Perhaps my oldest memory—I must have been two or three—is of my mother hugging me at night when she put me into bed and holding the palms of my hands together while she said a simple prayer, which I soon learned by heart.

                                “Gentle Jesus meek and mild,

                                Look upon a little child.

                                Pity my simplicity,

                                Suffer me to come to Thee.”

 

And every night of my life since, as the years have tumbled over and over each other into eternity, I murmur to myself the deep ritual of the words. It is a talisman I touch which comforts me and will comfort me forever.

What a mother feels for her child predates reason and all ethics. It is encoded deeper than any scientist, philosopher or poet has ever explained. I recall my mother’s love with a deep wonder. It secured and comforted my whole life. Nothing could go really wrong if she was there to embrace and protect me. In the shelter of her love and the love of my father I grew strong. They carried the world’s weight until I could shoulder it myself. When my mother died, two years heart-broken after my father, I was old and confident on my own but the life-line that broke then brought tears and an emptiness that does not end.

When I was six, my appendix erupted and I was hurried to hospital mortally sick in those days before antibiotics. I remember going under the chloroform terror stricken, except for my mother saying she would be there holding me and when I came back to consciousness my mother was there. And there she stayed for days until I was through the worst. In those days, nobody was allowed to stay in hospital overnight with patients, even children, but my mother made it known very clearly that if they only tried to send her away they would have to carry her out fighting and screaming and she stayed the whole time. I remember as if it was yesterday the first hours after I regained consciousness the raging thirst I had and how hour after hour my mother held a silver teaspoon with ice chips to my lips and later sang lullabies. As I write this, it is as if eighty years had never been and again I see clear the spoon shine and hear the cooling ice tinkle as my mother smiles and comforts me. “Blessed slumber close your eyes”

A very dear friend of mine lost a beloved daughter, who was a good and tender mother to her own children. My friend’s lovely eulogy for his daughter included a blessing, which he offered on her behalf for her bereaved children. It is a benediction written in Irish and translated into English by the poet John O’Donahue. It brings back to me my mother and the love and comfort she blessed her children with all her life.

Beannacht (Blessing)

 

On the day when

The weight deadens your shoulders

And you stumble,

May the clay dance

To balance you.

 

And when your eyes

Freeze behind

The grey window

And the ghost of loss

Gets into you,

May a flock of colours,

Indigo, red, green

And azure blue,

Come to awaken in you

A meadow of delight.

 

When the canvas frays

In the currach of thought

And a stain of ocean

Blackens beneath you,

May there come across the waters

A path of yellow moonlight

To bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,

May the clarity of light be yours,

May the fluency of the ocean be yours,

May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow

Wind work these words

Of love around you,

An invisible cloak

To mind your life.

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