Portrait of A Marriage

When a family funeral reflects a happy union

My sister-in-law Louise Kenny died in February, aged 86, and at her very nice, peaceable and simple funeral at Mount Jerome I learned about aspects of her life that I had never known. This sometimes happens at funerals, which is why they make good openings for stories or drama.

I knew that Louise, who was a slender, pretty brunette, had always been a “loner”, because she told me so herself. She was one of seven O’Reilly children growing up Greystones, Co Wicklow, but despite the necessary gregariousness of a large family, she loved being alone. She’d come home from school as a child, and immediately go upstairs to her bedroom just to be alone. She was born with a spirit of independence and self-reliance. As a teenager, her sister Connie told me, she’d go to the cinema alone.

Louise worked as a secretary, first, for CIE, because she loved travel, and if you worked for CIE in those days, you benefited from travel concessions extending to Britain and Continental Europe. She was good at her job, and had a great aptitude for bookkeeping and accounts, and thus she flourished at work. But what she really loved was travel in her holidays and she did plenty of that.

Her sister then told me that until she was almost 30, Louise never had a boyfriend. Well, maybe she did, but they never saw any evidence. She was such a quiet girl, satisfied with her own company, her travel and her movie habit. She was also a gifted seamstress and could run up dresses and costumes in a trice. Her crochet work was beautiful. She could knit to beat the band.

And then, one day, when she was about 30, she brought home my brother Carlos Kenny. They had been married. Quietly, in Chelsea, in the Servite Church on the Fulham Road.

Now, if an experienced matchmaker, or an accomplished Internet date specialist, had decided to match up two people to make a couple, I would imagine that Carlos and Louise would never been paired. If Louise was quiet, clever with numbers, sober, liked her own company,  Carlos was, in youth,  wildly extrovert, a brilliant and loquacious talker, a boozer – and how! – and had knocked around Dublin, London and Paris with the wild bunch. He was a great man for the ladies.

If we’re talking in stereotypes, Louise might have been seen, in the day, as the typical reserved spinster, with her steady job and solitary hobbies.  Carlos was the total opposite, or, at least it seemed so to his own family.

We were never told where they met one another, but when my mother learned they had married she uttered a Hallelujah. “He’s her problem now!” she cried, joyously.

Thus the Irishwoman’s lore: a man is a problem who is handed from his mammy to his wife. Well, it can be true. Some men need a firm hand to keep them in order.

But the professional matchmakers who would never have put Louise and Carlos together would have been wrong. It was a match made in heaven: maybe it was made in heaven. This was one of the happiest marriage I have ever known. (Actually, my second brother’s marriage was very happy too, so the Mammy must have done something right.)

But Carlos and Louise, so unexpectedly, were the very template of two in one flesh. They were so contentedly happy together that they didn’t really need anyone else. There were no children.

About two years after the marriage, they were visiting Louise’s mother in Greystones, and Mrs O’Reilly said – as Mammies were wont to, in those days: “Now, is there any sign of a baby? Isn’t it about time?”

My brother was always quick with a witty, or ironic, riposte, which still managed to sound tactful.

“Ah, Mrs O’Reilly,” said he. “Sure we mustn’t be saying the right prayers!”

You could take that any way you liked. Whether Louise and Carlos ever wanted children or ever hoped for them, we do not know. They seemed so complete without a family.

My own mother worried that Louise might be too “delicate” to bear a child – she had had a brush with TB as a young woman (that might have added to her sense of solitariness: a teenage illness often has that effect.) She had also lost a sister when young. Ma definitely didn’t want anything risky to happen to Louise.

Anyway, they were married for fifty years and had a great life together. They chose to live modestly, and to spend whatever their resources were on Continental travel. That was their great common interest. As time went by, I came to see they had more in common that was at first apparent. They also had a good influence on one another. Carlos calmed down under her subtle control, and Louse became, to me, more extrovert.

Carlos died in 2010, and I still miss him: but, by heaven, he was a lucky man to have found Louise. I hope she counted herself lucky too. She certainly loved him. After he departed, her self-sufficiency stood to her, but nothing was the same, and a gradual decline began.

The story of their marriage has convinced me, however, that there is such a thing as “the one” – the perfect partner in life, the spouse you were born to meet. There are those who deny this idea – they say there is no single, destined “one”. The statistical view is that there is just opportunity, time, chance, and maybe a really good search engine on the Internet. There can be a range of “ones” – life partners who may be all suitable.

Not everyone is destined to find “the one”. But, miraculously, Carlos and Louise surely did. @MaryKenny4