Dora-by Lisa Treacy
August 14th, 2014 saw a meeting of worlds in Northern Ireland.
The occasion - my Granny’s 98th birthday party. Gathered in a wee room in the nursing home Granny blew out the candles with her only daughter, her two grandkids and two grandkids-in-law, her two great-grandkids from England and her latest great grand-daughter all the way from America.
We live in Virginia and our little daughter Olina, born in December 2013, carries Granny’s name as one of her middle names. Dora. God’s gift. This was the first time the two Doras met.
And they knew.
Olina, who was only eight months old, from a different country, race, and four generations after Granny, knew her. They grasped hands immediately, desperate to feel a part of themselves. The instant smile and quick laughter between them made my husband and I weep. Two gifts in our lives finding each other.
We Northern Irish aren’t known for talking about our feelings. Thirty years of violence in your community dries you up, shuts you down. So nobody talked in that wee room about how much we love Granny. Nobody thanked her for being the quiet, faith-filled matriarch who prayed each of us into the Kingdom.
No-one asked her to tell again the stories of the Blitz in Belfast or her work as a box maker under a boss who swore like a sailor. We didn’t give her time to regale us again with tales of Mum’s exploits with shoe polish and stolen bikes, nor was there reminiscing about how she paid for us to go on our first trip to America in 1982. Or how I visited with her after school for years when I needed to grieve my father and be a teenager all at once.
We didn’t thank her for the best response when my husband and I told her we were moving to America from Northern Ireland. “Oh my!” she said, “What an adventure that will be! I wish I could come with you!” 94 years old and she wanted more out of life.
We missed a precious chance to celebrate what an incredible woman Granny is and how rich our lives are because of her presence in it. We were... I was wrong and foolish.
Scripture says God places the lonely in families. He doesn’t place us in communes or congregations, neighborhoods or networks. Families. And us humanoids, we’re all lonely in some way. I wonder if that fracture is in us so that we will long for each other. Part of my lonely ache has been eased by Granny for all of my 41 years. Our families are never whole, pure, all we want them to be, nor everything we need. And sometimes our brokenness, or pride or selfishness, blinds us to the tender mercies of God that come to us only in our families.
We visited Granny lots this trip and saying goodbye to her on our last day in Northern Ireland brought great sorrow. We don’t know when we’ll be on that side of the Atlantic again. We don’t know when (or if) we’ll see Granny again this side of Heaven. My husband and I wept sorely in the car, not able to turn the key and admit the start of the farewell. Our little daughter, sensing our grief, never made a sound. She simply sat and waited as we said Au Revoir to her namesake.