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empathy Imagine the anguish of mums who have lost children on this Mother's Day

"Imagine the anguish of those Irish mammies whose children vanished into thin air"

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Ashling Murphy with her mother Kathleen. January 2022.

Ashling Murphy with her mother Kathleen. January 2022.

Ashling Murphy with her mother Kathleen. January 2022.

EVEN if it will hardly dilute their bone-deep torment, there are so many mothers who, on this landmark day, will feel an urge to immerse in a consoling spring of love and empathy.

Like Kathleen Murphy, the heartsore parent who had her daughter, Ashling, stolen away on the Tullamore bank of the Grand Canal on an accursed January afternoon.

"The last thing she'd say in the morning going out was 'Mam, I love you'," is Kathleen's wistful, soul-shredding, beautiful postcard from the palace of memory.

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Ashling’s parents Kathleen and Raymond and sister Amy

Ashling’s parents Kathleen and Raymond and sister Amy

Ashling’s parents Kathleen and Raymond and sister Amy

A mother's compassion extends beyond the reach of mortality.

They trade in the currency of love and their reserves of this emotional gold run deeper than any ocean.

Imagine, then, the anguish of those Irish mammies - some living, some who could not outrun the heartbreak and are gone to the afterlife - whose children vanished into thin air.

Annie McCarrick, Trevor Deely, JoJo Dullard, Fiona Pender, Deidre Jacob, Fiona Sinnott…

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Missing Trevor Deely

Missing Trevor Deely

Missing Trevor Deely

The roll call of names plays like a haunting lament for the women who, for nine months, carried them in their wombs.

Even after they give birth, a mother is not remotely inclined to sever the emotional umbilical.

In their eyes, a child - even as they surge into adulthood - is forever vulnerable, never outgrowing the need for their protection or guidance, the bulwark of their affection.

Listen to Vicky Phelan, selfless and heroic and maternal, even as the terrain before her shrinks.

Here she is, swimming in the joy of a February afternoon in the company of her 11-year-old son, Darragh.

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Vicky Phelan with her son Darragh (11) and mother Gaby Kelly after the ceremony awarding her the freedom of Limerick. Picture by Alan Place

Vicky Phelan with her son Darragh (11) and mother Gaby Kelly after the ceremony awarding her the freedom of Limerick. Picture by Alan Place

Vicky Phelan with her son Darragh (11) and mother Gaby Kelly after the ceremony awarding her the freedom of Limerick. Picture by Alan Place

"For me, these are the times my children will remember, the time I spent sitting down with them being a Mammy helping out with homework but also getting down to their level and doing stuff they're interested in.

"These are the days I live for," beamed that inspiring, brave ray of Limerick sunlight.

Nothing - not even terminal illness - can dull the warm circumference of her devotion to Darragh and Amelia.

Mothers are a constant, a landmark in their offspring's lives: they magnify our virtues, fret over our difficulties.

From the moment they conceive, they are reimagined as anxious guardian angels, their loyalty unbreakable, the urge to protect elemental, untouchable, a thing of forever.

I still recall the day in 2019 when my mother received a devastating terminal diagnosis. She cried desperate, unstoppable tears. Not for herself, her agony was that she would not be around to support my brother in a difficult time.

This is the miraculous effect of pure, high-grade love.

Consider the scarred souls of so many Ukrainian mothers.

Hell is unleashed on their cities and towns, an apocalyptic, unfathomable fanaticism that is deaf to love, blind to tenderness, a cold house for devotion.

Families are sundered, homes - familiar cathedrals of kindness - pummelled and flattened. Hope dies.

The able-bodied man the blood-soaked frontlines, as older, fragile parents and grandparents flee in terrified convoys even as the bombs thunder down on Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa, and broken, God-forsaken Mariupol.

A number of those mothers are taking refuge in Ireland this Sunday morning.

No greeting card from their besieged son will find its way across the continent to plop through their letterbox this morning.

Rather, they are alone, far from home, with their fears and desolation.

Many of us have lost the physical embodiment of our mothers to death, but their spirit endures, the memories immortal, as vital and sustaining as the air we breathe.

They made us, safeguarded us, drenched us in love. They were happy for us to become the measure of their dreams.

Content to dwell in the corner of life's photograph, unafraid to sacrifice to allow their child to prosper.

An evocative line from the great American novel Underworld goes like this: "Sometimes I see something so moving I know I'm not supposed to linger…if you stay too long, you wear out the wordless shock."

Think of Ukraine once more, the violation of decency, the distressing pictures of a lifeless body on a cratered street.

Without lingering too long, without wearing out the wordless shock, consider, on this day when we celebrate the women who carried us into the world, an unpalatable, unbearable truth.

That stricken corpse, that so recently animated creature transported to nothingness, is some mother's son.

Or daughter.

On their behalf, on behalf of all of us who no longer can, wrap your mother today in the embrace of your love.

I promise you, it is one reflex action, one gloriously ostentatious show of affection, you will never, ever regret.

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