I’ve been on the fence about writing this for about the last month. I feel like it’s something that would be good for me to do, but at the same time I’m dreading it. That kind of describes a lot of things in my life at the moment. For example, I have a good friend’s wedding coming up in a few weeks and I have a lot of anxiety about going to it. I attended the wedding of one of my oldest friends a few weeks ago and during his beautiful tribute to his parents at the reception I realised for the first time that I’m an orphan and that neither of my parents will ever see me get married or have kids. I couldn’t get that thought out of my head and it took a while for me to get back on track, but that’s been my story for the last few months, dreading moments and thoughts and then trying to get past them.
My father Sean’s passing is truly the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through in my life. He was so much more than just a father to me. He was my best friend, he was my conscience and he was the inspiration for anything good I’ve ever achieved. When I was very young, my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor and the surgeries to remove it left her with the same physical symptoms as a stroke victim. Growing up around this wasn’t easy, but because I was the youngest, I think my father made sure to mind me a little bit more than my sister or brother. My sister will argue to this day that I was my Dad’s favourite child, but I think the truth is that he just viewed me as the one that needed the most from him because of the timing of everything. In my teens, we developed a special bond that transcended the dynamics of a father and son relationship and grew into a special friendship, which I think has ultimately made his passing so much harder to take because I feel like I’ve lost both my best friend and my father.
He was such an incredibly kind-hearted, genuine person that he really did make you want to be a better human being. For so many years, I was afraid to do things or act in certain ways because I was so worried that my father would be disappointed in me for it. He would sulk over certain things, but ultimately all he ever wanted was for the people he loved to be happy and that was what was most important to him. A funny example of this was for years I would be pulled out of bed every Sunday morning and literally forced to go to mass. While I still have a relationship with God, I’m not high on the whole idea of mass, so for a long time I’d get in the car and drive to the soccer pitch and practice frees and then come home and say, “Aw, mass was unreal this morning” in a sarcastic manner. Eventually, I owned up and admitted to my deception and, while he wasn’t happy with me at first, he accepted that I was my own man and that I didn’t have to have the same values as him. Again, all he really ever cared about was my happiness and my health.
My mother succumbed to her long battle with illness in 2013 and the years that followed were very hard on my Dad. I think in truth his grief was more complicated than mine or my brother or sisters. My mother became seriously ill in 2006 and needed home care for the last 7 years of her life. During this period, my father cared for her and doted over her in a way that had to be seen to be believed. It might sound strange, but he was truly happy during this period because he was able to devote his life to her and it became his purpose. My mother had three care assistants that looked after her during the day and they became a part of the family, so as weird as this might sound, our house was filled with fun and laughter during this period. When my mam died, my father lost all of this and I don’t think he was ever really able to recover from it. The arrival of his grandkids did help massively in recent years and helped him to reconnect with his sense of fun, but nothing could ever fully replace the void that was left when Mary B passed.
His health had been deteriorating in the months leading up to his passing. He had been living with heart failure for years and lately he was having issues with fluid building up in his lungs, which was making it very difficult for him to breathe. He went into hospital to have the fluid cleared by antibiotics, but they weren’t working quickly enough so they decided to tap his lungs with a syringe instead. I visited him the night he’d had the procedure done and when I walked into his room he was asleep. I sat beside him and watched as his chest went up and down, meaning he was able to breathe deeply for the first time in months. He woke up and smiled and said, “Well P, how are you?” He then sat up on the edge of the bed and started asking me about my new job and if I was happy and wanted to know how my life was going and if I had any regrets about leaving Brown Thomas. It was one of the deepest conversations we’d had in years and I left the hospital that night in high spirits because it was the best I’d seen him in so long. I rang my sister on the way home and told her that he was in great form and was breathing well and looking forward to going home. When I got home, I started making dinner and something hit me. I got a chilling feeling that something really bad was about to happen. I can’t really explain it, but I did have an awful feeling that the wonderful chat that we’d had came with a price. That night at around 3.30am, I got the call that he was unresponsive and I needed to get to the hospital as quickly as possible. He was alive for about another 21 hours, but a blood clot had travelled to his brain so he was unable to communicate with us. He took his final breath surrounded by his children and sisters who all got to tell him how much they loved him before he slipped away to be reunited with his beloved Mary B.
As I’ve mentioned, the time that has passed since that night has been incredibly tough on all of our family. It has, however, brought us closer together than ever before. I’ve always been very close to my sister, but in the last few months I’ve grown closer to my brother and we’ve become good friends as well as brothers, which I know is something that is putting a smile on my father’s face right now.
Grief is a funny thing and I think everyone’s experience with it is unique to them. The hardest thing for me to accept is the fact that I can never talk to him ever again. I know I can visit the grave and talk to the headstone etc, but that’s not what I mean. It’s the cold reality of the fact that we’ll never have another conversation or speak to each other on the phone that I find so hard to accept. I can’t bring myself to remove his name and picture from the list of speed dials on my phone, but every time I see it I’m forcing that realisation on myself. I’m also dreading certain events and moments, as I touched on earlier. As I write this, I’m days away from my birthday and I’m dreading it in a way, because I know there’ll be no phone call from him that morning. And I don’t even want to think about Christmas and, for anyone who knows me well, that’s saying something.
But I also know that this is a process and I’m lucky to have some wonderful people around me to help me through it. I’m taking this one day at a time. Some days are good and some are bad, but I know that over time the good will outnumber the bad so I just need to give it time. It was extremely difficult to write this, but I’m glad I did because I’ve found that writing helps. I’m going to leave you with the eulogy that I delivered at my dad’s funeral, as it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but it touched a lot of people and it inspired me to start writing these blogs. Thank you for taking the time to read this and letting me share some of my feelings about my dad.
Good morning everyone. As I stand up here, I see friends and relatives that have travelled great distances to be here today for Sean. I am humbled and impressed at the many lives this wonderful man touched. I can only speak for myself, but when I think of how he touched my life, the word that I keep coming back to is ‘admiration’.
As Father Michael mentioned earlier, Sean is a famous name in the sport of greyhound racing. His most famous dog “Back Garden”won the Irish Laurels in 1983 and then was a runner-up in 1984. “Bally’s Best” won The Bookmakers Top 36 in Shelbourne Park in 1984 and “Back Garden” won the Consolation Top 36 final that same night. He also won numerous cups and championships on the coursing field, the most notable being Curran Na Feile in 1988.
He was also a very successful and highly decorated farmer, winning The Arrabawn Co-Op Quality Milk Award for eight years in a row in the 1980’s.
Many people over the years have referred to Sean as a gentle giant. While his many ailments had impaired his ability to stand up straight in recent years, in his youth he was very much a giant, although anyone who faced him on the hurling pitch would certainly argue the gentle part. Sean was standing six feet three inches by the age of 14, a stat that oddly stopped his mother Bridget from attending his hurling matches. Granny would get too embarrassed when Sean would take the field alongside boys of his own age and people on the sidelines would shout, “Where are your wife and kids?” at him, so she eventually stopped going.
My brother Eamonn and I didn’t really inherit our father’s gigantic features to the same extent, although there was an instance where many in the greyhound racing community thought that Eamonn did. At age 14, Eamonn travelled to Cork with Sean for The Laurels. After “Back Garden” won the race, Sean was interviewed for the radio and when the interviewer asked how old his son was, Sean paused for a moment before answering “Am... I think he’s 9”. All of the doggy men present that night were as much in awe of Sean’s 9 year old son that was as big as a 14 year old, as they were of the size of Sean himself.
As I said, the word I keep coming back to is ‘admiration’. I could stand here and list all the ways that I admire him... but we might not be in time for the meal at 2 o’clock if I do that. But I would like to share some of the reasons that I admire my father. First and foremost was his love and commitment for my mother Mary B. And not just the commitment of marriage. When my mother became seriously ill and was no longer able to care for herself, he devoted himself to her care and loved her as much on the day she died as he did the day they married. As my Aunt Christine said yesterday, she was waiting for him with his chicken sandwiches on the other side.
I also admire Sean for his kindness and generosity. As anyone here that has ever visited our house can attest to, you were simply not allowed to leave empty handed. You would be loaded up with cakes, buns, bread, vegetables from his garden and probably a manure bag full of rhubarb. Declining was not an option either, as he would physically force you to accept it.
In my father’s final hours, my brother Eamonn, my sister Maureen and I were telling childhood stories and, to be honest, a lot of them revolved around the many quirks and mad little ways that my mother had. As anyone who knew her will tell you, my mother was a big personality, so much so that Sean was mostly cast into the role of Mammy’s heavy. The big, scary man with the giant shovels for hands that you’d be so scared of getting a belt off that you’d shut up and behave as soon as you heard the words, “I’ll tell Daddy”. We’ve often remarked over the years that the only silver lining, if you could call it that, to come from our mother’s illness was that it gave us all the opportunity to get to know our father better. And our father was a wonderful person. A kind-hearted, caring, generous, affectionate person whose life was a blessing to everyone who was lucky enough to know him.
In the last few days many people have described him as a gentleman and while that is an undeniable fact, there was also a very mischievous, fun-loving side to Sean that only a very select few got to see. There’s a story from my youth that I’m not allowed to tell, but my family and a few of my close friends know what I’m referring to. I will share this story, however, as it was only about a month ago, although it happened a lot over the years. I came home to watch a Monday night soccer match with him and at around 9.00pm he’d decide to go to bed and watch the second half in bed. He’d get up, feign handing me the remote control, only to swipe it away and leave at the other side of the room, walk over and switch off the tv, turn and give me the finger and then laugh and go to bed. His playful side was not something everyone got to see, but in recent years with the arrival of his four beautiful grandchildren it was something that came to the surface a lot more frequently. He knew more about Paw Patrol than any 74-year-old man reasonably should and he single handedly caused the water tax with the amount of water fights he had with Cathal and Anna. And Pa Ryan.... Gaga will be missed but never forgotten.
We will miss my father more than I can put into words at this time. I was blessed to be able to see him happy and positive one last time before it was too late. In his final moments, I thanked him for being such a wonderful father and for being the man that he was. He is the source of my convictions and the inspiration for anything good that I’ve done in life. The last thing I said to him was that I hope I can be as good a man as he is, so that I can see him again some day.