The Irish wake for my nephew Rory Staunton began in the parlor of his Aunt Derval’s house among the rolling hills and farmland of County Meath.
Rory, aged 12, died at New York University Hospital a week ago from a toxic infection suffered after an elbow cut received at a basketball game.
The parlor is the room in the Irish house that is kept spotless, has all the best furniture and finery but nobody ever visits it except for occasions of great joy or in this case grief.
Derval, a nurse, had waked my mother and her own husband Paddy Hogan, a farmer there over the past ten years. She had been a tower of strength at the side of my sister Orlaith and her husband Ciaran when their son Rory passed away in New York.
Now it was, unbelievaby, 12-year old Rory’s body with the Irish and American flag and the flag of his beloved Mayo that lay in that same room in that same house in a beautiful corner of County Meath in this blessed time of spring when new life abounds.
The wake followed a very defined ritual, similar in Irish rural life all for generations. It is a blessed one, especially for the parents of Rory who can once again absorb the love and support.
The arrival of the little boy’s coffin from the Aer Lingus flight from New York was accompanied with dread, floods of tears, and a sadness so profound that the gloom seemed impermeable.
As the priest said the brief prayers, the sounds of tears and desperate sadness filled the room.
Then, after the priest departed and the individual visitations to the coffin were completed the stories began and Rory’s life began to reassert itself.
From the Staunton side we heard about the little boy’s annual travels to Mayo every year and the life and the times he witnessed there.
Rory always spoke of his best friend forever, Donal, the son of Ciaran’s brother, and the two young boys are roughly the same age. I’d never met Donal but if there is an Irish version of Rory it is him, inquisitive, warm, friendly and now clealry heartbroken.
Then the memories of Rory on this very farm were brought on, the kid Yank home from America who seemed to move so naturally through the rhythms of Irish rural life. Once he was found on top of bales of hay stacked so high no one could quite figure out how he climbed up there.
His fascination with Paddy Hogan’s pet sheep who followed Paddy around like an obedient dog, after being house-raised was also recalled.
It was time for the little girls to pay their own tribute. His sister Kathleen and my daughter Alana prepared their last little play and concert for Rory, which they performed behind closed doors for their beloved Ro Ro.
I’m glad I didn’t witness it as it would have been too much.
The wake went on late into the life. Farming life was one constant topic, as two rural families united in grief for a young boy but also in celebration of an extraordinary life. In the midst was Danielle, Derval’s daughter, nine months pregnant and ready to start the cycle of life anew in the never-ending battle
The funeral mass and burial now lies ahead before Rory can rest forever in his beloved Ireland. Our hearts are broken but the extraordinary love for Rory in Ireland and America is solace indeed.
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