My friend Theresa.
A dedication to an extraordinary life by Suzanne Taylor
My Friend Theresa
In September 2019, I lost my dear friend Theresa O’Mahony. Theresa’s passing remains
deeply raw for me, as her absence in my life cannot be filled and never will be. Although I
mourn for the loss of my friend, I am deeply aware that I am not alone in my grieving, and I
stand alongside Theresa’s family and friends in our shared sorrow. Theresa was a friend to
countless people for whom she cared, helped, and loved, and I am deeply honoured I was one
of those people.
In December 2019, thanks to the kindness and generosity of Enabled Archaeology; David
Connolly; Saskia Loughran; and Catherine Rees, I was given Theresa’s ticket to the
Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) conference at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, to
represent Theresa and to to speak about my dear friend. During the TAG conference, I was
very kindly looked after and cared for by Penny Foreman; Amy Talbot; and Kayt Hawkins,
who were themselves grieving Theresa’s loss, but who continued to support me with such
care and kindness, and comforting words. Their kindness and care I will never forget, nor the
kindness and care of Catherine Rees. These four dear friends continue to look after me and
care for me, and through their care, I feel close to Theresa.
During the TAG conference, the messages of love for Theresa from all those who contributed
to Theresa’s memorial board through written word; texts; spoken word; silent reflection; and
hugs, were a beautiful reflection of how much Theresa meant to them. Theresa touched so
many lives, and she had the unique ability of making every person feel special, and that they
were the most important person to her.
I would like to share the poem I read at the TAG conference in honour of Theresa. This poem
reminds me of Theresa so much-it is about a little grasshopper. But more than that, I think
this poem sings Theresa’s song-and asks Theresa’s questions, and in that way, it is profound
and eloquent, and directly to the point-as we know Theresa was.
The Summer Day-by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I meanThe one who has flung herself out of the grass,
The one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
Who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and downWho is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
Into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
How to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
Which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
I think if I were to have asked Theresa, ‘Why did you start Enabled Archaeology?’, I can
imagine her directly replying, ‘Tell me Suzie, what else should I have done?’ because for
Theresa, helping people was obvious. It was obvious to Theresa to stand up for those who
could not stand up for themselves; or for those who felt too afraid or too vulnerable to stand
up for themselves; or that it was too late to stand up for themselves. And like the narrator of
the poem, Theresa knew how to pay attention. That was the key to Theresa’s heart. She saw
everybody-especially the overlooked. Theresa saw those who were broken, those who were
lonely, those who had no voice. She saw everybody as visible-not invisible. She saw people’s
potential. She valued everyone, and believed everyone mattered and had a right to shine.
Theresa fought for those rights-even if it was at her own personal cost of fatigue, and
frustration, and feelings of self-doubt and helplessness. Like the narrator of the poem,
Theresa too, knew how to fall down. But Theresa also knew how to get back up and continue to fight. And where archaeology was concerned, for Theresa-there was no doubt:
Archaeology was for all. No exception. No exclusion. Only inclusion and acceptance-valuing
people, and treating them with respect and dignity.
I know first-hand, Theresa often felt that her best wasn’t good enough, and always worried
she was letting others down. I would tell her this was not true, but I could not convince her.
Theresa could never see her own light shining in the world. She could never see her own
transformative powers of taking people’s pain and turning it into ‘I will support you’; ‘I will
carry you’; ‘I will love you’; ‘I see you’; ‘I hear you’; ‘You are valued’; ‘You matter’; ‘I am
here’. Theresa saw how broken I was, and offered compassion and solace in my suffering. One of Theresa’s phone messages to me was ‘I’m here….a massive hug Suzanne’. Those messages really carried me through, as did our numerous phone conversations. And it didn’t matter at what time or day I needed my friend Theresa was always there for me. Our last message exchange was this:
‘Hi Theresa-just finishing my dinner…can I call you in 10 mins? xx’ To which Theresa
replied ‘Of course’. And then I sent Theresa an image of a girl holding a big heart. That was
our last personal exchange. It is another example of Theresa always making time for others.
‘Of course’ Theresa replied, because helping others more than just mattered to Theresa, it
was obvious to Theresa.
My happiest memory of Theresa was at the TAG conference in Chester, in December 2018.
Theresa and I were both so excited on that first day-Monday 17th December at Chester
University. The sun was shining, and I was so excited to be in Chester and giving a talk for
TAG as was Theresa. We took a few selfie photos, and I just remember the two of us
laughing and smiling. I attended Theresa’s talk on Tuesday the 18th December. She was so
eloquent-standing there with such an open heart, and full of conviction for Enabled
Archaeology. The following is a brief example what Theresa wrote on one of her slides for
- By practically showing UK archaeology how valuable dis/Abled enabled
archaeologists/participants can be in all areas of archaeology-EAF.
- Our very archaeological culture is starting to and will be changed to one of
equality, equity and inclusion for all dis/Abled enabled archaeologists/participants.
Returning to the poem ‘The Summer Day’, I can visualise Theresa with us right now-looking
at us with her ‘enormous and complicated eyes’ and asking all of us ‘Tell me, what is it you
plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ What can you do to support Enabled
Archaeology? The legacy of our friend Theresa O’Mahony needs to live on, so that as we
find ourselves offering kindness, compassion, love, and support to others, we will all be able
to say on Theresa’s behalf, ‘Tell me, what else should I have done?’.
I would like to finish my tribute to Theresa with a quote from another poem that reminds me
so much of Theresa and her enormous heart, personality, and spirit:
‘Be the Best of Whatever You Are’ by Douglas Malloch.
If you can’t be a highway then just be a trail,
If you can’t be the sun be a star;
It isn’t by size that you win or you fail-
Be the best at whatever you are!
Theresa-you were the highway; the trail; the sun; and the star. You were the best, of all that
you were. With my love, your friend, Suzanne. Xx
The Enabled Archaeology Guide
Theresa was a pioneer of Enabled and Inclusive Archaeological Practices. Please find some of her resources in this section.