My Week In Happy: remembering Muriel

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It feels slightly wrong to start a blog entry about my grandmother passing away with my usual “My Week In Happy” prefix, but at 90 years old Muriel Breen did have a long and happy life. I am grateful that she continued to enjoy her interests into later life, that she made friends easily and had a kind heart.

She was the mother of my mother Carol, wife of my late grandfather Gerard Breen, and grandmother to myself and my brother Ellis – we called her ‘Granny’. She was a dear friend and confidante to my mother through thick and thin.

Granny with me on my graduation day in the gardens of the Shackleton Building.

Granny with me on my graduation day in the gardens of the Shackleton Building.

Muriel was a talented painter and pastel artist well into her eighties, loved the ballet and saw the funny side in everyday things.

She had an amazing spirit and was extremely independent, living in her own home until she passed away. This was made possible with the care of my mother, who was with Granny until the very end.

In the last five years of her life Muriel became increasingly frail and struggled with the limitations of her ageing body. The biggest blow was when stomach problems left her only able to eat foods that were pureed or disintegrated easily in the stomach.

She really missed being able to have the foods that she loved and preparing something palatable became a focus of each day. It became something of an obsession and even my mother’s patience was tested after hearing about Granny’s special trifle recipe for what must have felt like the millionth time!

I asked my brother to write something in memory of Granny and this is what he said.

My memories of Granny, by Ellis

Farewell Muriel

Muriel with a photograph of Venice by Carol Breen (modelled by Ellis Breen).

She was always upbeat, positive, loving and humorous. She loved to talk endlessly but always had time to listen to anyone as well. My first memories of Granny were formed when I visited her home with Granddad. She had a poodle who was as loving and vivacious as her owner.

Later she moved to be closer to Mum and, after Granddad passed away, enthusiastically resumed one of her great passions: ballroom dancing. I was always impressed by her energy and love of life and for some time she had a very lively social life which many of the younger generation would envy.

I had talked a little to her about her time before my birth in recent years, but in some visits over this last Christmas, despite a failing memory, she elucidated with great clarity on many parts of this. Her love of ballroom dancing dated back to the WWII era, and she enjoyed any opportunity to socialise.

She had done very well at school, and had wanted to continue her education, but opportunities for women to do so after the war were severely limited. Instead, after settling down with Granddad, and looking after Mum in her early years, she ran a small shop and became a well-loved member of the community.

She was a keen reader all her life, and loved culture of all kinds – a passion which she passed on to the rest of the family.

The times of her youth were tougher, and more socially conservative in many ways, but her pragmatic and positive spirit seems to have got her through.

She always looked on the bright side even in the last few difficult years. Probably my fondest memory of her was seeing her delighted as I, my sister and Granddad kicked a football around in the park. She always took the greatest pleasure in seeing others enjoying themselves.

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