Last week my mother had a procedure at St Vincent’s hospital and due to a misunderstanding, I bit the head off a nurse. I instantly regretted that. I just added misery and regret to an already awful scenario. My mother texted me: “I can hear you giving out pet; she is lovely and just doing her job.” No excuses, but I wasn’t right in my own head.

I drove my mammy there [to that place] and dropped her at the door. I looked at their new bike park and thought: “That’s new.” I was surprised – as if they are not allowed to change things when ‘long-term residents’ leave and their families no longer frequent the halls and local restaurants. The loiterers of protracted death.

Mam said not to come in, as with her fasting we couldn’t even have coffee. So I left. But everything is a reminder. I passed the road where I sat in my car; screaming and banging the steering wheel the day she died almost six years ago, alone and lonely for the loss of my little sister. So when this poor nurse rang me last week, I responded with my own pain. For that, I am sorry.

Later, I walked through those doors and although Mam had given me specific instructions, I still walked past the left turn to where she was – because the right turn was Brig’s turn. I walked past both turns, then past the café we’d go to when Brig would say, “Get me outta this room, Aims,” and she’d do doughnuts in her wheelchair and annoy people in the corridors. Bald, bauld and beautiful with her horseshoe-shaped scar above her left ear – a trauma from another time.

As much as I imagined her there, she was not – but my Mam was. And I am sure that although she said little, her pain and memories of that place are worse than mine. So we walked out those doors again. We remarked on the environmentalism of the new bike park, we talked about who got clamped the most in those years parking up side streets (no mention of screaming) and the fact that they no longer did my favourite beef salad in the M1 (Merrion Inn).

Memories can be raw, but when you are ill, being able to control certain things about your body is important. My sister Brig had the most amazing hair. I remember the day she went to Kieran O’Gorman in Kilkenny to shave her head. Like Samson, it was both a strength and a weakness. Her pride was not going to be taken from her; she would decide when it would go. This week in health we learn about the “cold cap” treatment that means people don’t lose their hair when undergoing chemotherapy. This is heartening, knowing what it would have meant for Brig.

Knowing what’s real

Big daughter walked Sliabh-na-Mban with me this weekend, perhaps feeling her Mam needed the support, and asked to play the “do you believe” game. A simple pretence. The first question from the pony-mad nine-year-old was, “Do you believe in unicorns?” “No,” I said, but then retracted that, as really all a unicorn is – is a horse with an Instagram filter. A beautiful version of something “ordinary”.

This is what Nicola Weir and I discussed when we spoke about social media and the world our children face, in terms of what is real and fake, in media and perception. In reality, the horse, as ordinary as it is (see our breeding supplement), like most real things, is truly extraordinary.

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