Roseleen McShane, centre, with her children Eamon and Edel, after their graduation from Letterkenny Institute of Technology.
You notice the gap when something is gone, there is a space that was not there before. In this case, someone.
After the death of her beloved husband, Rosaleen found herself very much alone.
They had been married for almost 30 years and would have been celebrating their Pearl Wedding Anniversary three weeks after his passing.
Together they have had their own fruit and veg business. They had raised four children and were the grandparents of two at the time. She shows me a photograph of the eight of them, which had been taken at her husband’s 50th birthday party, six months prior to his diagnosis with a brain tumour.
Roseleen is the youngest of five children. Her parents were islanders, mother from Arainn Mhór and father from Inis Caorach, who had moved to Inis Mhic an Doirn (Rutland) once they were married. In 1953 they had four school-going children and had to move to the mainland, the fishing village of Burtonport, as the school on the island did not have sufficient numbers to employ the teacher. Three years later Roseleen was born as a surprise fifth child, 11 years after her fourth sibling. An initial shock, but a blessing her mother would say later, as she needed full-time care as a result of breaking her hip, which left her semi invalid for 13.5 years.
The week Roseleen finished her Leaving Cert, her father passed away. Her mother was aged 60 at the time and had no profession, which meant there was no means of income. Roseleen suddenly found herself in a breadwinner and carer role for her mother. The local supermarket/bar gave Roseleen a job and it was while working there that she met Michael, her husband to be.
Michael was very musical. He loved nothing more than a good music session. He was big into helping out, fundraising and using his talents that way. “He enjoyed the social aspect of it. We used to go down to the Skippers on a Saturday night, it was a great pub for the sessions. Michael would go down with the best of intentions, 'I'm not going to play music tonight, I'm just having a few pints,’ he'd say. After, a couple of pints, he'd whisper: 'Go up for my guitar Roseleen'. That was the lifestyle. I was the rodeo. That's what I miss terribly. Now life is totally different.”
Nothing prepares you for life after loss
After the funeral Rosaleen said to herself: “This is my life. It's up to me now. I am either going to sink or to swim. Right Rosaleen, give swimming a wee go. I did a lot of paddling in the early days and it wasn’t easy - but anything I got to do, I did, anywhere I was asked to go, I went.”
For their wedding anniversary, prior to his passing, Michael and Roseleen had organised a party which was to be a fundraising dance. Michael wanted to give something back to the services that had supported him in his cancer journey, but unfortunately passed away three weeks before the occasion.
Roseleen decided that the dance should go on as it was what Michael would have wanted. A total of €26,000 was raised for the cancer organisations which had provided such excellent care for him over the nine months.
Roseleen actively looked for new tasks, a structure to keep her going, to keep her mind occupied. By September of the same year the widow was studying Irish two nights a week and graduated with a diploma two years later.
“I found it very hard to be labelled and categorised, 'I was married', 'I am a widow'. I found this to be very difficult but it was my lot and I had to get used to it.”
She saw an article of the annual general meeting of the North West Ladies in Dungloe in the newspaper and contacted them.
The North West Ladies
The North West Ladies is a women's group. It includes women who are widowed, single, separated, or divorced. They meet fortnightly for two hours on a Saturday afternoon, offering social support, activities and enjoyment. They have a full programme of events.
Their next meeting is from 2 to 4pm this Saturday, September 16th, at the Angle on the Gaoth Dobhair road in Dungloe.
Most of the ladies would have been homemakers and would not have had the same social structures and colleagues of women in a workplace. The group is affiliated to the National Association of Widows of Ireland, the NAWI. They arrange three five-day breaks a year, which take place in the different counties throughout Ireland. “It is a very good social outlet. You need that support and friendship of people in the same situation as yourself, which is being on your own. I was becoming a little too dependent on my children and that I didn’t want.”
The mother and grandmother holds her family close and her friends are all very good, but no one likes even the thought of being pitied. If Roseleen wants to go somewhere now she can go as part of the group, with one or two members. She made new friends.
That May, when Roseleen graduated with the diploma, she was reading the Donegal Democrat and saw that Letterkenny General Hospital, now Letterkenny University Hospital, was looking for participants for the New York marathon in aid of charity. She phoned her daughter Sonia:
“Do you fancy doing the NY marathon? It is for charity.”
“Mum, I can't run and you can't run.”
Having never jogged before, the two of them followed the call and started the training program. Mother and daughter managed to walk 500 miles prior the marathon. In November 2011 they walked 26.2 miles in 7 hours 44 minutes 39 seconds, just in time to get their certificate and medal.
“We got it down to a fine art.” New memories were made and the two raised over €10,000 for the Friends of Letterkenny General Hospital.
Roseleen wasn’t to be stopped. Two month after the marathon, she started a four-year, part-time honours degree course at Letterkenny Institute of Technology. She had seen an advertisement for a BA Honours in Community and Social Development in the Donegal Democrat.
“I hadn't been in education since 1974! That newspaper has a lot to answer for”, she smiles. Seeing their mother re-entering education encouraged Roseleen's two younger children to do the same. They followed her example and also returned to college as mature students and graduated together with Roseleen and their bachelor of arts degrees.
“I've managed to fill the gaps. You never get over the death of your husband, but you do adjust to living with loss,” she tells me, not without a sense of pride. Rightly so!