Chapter 29 - Bridie's Homecoming
For some time now Bridie was unsettled at home and kept telling her mother, Kathleen's Great Aunt Rosie,
"I'm gettin' out of here. I want to see some of the big wide world that keeps beckoning me and I'd like to see it before I die".
Her mother was a fount of knowledge as well as having a big giving heart. She had a suggestion to make to her.
"For a start why don't you go to England?"
"What? Sure that's not far enough for me".
"Well it could be a good start. Did you ever think of nursing? After all, your sister has made great progress in that field and she could be a great help to you".
"Hah. Her in her lofty position wouldn't have much time for me and anyway I'm not sure I have the callin'".
"That's easily settled. Go off and give it a try and if you don't find the challenging experience up to your expectations, come home and we'll give it another think".
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Bridie didn't notice the sting in her mother's last remark and went off to give it some thought. Where she went they didn't know. She walked out of the front door into the sunlight and turned her step towards the Post Office corner. Some hours later she arrived back serene and contented and gave them her verdict.
"You're right mother, with my sister already established in England sure there'll be no problems. If there are, I'll leave her to sort them out".
So Bridie went off the England to become a nurse. That shook other members of the family.
"My God who'd put their blessed body into the hands of a flighty and impatient Bridie? She's so busy looking ahead, she hasn't time for the present at all. God help her poor patients".
It was all said with tongue in cheek as Bridie had one gift the others lacked - guts.
She met the challenge any mortal set up before her.
She didn't come home on holidays as Christmas was a very busy time in the hospital and she was anxious the patients would have a Christmas to remember. Ladders were out with Bridie climbing to fasten and secure the decorations. She took a lot of good-natured stick from the patients. Young fellows with an eye for a good leg were all anxious to help, even if they were strapped down in their beds. Her retort came easily,
"And that's the way to keep you fellas - well battened down, well away from mischief."
It was all great fun, full of expectancy and hope and Bridie was right there in the middle of it. Right on the top rung of the ladder disaster struck. She had a fall, a serious one. Now the young nurse became a patient, stretched out on a white bed, isolated from others and in a deep coma. Her elder sister was called immediately from her hospital. She was closer to Bridie than most of the family back home, yet not close enough when the time came. Bridie didn't linger and that young girl of nineteen years, who loved live and had seen very little of it, was now among her own - the angels.
The shock waves finally reached home, much to the disbelief of her friends and acquaintances; for the family anxiety and deep sorrow. By the time their grief had surfaced, Bridie was already on her way home. Her sorrowing sister had taken on the mammoth task of bringing Bridie's body home. Her embalmed body was wheeled on to the ferry sailing for Ireland, accompanied all the way by a loving sister, who though shattered and heart broken, still held her composure. She had a long and lonely vigil, no doubt remembering that exuberant young girl standing on the threshold of life when calamity struck and the life was crushed from her young body. Was her death due to the fall or to meningitis, which was so clearly written on the death certificate? Who knows what her sister's thoughts were but she was certainly steeling herself for this sad homecoming.
Kathleen was waiting at the journey's end. She had been down with her Mammy to see if they could help the family. She felt this stunned and muted silence all through the house. Tiptoed walks and soft mutterings indicated the depths of their grief. She couldn't look at Great Aunt Rosie who had reached the stage of numbed indifference to everyone. Kathleen kept her eyes on one of the windows overlooking The Square, while the household prepared sandwiches and cooked a meal for the hungry. They moved like robots and all the while this grief fell heavily on all their shoulders. Suddenly the front door was flung open and Kathleen heard someone shouting,
"It's here, it's coming in the road".
She stationed herself at the front bedroom window watching impatiently, awaiting this tragic moment. Then it happened. She looked across The Square at the long horse-drawn dark hearse coming round the corner of the road into The Square. Then she heard from the Church the slow measured tones of the "Dead Bell". Glory be. It was a very large funeral, the crowds quiet and sombre making the same sound that always accompanied the dead. Some must have walked all the way from the Railway Station, when Bridie's body was taken from the train, as they appeared tired and there was the sound of dragging feet now mingling with the gentle sobs emanating from the house.
Kathleen had orders from her mother to keep out of the way. This she did, but being the onlooker she missed very little. The crowd walked behind the hearse towards Mr O'Connell's shop, but the hearse turned left, making its way slowly towards the front door. All was muted and quiet for Bridie's homecoming, the only noise coming from the pall bearers as they moved the coffin indoors, and then upstairs to the room already prepared for her. The crowds were still coming in the road even when Bridie's body was already resting. The house was jam packed with mourners offering their condolences, while Bridie's sister finally collapsed in her mother's arms. She had done her task and now she was sharing her sorrow with her loved ones. Tears came easily now and loving encircling arms spoke louder than words. What a wonderful feat to bring her beloved young sister home. She knew her job was done but now she had to comfort and help her stricken family and with God's help she would see it through.
It was a strange day with the mourners climbing the stairs and queuing to get into the bedroom while a constant stream of those who had paid their respects passed them on their way out. Heads were bent and soft muttered talk filled the corridors. Kathleen just got a quick glimpse of Bridie in her coffin when the lid was removed. She could hardly recognise her. She did look like an angel with the little frills about her head but also she resembled a nun and her colour was strange, with eyelashes sweeping down to a pink face. Bridie wasn't like that. Where were those glowing rosy cheeks, now covered completely with a pink cosmetic? She was about to point this out to her Mammy when she received a stern look and a nod in the direction of the door. Her mother took her swiftly back to the Sitting Room. It was vary spacious and luxurious, with plenty of large windows and the added warmth of a fire.
"Mammy why did you take me out so quickly? You didn't even give me a chance to say a prayer for her poor soul".
"Plenty of time for that Kathleen O'Hara. If I left you there any longer God only knows what you might say. Later tonight, when the crowds are gone and the doors closed, the family will gather in the room to say the Rosary and we will join them. That is if you have the patience to stay - otherwise off home with you at once".
"I'll stay and keep quiet Mammy".
"Remember keep the door closed until I come for you".
Mrs O'Hara pushed Bridie's youngest sister into the room with her and as she as crying softly, came back in and gave her a big hug.
"Look after her Kathleen".
She nodded and didn't feel isolated any more.
The two girls spent most of the time gazing out on The Square with all its comings and goings and they were all heading for Bridie's house. She rattled the window as Katie Bray came towards the door but her head was deep in the folds of her black shawl.
"Do you see that Maeve. Isn't that unusual and very unlike her not to notice a body at all?"
The hours grew longer and longer until someone pushed in a tray with tea and sandwiches. That was much appreciated and a good diversion from the monotonous vigil they had to keep. After eating they opened the door a few inches. It wasn't shut in their faces so they got bolder and finally opened the door halfway so that they could keep contact with the living. An odd one or two pushed a sweet into their hands and they were making the most of it until they came face to face with Katie. Her dark eyes snapped a warning and the next thing they knew the door was slammed in their faces.
"The auld witch is trying to make prisoners of us Maeve". And so they were!
When the family finally came into the room the silence was shattering. Then they filed into Bridie's room and Kathleen rejoined her mother there. It was all so subdued, the only noise coming from the spluttering candles and the knees falling to the floor for a recitation of the Rosary followed by the Litanies of The Blessed Virgin and the Sacred Heart.
Kathleen's head was spinning from the heat of the room, the flickering candles and the proximity of all the members of the family. She dearly needed fresh air and the coolness of her bed to rest her weary body. It had been a long day and she was sleepy. When she opened her eyes her mother was pulling the blankets over her.
"I'm so tired mammy. Good night".
"Good night Kathleen"