Pat Shortt’s First Holy Communion Photo taken in May 1975. We did not know that it was to be the last photo taken of the family all together. Our mother Mary died that October from cancer at the young age of 44 leaving a grieving husband and 11 confused children aged between 4 and 18.
I am posting the photo to acknowledge in a roundabout way the good work of the Limerick based Children’s Grief Project. I had intended posting information on the Children’s Grief Project established in 2009 by Helen Culhane of the Mercy Order to mark Mercy Day on 24 September almost three weeks ago but some things got in the way. However better late than never and just to explain that Mercy Day is celebrated annually within Mercy Order schools etc. to commemorate the opening by Catherine McAuley founder of the Mercy Order of her first project, a school for poor girls and a shelter for homeless women on Baggot Street in Dublin on 24 September 1827. The Mercy Order is 186 years old, in Limerick for 150 years and I have worked for the Order as the Art Teacher at Scoil Carmel for 31 years since 1982.
Back to our family photo, as we posed for it we could not have realised that it was to be the last photo of the family together. Our “Mammy” as we called her, Mary Scully, the heart and soul of the family and only 44 years old was already suffering from cancer and died less than six months later in October 1975.
It was a time of big families, there was eleven of us children. Our “Daddy” Christy Shortt did a great job of keeping the family together and only in recent years I realised something of the depth of grief and sense of loss that he must have been suffering. Anne the eldest at just eighteen abandoned a job and a career she had just started in the Bank of Ireland in Caherdavin in Limerick to become a substitute mother for a few years and Mary and Alice did a lot for the boys too. William sitting on my father’s lap was only four, he started school in September and his mother died in October.
In 1976 there was no counselling. One teacher spoke to me briefly and I always remember him for it, that he made an effort but generally we were left to deal with it ourselves. People did not have the words for emotions and feelings then and there was no support structures or services. This experience explains my enthusiasm for the Children’s Grief Project.”