I remember as a child, your wonderful Irish accent and how I used to make you say, “terty tree” Your illness was at a peak back in 1977 and I have never forgotten being driven away by Dad’s car and seeing you forlorn on the court steps. While with Dad, I could never accept at 10 years old, that I was to have a “new mother” you were my mum.
I lost you on Thursday morning. Gone from my visual periphery, but always in my mind, just as you were in the three decades I was unable to see you as I bludgeoned my way from country-to-country and creating an illustrious career for myself. Finding you was on my mind as I returned to Burnley and your story began to unravel.
I read you had died, I was told you had died. I read that I had died as a child in a fire. But you hadn’t died, you were this larger than life legend in Burnley, nicknamed “Mad Mary” Everywhere I went, I asked if you were known. You were. Very much so.
I finally found you in 2011. Your beautiful snow white hair resembled a bird’s nest and cataracts on your eyes had rendered you almost blind. I had never forgotten my mammy ‘ s face. Because you lived on in me for thirty years. To say I was shocked on finding you is an understatement. All those years on the streets had taken their toll. You had been spat on, abused and robbed by many. Discarded by society, family and friends. Losing your children was the worst travail that society inflicted on you. It showed. Together, we learned to trust each other as I came to the hospital each day with Brian to build you up. We took you out, fought the hospital for better awareness of you as a woman who had all been forgotten about. We brought you back to life, hooked you into services and your journey into society began. While the services battled against me to have you placed into residential care, Brian & I listened to you. We asked the question:
“What do you want?”
You responded in your beautiful Irish lilt,
“A bed, fire and a TV with my own front door key”
By this time, you had your cataracts removed. You had seen me as a grown woman for the first time. I’ll not forget coming to the hospital when you saw me and held my face in your hands and told me:
‘Take it from your chest & put it onto mine* You knew your daughter was troubled and I was.
I found you a home and with the help of Kayla & Dave, we moved you in from hospital. I knew you were scared. You didn’t want to fit in with society. Street life regardless what people think, comes with its own set of rules. The main one being there are no rules. Anything goes. I did my best to guide you on the boundaries in your home and I helped you with your budgeting and getting uses to your new carers. Wonderful people who became as much a part of my life as they did yours. You gradually settled down and you were safe. Happy and contented with your books and day trips out.
Last year, Mammy, you came through for me. You kept me alive when I wanted to die. I was on my way to prison and your words to me as I lay in a hospital after an attempt on my life gave me strength to find my feet again. You never left me on the end of the phone. Those words,
‘Come home to Mammy, your Mammy will look after you. I did. I never went to prison. I came home to you and I began to build my life again. What I do today in Burnley for those who have also been left to rot by society is as much about you as it is about me. It is down to your strength I came through to help those I help today. You kept me going so I could build SHE and that makes you everything that a mother could be.
Despite your condition, which many do not understand, you had a beautiful mind and you have become a legend in Burnley. With the rough end, came the true kindness of people who truly did care and this shows in these early days since the news came out you had passed. Your mind was amazing and if I have half a jot of what you had to move forward without you, I’ll always, always remember it came from you. You were never a victim, even though you were. You were never self-indulged (selfish at times and drove me mad) only contented that you had me back in your life.
When I got the call on Thursday that I needed to get to your home as soon as possible, I was hoping to hold your hand as you left this world to travel to a new one. You’d gone by the time I arrived, but I got to see you. You were peaceful and your beautiful face with your button nose was the mirror I looked into so I could say goodbye and will you to your peace and safe heaven.
You saved me and our last three years together have been wonderful. As short as that time was, we certainly packed enough into that short time. You gave me much more than you’ll ever know. Look down on me once in a while and make sure I’m okay, coz it’s fecking tough at times doing what I’m doing. But I have your spirit and live to keep me going.
We at SHE and the people of Burnley and Ireland say our goodbyes to the legend that is Irish Mary. I’ll make sure you live on in our hearts and those who forgot about you can breathe a sigh of relief. You didn’t die on the streets for people to step over. I made sure you were safe and loved.
As I go through your home, that we built together, I found the book that I bought for you when you were in hospital. You kept that and underneath my note to you, I found this and I’ll cherish it always;
” If by chance I lose this book and if by chance you find it, please remember my name is Mary and McMahon goes behind it”
I’ll keep those words and if I may, I’ll use them;
‘If by chance I lose my way and if by chance you find me, please remember my name is Tracey & McMahon goes behind it*
Safe Home, Mammy, Safe Home. I’m taking you home to Tipperary so you truly can rest in peace. You more than anyone I know, deserve it.
All my love,
Addendum to this letter.
Having spoken with my cousin, this blog has been edited as a result of our conversation.
My cousin explained her side and we are to meet up and together, we can get through her passing.