‘Into the Grey’ is a collection that follows the poet as she lives with the impact of dementia on her two uncles, John and Brendan, and its toll on the family members who cared for them. It is a journey that will be familiar to many families.
While the collection is at times agonisingly sad, at its core it is filled with love. The poet does not shy away from the hardship of loving someone with dementia, but moments of decline are balanced with moments of devotion and, for all its tragedy, it is a journey filled with tenderness.
All profits from ‘Into the Grey’ will be shared by Our Lady of Fatima Home, Tralee, Co. Kerry and Aras Mhuire Nursing Home, Listowel, Co Kerry.
This is a book of love, a woman’s unconditional love. The poet’s uncles, Fr. John and Brendan Kennelly, suffered from dementia at the end of their lives and Mary writes of travelling with them on that final journey. Formally assured, ‘Into the Grey’ guides us through the heart of darkness. It is strong, yet tender, and the poems are lucid, accessible and a joy to read.
Gabriel Fitzmaurice – Poet
Mary Kennelly’s poems for our age are heartbreakingly honest. The beauty of her writing is in the observation of lives in decline but always vivid and ever so alive.
Billy Keane – Writer
Subtle rhythms, soft rhymes and broad vowel sounds draw a loving cloak around these uncompromising poems which chart a niece’s ever-changing relationship with two beloved uncles as they suffer mental and physical decline due to dementia. The two main sections of the book contain poems which directly address each of the uncles in turn: Fr John Kennelly and his brother, poet Brendan Kennelly. These often poignant poems invite us into the private space shared by carer and uncles and allow us to feel how they are all “recast” by the experience. To read this wise, compassionate book is to convey along the road these three people “ambushed by a dark falling too soon”.
Eileen Sheehan – Poet
‘We are not alone in our loneliness
Others have been here and known
Griefs we thought our special own.’ (Patrick Kavanagh)
In 2021, The Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland noted that 30 people were diagnosed with dementia each day. They also predict that the number of people with the condition will more than double in the next 25 years to over 150,000 by 2045. So many of us have been affected by this cruel, inexorable and unforgiving disease, helpless to stop the relentless and devasting slide into oblivion of those that we love. Mary Kennelly’s ‘Into the Grey’ is a collection of elegies dedicated to her two uncles, John and Brendan, who gradually and inevitably succumbed to their illness in 2020 and 2021 respectively.
For anyone who has cared for a dementia sufferer, Kennelly’s poems will have what Seamus Heaney calls ‘a ring of truth in the medium’. She charts the sufferer’s journey with consummate skill and overwhelming empathy, sensitive to the fact that, while all consuming, dementia is only the final part of a rich life story and the role of the poet is to both commemorate and celebrate all that has preceded it. In her poems, John and Brendan are never reduced to array of symptoms labelled with a final diagnosis, but their journey is succinctly summarised when the poet notes that ‘Piece by piece your picture was steadily undone’. This collection has poems full of love, humour and understanding, interspersed with concurrent moments of anger, shame, bitterness and regret. She charts the huge sense of loss for those left behind to witness the decay and change with the incremental disappearance of a personality as it slips ‘into the grey’. The poems explore the insidious nature of dementia as it slowly loosens the grip on life, and the overwhelmingly tragic nature of this decline is beautifully captured with the final holding of hands, a physical union at the end of a torturous road.
John and Brendan Kennelly were unlucky to have encountered this life-taking disease, but they were fortunate to have had Mary as their fellow traveller. ‘Into the Grey’ is a hauntingly moving journey into the cracked heart of the end of life and Mary Kennelly is a perceptive, astute and reflective chronicler of this. These poems should be on the bedside locker of anyone who has to face dementia in its many guises as they will almost certainly hear their own experiences reverberate on page after page. The collection achieves what all poets desire, namely a connection between the essence of life and the written word, and we are the better for it. Poetry is fundamentally an act of sharing, and ‘Into the Grey’ shines a humane light on a dark space, illuminating the fundamental loneliness of dementia with the generous spirit of the poet.
Dr. John McDonagh, Senior Lecturer, Dept. of English Language and Literature,
Mary Immaculate College, Limerick