The handbag: Love, loss and rosary beads

09 Mar 2023 | Written by By Mary Gorman

In this piece on loss, The Joy Club member Mary Gorman writes vividly of the time she and her siblings spent emptying her late mother’s house in Ireland…

It began with the handbag. We were gathered in the sitting room; the room which was never used (and yet we could have done with the extra space). Her rosary beads fell out first, “No point in keeping them” said my eldest brother.

All I could think of was her faith in the rosary. Her answer to everything was either to say a rosary or light a blessed candle. It was very traditional in Catholic Ireland to have candles blessed at a holy shrine like Knock or to get the priest after Mass to bless them. The light of the candle was supposed to symbolise the light of Christ.

A pair of gloves was discarded next. They were smart. I couldn’t ever remember her wearing a pair of gloves and especially such a posh pair. I had to leave at this point. I couldn’t watch as my mother’s life was being discarded on the floor with no worth put upon it. It was only the day before that we laid her to rest.

I headed out for a walk down the lane, my head in turmoil and my insides churning like a tumble dryer tossing clothes. I couldn’t identify with what it was I was feeling. She had a hard life bringing up six of us in a little three bedroom cottage. Her mother, our grandmother, lived with us as well as my Dad, five brothers and several cats and dogs. Her few belongings were being discarded in the same way you would put the scraps from the table into a bin. 

I walked for miles that day down the country roads where once I skipped as a girl. I was trying to escape but knew I had to return.

“What is this for?” I shouted as I saw a large skip outside the front door. 

“Just clearing the house of rubbish” replied my brother indignantly. 

As I got closer, I saw a picture of her father, my grandfather, amongst the pile of items. I grabbed it. She lost her father to pneumonia when she was very young and treasured this picture.  

“You can’t throw these things away,” I shouted. 

“Mary, you haven’t been living here for many years so you don’t have a say”. 

The cracked milk jug: if only it could speak and tell of the many times that she milked the cow directly into the milk jug. She would then hand it to me to use for my breakfast. That was an expression of love from her. I hadn’t seen that cracked jug in years. To see it cast aside was heartbreaking.

A box containing envelopes, with ‘Michael’s first haircut’, ‘Joseph’s first haircut’ and ‘John’s first haircut’ written on them was my next find. I searched for mine. No more to be found. I could only think by the time she had come to her fourth, fifth and sixth child she had no time or space to worry about such things.

“Look, it is your first hair cut!”

“Oh, for goodness sake, just buck it in”. was the reply

When the lorry arrived to pick up the container, tears flowed as I watched it disappear down the country lane heading for the refuse tip. 

I never carry a handbag and, it is only now as this memory has awakened, that I am left wondering if my dislike of handbags was born out of that experience.

If you have some of your own thoughts and experiences which you’d like to share with us, please send them to submissions@thejoyclub.com for the chance to get paid and published on our blog. 

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