wonderful, our hearts were connected.
My mother passed away on March 23, 2020.
By this time New Zealand had closed its borders to incoming travellers. Irish borders were still open but anyone travelling into the country would have to self-isolate for a two-week period. All due to Covid-19. Our decision to go to our mother’s funeral was being made for us.
My wonderful family at home in Ireland started funeral arrangements and brought those of us here in New Zealand with them through the lens of the webcam. The arrangements consisted of the rosary to be prayed in the funeral parlor with an open casket, restricted to no more than 30 people.
The next day my mother was to be brought to the church for a funeral mass. Again, with no more than 30 people allowed to attend even though the church can seat 1000. In a parish community that remembers their dead, the empty pews echoed a new uncertainty at this time of loss. From the other side of the world, we watched too as people distanced themselves at the grave, their condolences delivered with a smile.
In all this time no pots of tea were consumed, no plates of sandwiches passed around, no homemade tarts or cream sponges were halved and quartered and shared. A mother, a friend, an aunt, no stories told, our families returned home and closed their doors. Their memories of a woman who had lived for 86 years left to be shared for another day.
I feel the heartache of many other families, laying their loved ones to rest during this pandemic and time of uncertainty. I know we are not alone in our story. I pray for those who are grieving today, that they may feel God’s love.