THIS week my family lost a part of our world. An irreplaceable woman who leaves a space none of us knows how to fill.

When my children were babies, very, very young babies, and I was going to work, Marian Mead’s home was where they were reared. My husband’s Aunt Marian took our children, one after the other, as they entered the world, while her own children were in their teens and we became one big family.

No-one took Marian for a childminder. She was the second mummy in our family. In fact, I realised one day that my kids did indeed call her mummy when they were young. And it seemed so completely natural I didn’t mind in the slightest. There was no doubting she was always far better organised with my kids than I was. We left them into her house and our car would barely be out of the street and she would have them into a bath, with breakfast cooking downstairs. She would have their clothes and pyjamas washed, dried and ironed by the time we picked them up. They would have had a minimum – a bare minimum – of three meals in them. They were not in a minder’s house at all, they were in their second home.

And we took not one bit of the love and care Marian gave for granted. We cherished the single most generous woman we had ever known sharing her love with our children, and we were eternally grateful.

Marian was born a McKenna and grew up in Andersonstown. She was a seamstress, working in the Ladybird factory. If she had been a man she might well have been described as the strong, silent type. Not that she was ever short of conversation, but when a job needed to be done or a hardship endured, Marian stood firm and led from the front.

Whether visiting her young brothers in prison during the conflict, raising a young family in an economically deprived West Belfast, nursing her late husband John Mead while he battled lung cancer, or fighting her last battle with the savagery of pancreatic cancer, Marian defined courage and stoicism. She did not complain, she did not baulk, she stood strong and fought.

That example lives in her children, Kim, John and Heather, who have lost their mummy at an impossibly young age. But there is no-one who doubts that despite their pain they will continue to flourish into the wonderful adults that they are. All because Marian Mead raised them, gave them her example and was determined that they would be her legacy.
Our own children are of course heartbroken. They haven’t just lost an aunt or a close friend, they have lost their second mummy. And we are lost too.

All of the photographs of our best days have Marian smiling in them. All of our memories of our worst days include Marian standing at our side.

I know every family faces the moment when they cannot reconcile the loss of a loved one or the thought of a future without them. The only thing that gets us through is knowing that our love is made true by our testimony to its memory. We can only hope to do justice to Marian’s memory.

Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a anam álainn.