I am sitting in my old bedroom in my childhood home for the very last time and feeling a queer mix of emotions. The room is almost bare, following the big clear out of yesterday. I’ve had my early morning walk, along roads in Coventry that are filled with fifty years’ worth of memories, and I shed a few tears as I realized it was the last time I’d be making such a walk.
We moved here when I was three and it was my mum’s home until earlier this year. She spent the last twenty years on her own in the house following the death of my dad. She’s in a care home now and seems to have accepted that it’s the best place to be at this time. The house now needs to be rented out (to make the care home fees go a little further!), so my wife and I were helping my sister and her husband with the fifty years’ worth of accumulated ‘stuff’. Mum kept a lot of things so there was a lot to sort through. Old school reports emerged in between thirty year old insurance documents. There was a copy of an Irish census record from 1911 with details of some of the Newry McStays (mum’s family). And an absolute gem turned up in one envelope containing copies of birth certificates and the like. It was a letter from the British Railway Board dated September 1957 offering mum a job in the Coventry railway station café and free rail passage from Belfast. This was especially poignant for me because it was in about September 1957 that the founding members of the Irish Chaplaincy were starting to reach out to the newly-arrived Irish in Britain. It was because of people like my mum, and my dad, coming to start a new life in a foreign land, that the Irish Chaplaincy began.
I give thanks now, for my mum and dad, for all of my family and ancestors, and for the life that has been lived in this house over these fifty years. And I take heart in a comment made to me some years ago by Therese Vanier, sister of Jean, the founder of L’Arche, when I was explaining to her the need to close Little Ewell, the big old house near Canterbury where L’Arche was begun in the UK (by Therese and others) in 1974. “It will be sad”, she said, “but that’s alright: sadness is part of life”.
Acknowledging sadness and loss; giving thanks; letting go…and moving on: it is indeed all part of the rich tapestry of our life.