Memories & Milestones & a Holy Mountain in Ireland

This has been a hard week for me, full of memories and milestones. I haven’t been overly private about my family’s loss of two of my sisters to cancer. I’ve even written about how the death of my second sister spurred me into action on my writing, clearly reminding me that we have limited time here on this earth. 

This week marks the six-year anniversary of my sister Karen’s passing and the 21st birthday of my nephew, the son of my sister Marilyn who died in 2003. My nephew’s 21st birthday necessitated that I access some documents that my sister had written before her death. I am always surprised by how emotional I get when I see my sister’s precise, even handwriting in her detailed notes and lists.

So, while I was attempting to continue on with my own insurmountable life list, this throat-clenching feeling of loss grabbed me and wouldn’t let go—until this morning.

My husband forwarded an article to me about a family climbing Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s 2500-feet-tall holy mountain. I knew why this had caught his eye—we had climbed Croagh Patrick as a family in 2007. (Well, I have to be honest. I only managed about 3/4s of the trip that time and waited patiently for my family to return, sitting on a boulder with the clouds rolling in and misting me with some lovely Irish rain.) The second time in 2009, I determinedly made it to the top with him.

In the Wall Street Journal article, the family was making a third trip. Their first trip was as newlyweds backpacking across Ireland, the second was with their family, and now on their third trip they were making a special pilgrimage to honor the memory of their deceased daughter. They carried with them a rock engraved with her name in the old Celtic Ogham alphabet and planned to place it on the altar in the small chapel, which sits on the top of this precipice.

I will be the first to admit that climbing this mountain is difficult. It looks like a deceptively simple hike from the bottom and is a relatively easy climb for about the first half to two-thirds. When the hard-packed path gives way to loose rocks and shale, you begin to doubt the sanity of your decision to make the trip.  They talk about the difficulty of the climb in the article and recount the details of their previous climbs.

The poignancy of this family’s journey to remember their daughter and her joy on a happy day when she stood a top Croagh Patrick, is a remarkable story. It brought me some peace today.

We live, we love, we mourn, we remember, and we celebrate. We celebrate every single day we have, knowing that no one who we have lost would want it any other way.

Our son graduates from high school this week, one of his big sisters is celebrating her upcoming marriage with a bridal shower, and another sister is returning from a life-changing experience documenting elder oral histories on the Navajo Nation. 

New milestones. New memories.

And maybe I will go back to Croagh Patrick one day with my own rock of remembrance for my sisters.


It's amazing, when you think about it, how a small rock can mean so much. May is always a tough month for me because both of my parents died in the spring. Your blog reminded me of my mother. She used to pick up a small rock from every place she visited, and so her filing cabinet was full of small bags of rocks, some neatly labeled; others, mysterious. I'm sure my mother would appreciate the sentiment of a rock carried to the top of Croagh Patrick, and so someday I will make that pilgrimage for her.
Thank you for such a beautiful idea.

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