Helen Patricia Teresa Malpas nee Towey

She died at 5.30pm on Christmas Day 2016 in an isolated single room in the Women’s Medical Ward of Sligo Hospital.  43 years and 252 days after our “I wills” were said on St Patrick’s Day 1973.  43 years and252 days of hard work, six kids, much happiness, some sadness, a few cross words but a massive amount of love.

We had left her at 2.30pm at her bidding.  “Go home and have your dinner” were the last words to us.  She looked radiant, the best I’d seen her in months.  She had suffered greatly in the preceding while.  Daughter No 4, Son No 2 and I drove a hungry 30 miles back to Boyle.  We ate our prepared Christmas lunch and at 4.30pm she rang.  She had just seen the doctor and they were letting her out on the morrow, St Stephen’s Day.  We celebrated with a glass of wine.  Again at 5.00pm the telephone rang, “Mr Malpas, can you get here quickly, Helen is in cardiac arrest”.  The miles were never devoured as quickly, not a vehicle on the road.  We were met by a Muslim doctor, I suppose the only one willing to work on that Feast Day.  “She died 10 minutes ago, I’m terribly sorry, the resus team did their best.  Just wait here a moment the nurses are just cleaning up the room.”  I signed a proffered form donating her vital organs for research.  Not a word was said.  We waited then went in.  She looked beautiful, if that word could be used in her cadaverous state.  Her forehead still warm to the touch.  On close inspection wounds could be seen on her neck, arms and hand from the work of the resuscitation team.

A long dark journey home, painful calls on landline and mobile, interspersed with mouthfuls of strong liquer.  The next day neighbours called, the undertaker summoned.  The process was put into operation.  A post-mortem was necessary.  She had died in hospital of a condition she was not being treated for.  The pathologist’s report said “Sudden cardiac death due to marked cardiac hypertrophy”.   But they were not treating her heart, she was supposed to have a cystic kidney with sacral metastases.  Who are we to judge, the 99.9% ignoramuses of the population.  We should be left in ignorance whilst the medics weave their web.

In the following days friends, relatives and children gathered.  The autopsy done on 29th December and the body released and we cremated her the next day at Lakelands Crematorium in Cavan town.  He death was not announced but it was heartening to see the large crowd that gathered.  Jungle drums working as they always have.  People had travelled for miles, many hundreds for some.  It was a great delight to see a large contingent from the Dublin stage community as well as acquaintances I never expected to see.

20 or so of us gathered for a few quiet pints in Boyle, the landlady being the sister of the undertaker.  Over the following few days visitors had to return to normality, the kids had their own lives to deal with and by the time I realised that 2017 had been born, I was on my own.  Desolate, scared and lachrymose and for the rest of January and most of February those conditions worsened.

Nobody tells you, nobody and nothing conditions you for the death, for the end of 43 years and 252 days of love and companionship.  I can tell you it is horrible.  You become virtually quadriplegic, in a state of stasis, but you have to eat.  You stumble to the shops.  You meet somebody offering kind condolence.  You flood with tears, looking idiot-like at the till.  You go home and cannot eat that which you bought.  You go to bed but cannot sleep.  You get up, sit in a chair and cry as though tears were going out of fashion.  You doze, the telephone rings and you do not hear it.  The postman calls “Paul, I have only just heard”.  You discourteously close the door in case the next wave of tears washes him away.  Nearly two months of this purgatory makes me wonder now how I survived.  I wanted to write but couldn’t.  I wanted to socialise but couldn’t.  I realised a house without a woman is no longer a home but just a pile of bricks, slates and timber.

Things move on, the undertaker calls with the ashes but no bill.  A cardboard tube with a tasteful brass plaque, her whole reduced to just over a kilogram.  Telephone calls and e-mails to children.  Decisions made.  We would scatter her ashes on my birthday in the tumble down shack she was born in on 18th March 1949.

On the days before the 19th February we gathered, children, spouses, partners, grandchildren and cousins, and on that day, suitably booted, we made our way to Scanlon’s old house in Shaskin, a suburb of Gowlaun, in the metropolis of Rooskey, six miles north of ” Charlestown too, in the County Mayo”.  A stricken, waterlogged place of 11 houses on top of the bog, overlooking Cloontia and the distant Ballaghaderreen.  Families lived here for a 100 years before deciding it was too feral an environment, eventually deserting the place in the early 1950s.  Helen was the last to be born here.  A tumble-down ruin of two rooms which housed nine or ten of family at one time, the stone built out-houses showing that the kept animals had more room than the dominant humans.

I gave a talk on the history of the place, the kids scattered the ashes in the little back room where she was born, a bottle of donated Hennessey was broached and completed as we drank to her memory.  A very happy/sad cathartic occasion; an occasion necessary for the grieving to heal.  The kids went to their homes gradually and I had a few more sad days.

Trips to Malta, Morocco,France, Italy et al were planned.  Isolation was knocked on the head.  I was desperate for conversation, the grieving was nearly over.  I joined clubs and societies, they helped tremendously.  I am still in the tunnel but I can see the light at its end.  Her wonderful memory remains, wrapping me in a fantastic shroud.


And there are still tears but now happy ones all the way through the writing of this much needed piece.  The box of Kleenex is nearly empty.

26 thoughts on “Helen Patricia Teresa Malpas nee Towey

  1. Goodbye and God bless indeed.

    You are sorely missed mum and I think about you morning, noon and night, everyday.

    Powerful and concise description of grief, this.

  2. Dad, thanks for writing this. I’m crying in sadness for mum and in happiness for you, that you finally got it all out. I hope to see some more words on her soon.

  3. Hope to see soon Paul. Lovely script. Remember “keep yer head down and keep ploughing!” Tough winter for everyone! All will move on in one way or another… Thoughts to Clare, Katie, Lou, Dan, Paddy and Paul x

    1. Well thanks Mike, I did not realise you were a reader. You can not realise how hard an exercise that was.

  4. OMG! So very sorry to read of Helen’s passing, Paul, and can feel for you the emotional pain of not being able to put your talented pen to paper and compose this epitaph until now.
    The narrative of your personal grief inspires me to sadness and tears also.
    She was a great lady and a joy to wine and dine with, and I have happy memories of the time the three of us were together in Aberdeen – and later in Manchester for ‘refreshments’ at the world’s smallest bar , followed by the Chinese buffet.
    So move on, old chap, be strong, cherish her memory and Helen will always be with you.

    1. Thanks Rusty,
      Its lovely to hear from people who knew her. I hope you and your family are in good health and it is mighty to see there is still massive strength in your own writing. My campaigning zeal as been put on the back-burner for a while now.

  5. This is terrible news Paul. 2016 was a truly dreadful year for you and your family, Bede’s was bad but this news is far, far worse.

    My condolences to you and your family.

    No wonder you have been unable to communicate for so long.

    Our thoughts are with you.

  6. Dear Paul,

    I have only just leaned of this tragedy from Rusty. I am never very good at this sort of thing, so please forgive this rather botched-together effort of mine but I couldn’t let this pass without at least trying to reach out.

    I know that nothing said now can heal the pain and I know that life will never be the same again. Please try to take comfort in the knowledge that we are all reunited when our tasks here in this vibration have been completed.

    Thank you for sharing Helen’s parting words to you, they are wonderful. When I read that, I thought what a wonderful thing to say, a clear indication that Helen wants you to carry on. Very, very, good advise. Sadly, I never had the chance to meet Helen but she obviously knew the importance and value of living life to the full and making the most of every day. Simple, yet truly wonderful words from Helen!

    My condolences and very best wishes to you and all of your family.

    Ian McFerran

  7. Dear Paul, my wife and I send you our condolences to you and your family.
    I had been wondering at the lack of Words of Wisdom from you for a long time.
    Yesterday I was tidying up my computer desk of paper. One thing that caught my eye and made me stop and read once more was a printout of your piece “Rusty,Legless and Slosh”.
    Today I thought I must enquire how you are. We are off to France tommorrow for our usual 3 month break that we take each year.
    What a shock you gave me, and many others no doubt. I remember meeting Helen at Wilmslow sometime during the Bede’s saga.
    Helen was born just a few month’s after my own dear wife Jacqueline.

    Jacqueline has just had her mother come out of hospital after suffering a stroke recently. She now needs Nurses to visit every day. Edna still lives alone at 93 !! Perhaps not for much longer we fear.

    My God daughter Luisa is still trying to kill her mother at Wythenshawe Hospital and her other 3 daughters are fighting to keep her alive. Patricia will be 80 in May.

    There is a Court Case looming soon and hopefully it will make the papers, even if only to stop Luisa getting her way. Luisa has stolen all Patricia’s money and has been found out. She is also a serial Benefits Cheat.

    The Mother in Law of one of the other daughters was found dead at home a couple of weeks ago in Ashbourne in Derbyshire. She was subject to daily nurse visits treating a leg wound. The dressing was changed daily but something went wrong and the wound opened and the poor lady slowly bled to death overnight. Her son had to travel from Glasgow to Ashbourne to find the Mother’s bedroom left as it was when his mother was taken away. Poor man was left to clean up the mess all alone…..

    Each year in France I dread the phone which will tell us Edna has gone.

    At 77 I often wonder “how long have I got?”

    You are all in our thoughts.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Peter and tis true how fragile life can seem to be once three score and ten is reached but your mother in law is proof that their is plenty of years to chew at. Bon voyasge for your holiday. I’ll be there in June and the place seems to be in permanent lock down. I was there last September having to show my credentials to armed policemen at every turn and I think it has gone worse since. I’ll be there again in June for the centenary of Messines in June.

  8. Oh Paul………such heartful words, once again my deepest sympathy. no words can really help…Helen will be foirever locked in your heart with your wonderful memories xxxxxxxxxxxx

  9. Paul , my deepest sympathy at the loss of your beloved . She was so evidently a part of you . May the empty corners in every room start to fade into warm memories , giving you the courage to spend your wonderful vigour & constancy in those causes and people whose part you have so effectively taken . My love and thoughts with you all .

    1. John, great to hear from you once again. For months words would not flow but I have just jumped that hurdle. I am in Morocco at the moment and wrote another peace yesterday about Malta but will have to wait until I get home to publish. Thanks for your very kind thoughts.

  10. Paul,

    Please accept my most heartfelt condolences. I’m terribly sorry for your loss. I hope you’re keeping well. My thoughts are with you.


    1. Thank you Jason, I am slowly coming out of the tunnel, it as taken me four long hard months unfortunately my youngest son is still not there yet but I hope he will eventually.

  11. Hi Paul,

    So sorry to read your sad news.

    You are in our thoughts and have our deepest sympathy.

    Hope to see you next time we’re out in the West.

    Jon & Evelyn.

  12. Dear Paul, forgive me that it’s taken me all this time to respond to your sad news last month. I was not in a good place myself when you published this article and Tym drew our attention to it. The less said the better (but NB, your negative opinion of me in 2014 isn’t the reason for my tardiness!!). It’s hard to imagine anything worse than to suddenly lose a beloved spouse or partner who in Helen’s case was so much more – you were partners in the most important cause of all and doing great work together. The loss is all our loss therefore, most especially that of the children still suffering unheard and unheeded in our society & world in 2017. The reaction to such set-backs must be to redouble our efforts. That Helen was a very special person is clear from this moving account of your grief but also of the ‘life after grief’ you are making, thanks to her inspiration. She will live on in all our hearts. Thank you Paul for your wonderful writing and bless you.

    1. Thank you Belinda for those kind words especially after our spat of 2014. Helen was certainly a special person and if it was my pen that fabricated the script it was Helen’s thoughts that made the pen move from letters to words etc. I am in Morocco at the moment and have found a new lease of life with my blog, the sunshine, the freedom and the fact that I eventually wrote the piece on Helen’s death have opened the floodgates. I have not stopped writing for two weeks but cannot publish until I return to Ireland and get uninterrupted use of computer.
      Once again thanks for your thoughts and keep up your good work.

  13. Hope your French learned from eons ago got you by, Paul, en Maroc.

    I found it came in handy when we were in Tunisia back in the early 1990s. We ended up on a coach trip to Tunis, when we went to the cafe for a drink, I was the only person out of 20 who knew enough French to get by!

    I’m re-learning it all at the moment, at the Alliance Francaise in Manchester. Two years of being taught at the Alma Mater by Eric Riley and one year by Mr Duffy (I never did know his christian name) did come in handy, I’ve not done any French since 1999. I’m rusty, but it’s slowly coming back.

    Hope you have a good time there, I look forward to your missives, nothing like being able to put the world to rights, is there?

    1. Well my writing block is over whilst in Marocco I have written four more postings and have now published them.

  14. Dear Paul,
    I have only just tuned into your blog – the first time this year due to circumstances of my own. I was shocked to hear of the news of your wife’s death; I never knew her of course, but your references to her in many blogs and your final eulogy brought home how close you were and how difficult it must have been for you over the past months. They say time heals wounds but I’m not so sure myself. It seems you are doing all the right things to recover from your grief. All the very best to you.
    PS I am currently waiting for Irish citizenship to be granted to me via the Foreign Births Register. The move was pragmatic rather than patriotic; living here in Spain I will at least gain the certainty of being an EU citizen.

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