When I was a child, I asked my mother what the meaning of life was. She answered: “To live, to love and to leave a legacy”. Her father had also given her these words of advice when she was young.
A Legacy of Love
Her legacy is far-reaching and includes her extensive legal and academic work in employment law. In early 2018, a new edition of one of her legal works was updated by Desmond Ryan. It was published, in tribute to my mother, as Redmond on Dismissal (Bloomsbury). Outside of her legal work, my mother was active in the charity sector in Ireland. In 1999, she instigated a national charity called The Wheel, which brings together the community and voluntary sectors. The Wheel promotes the idea of ‘active citizenship’ and has played a key role in encouraging a more participatory democracy in Ireland.
“As anyone with a dream will tell you, not only does it never go away, you see it, you can touch it and you talk about it at every opportunity.”Mary Redmond Ussher
But her father’s advice to her ultimately led my mother to fulfill another far-reaching aspect of her legacy and from the most personal possible circumstances. Indeed, it was the careful and kind hospice care that her father, Sean Redmond, received at the end of his life which led my mother to found, in 1986, The Irish Hospice Foundation. This is a charity which campaigns for best practice in end of life care. The Irish Hospice Foundation played a huge role in bringing hospice care forward in Ireland over the last three decades.
In 1986, there were only three hospices in Ireland. Today there are nine. Then, only one speciﬁc area in Dublin had access to hospice home care services. Now,this is a national service which anyone at end of life can avail of. And, at a local level, the Irish Hospice Foundation has helped oversee annual Sunﬂower Days and Coﬀee Mornings that have raised over €35 million for local hospices.
My mother’s work in The Irish Hospice Foundation was part of a dream that no one in Ireland should go without digniﬁed end of life care. My mother had a special capacity to envision change. As she once said: “As anyone with a dream will tell you, not only does it never go away, you see it, you can touch it and you talk about it at every opportunity.”
Those achievements represent the core of my mother’s legacy. In 2014, she received an honorary doctorate from Trinity College Dublin for these contributions. As her son, however, I witnessed what was, for me, a diﬀerent kind of legacy and a much more personal one. And that legacy came from how she lived and how she loved over the six years of her having breast cancer.
The Pink Ribbon
Through those years until her passing in April 2015, I saw my mother truly live to the fullest. It was not living to the fullest in the sense of packing a whirlwind of activities into every day. She lived out fully the ‘quiet miracle of the ordinary’. A sense of the preciousness of each moment took root in my mother, despite the physical pain of illness. As she wrote:
“Help me to accept my everyday just as it is, the quirky pains and aches all over, tenderness in hands and feet. This, my everyday I lay before you as it is.”
This acceptance freed her heart, allowing it not just to accept, but to love her everyday. It also allowed her to be fully present in sharing a cup of tea with a loved one, in taking in the springtime sunlight, in gardening and painting. And, most strikingly, this acceptance freed her to be fully present for friends and family. She was the kind and listening ear. She left others feeling better than before they met her, and to be a loving sister, wife and mum.
My mother called the strength to live in this way the ‘Pink Ribbon Path’. It stemmed from her own experience, from her practice of meditation and from a range of inspiring authors whom she read in the early years of her illness. After some years, she drew together her own writings and these different sources of inspiration. In 2013, The Pink Ribbon Path was ﬁrst published under my mother’s married name, Ussher.
The end of the path
My mother passed away, surrounded by family, on April 6th, 2015. Two days before that, I had my last conversation with her. On that day, I told her how beautifully she had walked the Pink Ribbon Path, and I promised her that I would do my best to ensure that it would live on.
My mother’s legacy combines poignantly her life-long sense of care for the vulnerable with her own spirituality of strength. The spirituality stemmed, paradoxically, from her own vulnerability during the years of illness. From that position, she wrote this book as a ‘wounded healer’, with the beautiful message to us all that “we can be ill, yet whole”. Following the Pink Ribbon Path contains a universal message. It speaks of ﬁnding meaning in suﬀering, living with joy despite the limitations of the body, and taking up the choice we always have of radiating love.
I feel privileged to have witnessed my mother walking this spiritual path. I saw, in reality, what the heart of the Pink Ribbon Path is all about. And, through Following the Pink Ribbon Path, I tried to capture the essence of that path. I am aware of my limitations in doing so and I only hope that I have done it justice.
Following the Pink Ribbon Path is available from Columba Books.