Memories of Willie – my Uncle

Hamlet’s famous soliloquy that begins, “to be, or not to be” was one of Willie’s favourite passages. I remember this as at age four he had me learn it by heart while he was living with us at Portobello rd. I can still recite the passage, even though I never studied the play at school, yet not until this hour have these lines seemed so starkly relevant.


Willie first introduced the fateful lines to me and now it seems with his passing he has revealed their true meaning. You see, ‘till now, I’d never really thought about what they meant because they were simply symbols infused with happy memories of a man who was more of a big brother to me then than an Uncle: a partner in crime, a sibling, an eternal child, an ‘innocent’ of this world: That’s my infantile memory of him anyway.


How prophetic and apt the passage now is in my mind is overwhelming, though I understand that its steel may cut a little too close to the bone; this probably precludes them from being read out at the service and they aren’t really eulogizing in character anyway.


But for what its worth here they are, I’m sure you all know them.


To be, or not to be–that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep–

No more–and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep–

To sleep–perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause. There’s the respect

That makes calamity of so long life.

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely

The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,

The insolence of office, and the spurns

That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,

When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscovered country, from whose bourn

No traveller returns, puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprise of great pitch and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry

And lose the name of action. — Soft you now,

The fair Ophelia! — Nymph, in thy orisons

Be all my sins remembered.


To Maureen and Liam I extend my deepest condolences and my thoughts are with you both during these painful hours. I wish I could be with you and Willie in Boston.


What I realised last night is that Willie has been frozen in my minds eye as the unkempt, happy go lucky teenager who never wore a jumper to school, who lit a bonfire in a saucepan for me in the backyard, giving a four year old the best Halloween I’ve ever had. I’ve been missing him and grieving over him since he moved out 25 years ago.



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