Book Review: Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?
Seamus O'Reilly memoir epitomizes good grief
In our last issue, our top 5 books of 2022 all revolved around reflections of some sort: from reflections on current events to those of the past, each book held something that made us stop to think. With Séamus O'Reilly's Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?, reflection on grief takes center stage in an unexpectedly heartwarming and hilarious way.
In 1991 during the Troubles in Derry, Northern Ireland, and at only five years old, Séamus O'Reilly and his 10 (!) siblings lost their mother to breast cancer, leaving them in the care of their loving but frazzled father. What follows is the story of how the family learned to cope with the loss, both through grief and through the mundane, everyday tasks they had to take on to keep their household running.
The book gets its title from one of the O'Reilly family's favorite stories, that of a 5-year-old Séamus at his mother's wake. Not understanding the "solemnity, not to mention the permanence" of his mother's death, O'Reilly went around the wake "appalling each person on their entry to the room by thrusting my beaming, 3-ft. frame in front of them like a chipper little maître d', with the cheerful inquiry: 'Did ye hear Mammy died?'"
Don't take this book at its surface, though: while it may seem a lighthearted, funny retelling of a difficult time in the family's life, O'Reilly's story is also about the grief he experienced as he grew older and understood more definitively the loss of his mother at such a young age.
The memoir is an incredible feat in the fact that it proves that losing a parent does not mean the end of being a child. O'Reilly's father played a large part in this, bringing up his children as best he could while still helping them to maintain their childhood; while this may not have been the case for his older siblings, Séamus' age allowed him to continue being a kid, even if it meant the grief would surface later.
Through 13 essay-like chapters, this memoir gives readers a look into the lives of a family devastated by the loss of their matriarch, trying to live life as normally as they can. The only issue that can really be taken with Séamus O'Reilly's Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? is that this author didn't discover it in time for it to make 2022's Top 5 list.
Little, Brown and Company // 240 pages // Memoir