The Letter Never Sent

The Letter Never Sent“It has taken me 48 years to write this letter.”

As heard on The Ryan Tubridy Show

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Over the last couple of weeks The Ryan Tubridy Show team, in association with An Post, have been asking listeners to put pen to paper and write ‘the letter never sent’. The response has been overwhelming. Each day this week Ryan has shared letters from a postbag overflowing with confessions, declarations, observations and touching tributes.

At a time of year when thoughts naturally turn to the importance of family, this morning’s letters proved particularly poignant. Ryan read out a quartet of letters to fathers from their daughters, and one from a mother to her twin sons.

The first daughter’s remembrance was a fond recollection of a good-natured father whose absence is always keenly felt at Christmas.

“I think of you cremating several pounds of cocktail sausages on Christmas Eve for the enjoyment of the three generations who gathered in the front room to demolish them as they arrived. I think of you asking me if I had a new rig-out for Christmas or if I was alright for a few bob in December and if I’d like to go for a spin to see the countryside … you were a lovely man. I miss you, we all do.”

The second letter reflected a more complex relationship. Penned by Noreen, the letter opened by acknowledging that she and her dad never got on. Occasional, muttered exchanges were the height of their interactions. However, a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and the deterioration that followed, marked a seismic shift in the pair’s relationship. 

“I felt every inch of your indignity … over that short time we forged an unspoken bond forged of hand rubs, face stroking, wheelchair forays down the avenue, sneaking back home to eat ice-cream and check that the grass was cut … Dad it was a privilege and an honour to walk those last few miles with you. I am so grateful to have had a second chance.”

The next letter was written by Babby, who lost her dad 41 years and 8 months ago. After all that time, she had made sense of complicated feelings and found herself finally able to express them. How she loved him but was embarrassed by him, how he was utterly unique and yet she wanted him to be different.

“Your nature was always friendly, it was generous, it was open. You were never a rowdy drunk, just a shadow of the man you could have been. For me the ghost of you was hiding in plain sight all those years.”

Another daughter, Carol, wrote of her shock at discovering a hidden dimension to her father’s character. As his Parkinson’s disease progressed, he required additional assistance and she uncovered a suite of grooming rituals she never knew he had undertaken – and with that a long-held secret was revealed.

“I can’t tell you what a surprise it was to learn that you’d been dyeing your hair for years. I was under the impression that you were a man who didn’t give a toss about his appearance. How wrong was I.”

As poignant as these letters were, Ryan was left speechless by the last letter of the day. A mother wrote of her first pregnancy. The excitement of starting a family and embarking on a future filled with promise and adventure. One night when she was around 7 months into her pregnancy, she didn’t feel the best. She chalked it down to a second slice of rhubarb tart and thought pulling on her old, cosy, red hockey stockings and an early night would prove an adequate remedy. Sadly, it didn’t. 

Twin boys arrived in the wee hours of the morning, weighing three and a half pounds each. Despite being rushed to a hospital with an incubator, they didn’t make it. When a nurse asked if she had names for the boys, an answer came instantly.

“Peter and Paul I replied with little thought or consultation. Two little dickie birds sitting on a wall, one named Peter, the other named Paul. Fly away Peter, fly away Paul.”

In time, this letter writer and her husband went on to have four healthy children, one boy and three girls, yet still she questions whether her first-borns remember her.

“I wonder do you remember me as a glimpse of well-worn, knee-high red hockey stockings. It has taken me 48 years to write this letter. Sent with love, Mum.”

You can listen to today’s letters in full, here.

Jan Ní Fhlanagáin

© The Listener 2019

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