In the early days of the pandemic lockdown, when we all acted as if we were stuck in a snowstorm that was about to thaw, I got the perfect TV show on Netflix: Derry Girls. Derry Girls is set in Derry, Northern Ireland in the mid-1990s, and captures the everyday life and anxieties of teenage girls at the end of their troubles.
The region’s ongoing violent drumming became the background noise for more pressing matters, such as being banned from the Chippy store, doing cardio on Like a Prayer and creating content for the school newspaper.
What’s wonderful about Derry Girls is that it reminds us that in turbulent times, ordinary people lead normal lives, and growing up in a place like Derry isn’t accustomed to caring about boy bands. I’ve been anxiously waiting for more episodes for nearly two years. Fortunately, Séamas O’Reilly has written a memoir titled “Did You Hear Mom Died?”
O’Reilly is best known in the UK and Ireland as a columnist for The Observer – where he has written about parenting: “The outbreak of back pain broke my heart but luckily my son took him with him The fire truck is there” – and a contributor to The Irish Times, where he reports on culture. His style and family drama are reminiscent of David Sedaris, but with a Derry slant.
Did you hear that mom died? Taken from one of the O’Reilly family’s favorite stories. The year is 1991. O’Reilly is almost 6 years old, the third of his 11(!) siblings, and her mother just died of breast cancer. Her bungalow on the Derry-Donegal border was decorated with “folding chairs, plenty of tea and a growing number of desperate mourners”. At the age of 5, O’Reilly could not comprehend the “gravity, let alone eternity” of her mother’s death. So he goes around the wake, shocking everyone as they enter the room, introducing them to my bright 3-foot frame, like a lively little Maître, with delighted questions, ‘Have you heard is mom dead? ‘”
As the title anecdote suggests, “Did You Hear Mom Died” is a harrowing memoir that eschews sentimentality in favor of gallows humor. It’s not just a joke – O’Reilly reflects on how he re-mourned his mother as he got older, and how the grief of his family of 12 “crossed and multiplied” for the mourning ceremony. But even those passages that bring deeper meditation into the light are fun. Here’s O’Reilly’s retreat from his mother’s awakening and summarizing the absurdity and distraction of awakening in general:
“Awakening surrounds you and even suffocates you… [with] a cycle of social interaction that brings a strange air of unreality to the whole process. Maybe that’s the point, the whole wakefulness system is just a kind of Strategies designed to prevent emotional breakdowns by asking mourners to go through a ritualized phase of event management. Of course, you can also face your dark, seething thoughts alone, but only if you’re ready and handing out six hundred cups Tea.”
I laughed out loud when I read Did You Hear Mom Died, especially at the passages that reminded me of how my own family laughs without crying. My parents both died of cancer when I was 14, so my brother and I have our own punch line to ease the pain of grief. For example, when my mother woke up, my then 8-year-old cousin Lucas signed his name on the guest book followed by “John Street School” because he thought it was the primary school teacher signing in front of him process. .
As the Derry Girls remind us, trouble hasn’t turned the entire population of Northern Ireland into “relentless, off-duty victims” and, as O’Reilly puts it, “Did you hear mum died” proves that young parents don’t End your childhood. “My life has not ended since then,” O’Reilly wrote. “I’d laugh, cry, and yell at borrowed sweaters, school fights, bomb scares, playing Zelda, teen bands, elementary school crushes…I’d do it without her.” In it , O’Reilly got something I wish more people would understand about my own loss – the deaths of my parents were devastating and I’m still going through my teenage years after them.
Did you hear that mom died? O’Reilly focuses almost exclusively on his childhood after his mother’s death. Although it’s called a straight-up memoir, it reads more like a memoir in prose, with 13 of them, most of which recount events in the early 1990s, when O’Reilly (as his extended family called it One of the “Wee Ones”) is still small. Writing about early childhood can be boring, but O’Reilly manages to paint the strange details of childhood life alongside today’s perspectives, with the same confusion and tenderness of his younger self.
Take the early chapter “Mother’s Day”—O’Reilly recalls that when he was 8, his classmates “made sparkling cards” for their living mothers, and the room “beyond the gentle, slow rhythm. Very quiet. The little short-headed scissors they give to the kids, blue plastic scissors with the bite force of damp oven mitts.” As “Séamas of dead mothers,” he left to himself the equipment that “everything I can think of. Memories” of the self-assigned list mothers have. “He only came up with 10 numbers, which “revealed how little I had left of her.” The result of “Mother’s Day” is a deep exploration of what is etched in our memory as a child. How even a mother can be a “fragmented being” when she leaves prematurely.
The front of Mother’s Day is “This One Time Daddy Lifted a Car,” an unforgettable tribute to Joe O’Reilly, who raised 11 children alone. He told us that O’Reilly’s father had both “the ability to make the good ordinary” and “an absurd man who took pride in ridiculous things,” such as killing a mouse with “a bottle of holy water.” Shaped like the Virgin Mary. “
Good fathers are rarely read in memoirs, and while O’Reilly’s portraits, in bits and pieces, describe how his father was “God’s, real, and perfectly grumpy,” he is still The drive to “make sure we never…feel poorer than anyone else,” was funny and touching. It also reminded me of my own father, who wasn’t like Joe, but a man who was hypersensitive to pity “When I talk about me, the standard reaction I get is awe. Dad and what he did for us, rightly so, but my dad hated that sentimentality — and her next of kin, Mercy — more than he hated traffic cops or broccoli,” O’Reilly wrote.” Fortunately, he has a whole bunch of weaknesses and we can make fun of him. “
It’s this thread of refusal to be pitiful that reduces his family’s experience to “a shabby piece of sentimental fluff where people can engage and say how sad” that made you hear Mommy died? So excited. The fact that it is also very interesting is a special treat.
Kristen Martin is writing a bold book about American orphanages. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Believer, The Handicapped, and elsewhere. She tweeted @kwisent.