Growing up, Paul Ferris worried constantly that his mother would die from her heart condition, but she promised him that she would live until he could take care of himself. She kept that promise. In this extract from his book, he recalls coming home to Lisburn for her wake and funeral and spending a night sleeping beside her coffin...
Now I rested against the hard wood of her open coffin. The boy who had once been so frightened of the dark and of imaginary ghosts lay there alone in the fading light with just her corpse for company. I felt no fear. How could I fear her? I loved her with all of my heart.
I imagined her waking from her box. I tried to conjure her out of it. To make her come back to me. I closed my eyes and willed her back into this world again. So I could hear her voice and feel her warm arms around me once more. I whispered to her. With my back to her. I asked her to come back. I begged her not to leave me. If she had to go, I implored her to give me a sign she was still there, somewhere. That she hadn't just ended. That she wasn't gone for ever.
I talked to her with my back to her. I was angry with her. She had told me she'd get better. She couldn't just leave. Not now. I had no job, no home and now no mother. My biggest fear was now my reality and it was worse than I ever imagined it would be. I was experiencing a feeling I had never felt before. Emptiness. Just utter nothingness. It was deep inside of me and I couldn't shift it.
I was completely alone there in the black hole of her bedroom. What was once my place of comfort was now my Hell on earth. Geraldine and my family were downstairs, but I felt a hopelessness and a loneliness that even in my darkest days as a boy leaving home I never had come anywhere close to feeling. It was all around me and all over me. Above me and inside of me. I wanted it to end. I needed it to end.
So there on her bed of death and with my back to her I begged her to take me with her: wherever she had gone. I pleaded with her again and again and again. I was still pleading with her in my despair when I finally fell asleep next to her.
I awoke as the early morning light brought life into her dead room. I lay with my back to her. Her book of prayers lay open on the bedside table. I sat up and read the last prayer she'd read. I got no comfort from it. I sat up and lifted myself off her bed and onto my crutches. I got to the door and didn't look back as I spoke to her for the last time.
"Thank you, Mammy. Thank you for everything. For the love. For the strength. For teaching me right from wrong. For believing in me when I didn't believe in myself. I'll tell my children about you. What you mean to me. My children will know you. They'll hear your name every day. I'll never forget. I'm privileged I got to be your son. I love you and always will. You're in my heart and you always will be. You kept your promise in the end. Thank you for that. I know it wasn't easy for you. Thank you for staying until I was old enough to look after myself. I'm old enough now. Mammy, I'm old enough now."
I spoke with my back to her and walked out of the bedroom without looking back at her. When I had to go back in that room I didn't look at her. I never looked at her again. Once was enough. I wanted my memories to be of her smiling, laughing, breathing. It wasn't her in there. The light in my life was extinguished. She was gone. A part of me left with her and I knew in that moment that my life would always be less than it was with her in it.