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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Please tell me my children wouldn't face an unmarked grave if I died tomorrow

So Sean Parker finally lies beside his mother in Ballinakill graveyard, Co Galway.

Separated for the past 70 years, they are finally together again. But both of them are dead.

The story of Medway County Council's efforts to find a resting place for Sean among his kin captured our hearts.

It's a lovely story of kindness, of homecoming, of belonging, of caring.

I had a smile on my face as I heard about the funeral last Wednesday.

But then I heard something I didn't want to hear.

Sean Parker's wanderings began when he was 10 after his mother, Annie, died at the age of 50.

So this is really the story of what can happen to children when their mothers die young, I'm thinking.

And suddenly it's all happening to me. Annie could easily be me - my children are around the same age.

God knows, I've known several mammies who have had to say goodbye to their children even earlier.

It didn't help that I was packing my bags to leave my kids for a few days as the full horror of the story took hold.

I'm right back in the head of a little boy of 10 trying to understand that Mammy isn't coming back. His bewilderment. His rootlessness.

I want to reach back through the decades and put my arms around him and tell him I'll mind him. But it's over. He's dead.

And I'm sure there must have been people around that boy who tried to help.

But his dad had a Second World War injury. How could he have managed his five children? He couldn't.

They scattered to the four winds so that the concerned and hard-working Glinsk community can find no further trace of them.

Sean Parker may have been in Artane Industrial School before wandering to England, as happened to so many of the children this society didn't want.

I hardly need to say he never married. His poverty and his psychological wounds would have seen to that. His sister, Bridget, went to England too, and she didn't marry either. As to the other siblings? We know nothing about them.

That is what happened routinely to poor, orphaned children in the middle of the last century.

Often they were orphans for life, wandering foreign roads towards their unmarked graves.

We dealt with poverty in this country by assaulting people's emotions, by cutting people off from all hope of family and letting the social services of another country pick up the slack.

Sean Parker had no visitors in his Kent nursing home and he didn't say much. The highlights of his life were bananas, Maltesers and an occasional can of Guinness.

You wonder what this country must look like from the perspective of the British social services. Because Sean Parker wasn't unusual.

We exported thousands and thousands of Seans and Bridgets and they are dying now, one by one.

With them goes the memory of what we did to poor, vulnerable children who had no mammy to fight for them.

I bet Annie Parker fought for her five children until some illness beat her and she ended up in an unmarked grave.

Imagine 10-year-old Sean Parker's shock as his mammy was lowered into it on the day that ended his life as he knew it.

Would the same happen to my kids if I died tomorrow, I thought, as I slammed the door behind me.

Of course not, I told myself. We're not poor, are we?

That's the hope I'm clinging to anyway, as I think of that son buried beside his mother in that Galway graveyard.

Because I can't imagine anything sadder than any of my children meeting such an end.

I keep telling myself that Annie doesn't know anything about it because she's been dead since 1945.

And even if there is a heaven and she's looking down on us, she knows nothing about it either. Because if she did it wouldn't be heaven, it would be hell.

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