Thursday, August 7, 2008

And did she have kids?

Familyoftwo98 told a beautiful story of an honorary family member who never had children, but who will always be remembered by her loved ones. It reminded me of someone who touched my life for a short few years, but whose memory will always live on. This is probably one of the most heart wrenching infertility stories I have ever come across in my life, but it’s a story that I think deserves to be told. It’s the story of my beautiful sister-in-law, who died at the age of 36.

Noreen was one of those people who would just light up a room. She was tall, slim, with long curly brown hair and a megawatt smile. If you think of Andie McDowell in Green Card, that’s what she looked like. She was always in good form, and would always put you in good form. She always gave you a huge smile and a big welcome when she opened her front door. She was smart, witty, kind and extremely talented. She won prizes for dress design. She made her own wedding dress, her three bridesmaids’ dresses and her mother’s wedding outfit. And she made it sound so easy. She decorated her house to jaw dropping standards. She was a primary school teacher, specialising in remedial teaching of children with learning difficulties, and she adored kids. Her mother says she never met anyone who longed for children as much as Noreen did.

She and her husband were in their mid to late twenties when they got married. I don’t know how long they were trying to conceive when they were given the diagnosis of infertility. It was found that she suffered from severe endometriosis, among other complications. Their only option was IVF, and on their second attempt, she became pregnant with twins. It was a dream come true for her and her husband. Tragically, the dream was shattered very quickly. Out of nowhere, Noreen suffered an epileptic fit and miscarried both her babies. She was taken to hospital, where a brain scan gave the diagnosis of a brain tumour. They were told that it was inoperable; it sat on the speech and memory areas of her brain.

I met her around a year after her diagnosis. She remained fiercely optimistic. This was not going to beat her. She went on a macrobiotic diet and stuck to it rigidly. It looked as though the tumour was not growing, so we all held our breadth and hoped and prayed for a miracle. She continued to renovate their house, finishing a room per year. She had just completed the last room when the final stages of her illness began. In the spring of 2000, she started to get severe headaches. She was admitted to hospital, where they found fluid on her brain. She spent the summer of 2000 in hospital receiving radiotherapy. There were days when she didn’t remember members of her family visiting, and she would continually ask the same questions over and over again, because her memory was being bombarded with radiotherapy on a daily basis.

In the Autumn, she was discharged from hospital and returned home. The smiles, the wit and the big welcome was back, even though physically her appearance was changed dramatically due to the steroid treatment she had undergone. I remember chatting to her one day and her saying that when she was cured, they might think about adoption. She never gave up the dream of becoming a mother.

In December, her brother was getting married abroad. As she was too ill for the long haul flight, and her parents were afraid to travel in case her condition deteriorated while they were away, her brother and his bride to be had a blessing in the local church and Noreen and her husband offered their house as the venue for the afterwards party. All the extended family came to celebrate, as well as neighbours and friends. There were musicians among the crowd who brought guitars, fiddle, accordions and a clarinet. We drank champagne, toasted the soon to be married couple and sang and played music until the early hours of the morning. Noreen sang and partied until 3am. Although none of us admitted it to each other, we all knew she was facing her last Christmas, and the party was really her send off.

She passed away just over two months later, leaving behind a 35 year old heartbroken widower, and a grieving mother, father, sister and brothers. On the day of her funeral, the priest officiating said “I have been a priest for over twenty years now, and all I can say today is, I just do not have all the answers. I have no idea how or why God could let this happen”. We both gained such respect for that priest that day, that when it was time for us to marry, we knew he was the one we wanted to officiate at our wedding.

John and I have found a common interest in gardening since we set up house together. Nasturtiums remind me of my beloved Granny, dahlias, my mother. Noreen’s flower is the sunflower. It’s tall, strong, bright, cheerful, beautiful and fun. When I tell people about her, the first thing they usually ask is “Was she married?” Yes. “And did she have kids?” No, but does that make her illness and death any less of a tragedy? If anything, it’s all the more, because it was the end of an amazing gene line. We have decided if we ever have a girl, we will name her Norah, which was her christened name, and we will tell her all about her wonderful namesake who touched so many peoples’ lives. Her mother told me that when she visits her grave, she still meets past pupils of hers. One girl told her of how she struggled with reading difficulties as a young child, and how Noreen gave her so much time and patience and helped her enormously. So her legacy lives on in her students’ successes in life. And her memory will live on in her family and friends.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam dílis.


familyoftwo98 said...

That was very touching. It is amazing how 1 good teacher can so profoundly affect the lives of his/her students.

Your sister in law has left an outstanding legacy in her wake!

womb for improvement said...

Ok. I'm now in tears! The story has resonance with my mothers, who also died young and was also a teacher. She saw teaching as a calling rather than a job and had a profound affect on many of her pupils. Might go and have a little weep now.

nutsinmay said...

That is so sad and so beautiful. My heart hurts for your family, to lose such a treasure.

Xbox4NappyRash said...

Beautifully written, if she was half as captivating as you made her sound, it is a huge loss.

Beautifully written.

Jane G said...

She was a huge loss indeed, both to her family and to the community she lived and taught in.

It's funny, I didn't know how John (my husband) would react to me writing a post so personal on the internet - Noreen was his older sister. I showed it to him to read, and he just cried, put his arms around me and said "Thank you so much for writing that". We are trying to find a photo of her to add to this post, but as we didn't have a digital camera when she was alive we will have get to one scanned. I know there is one particularly lovely one of her taken the night of the millenium.

Xbox - Captivating is just the perfect word to describe her.

Sorry if I made you cry, but it's a story that would bring tears to a stone really.

Xbox4NappyRash said...

That's an element to having a blog that has suprised me at times.

Being able to mark or record something like that, in a way you could probably never articulate otherwise.

Letting your nearest and dearest read it is a big step and daunting, it took me 6 months to let ET know what I was at.

I'm glad hubby appreciated it, he sounds like a 'good guy'.

Eve Grey said...

Oh my god, this story is heart breaking. I will never forget it. I read it to my husband and could hardly get through it. There is just nothing fair in this world.