A Dublin architect who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease three months ago is using his artistic talent as a painter to deliver a message of hope in a series of striking and thought-provoking paintings.
Fraser Holden (52) from Rathfarnham has suffered a rapid decline in health and can no longer walk, but his black and white paintings, which go on a fundraising exhibition later this month, tell of the inner light and optimism he holds on to.
The black symbolises death but the white shines through to show where there is light there is hope.
His paintings also convey how precious time is for everyone and how we need to be in the moment.
His wife Orlagh and daughter Oonagh (7) – who is contributing her own painting depicting her vision of the disease – are inspired by his spirit and courage.
Ms Holden said the exhibition shows how her husband is using his creative talent to stay on the “white side”, despite the enormous challenges of the illness.
She told how her husband – who worked with architectural firm Henry J Lyons – was in good health earlier this year and believed he had a trapped nerve which was causing him problems with his hip.
“He had a fall and thought it was his back because he had back problems years ago. The GP said he might need back surgery but he referred him to another doctor for further tests,” she said.
“He had an MRI and more tests. They said a worst-case scenario was motor neurone disease. We waited three weeks for results but believed they would be positive.”
However, the dreaded diagnosis turned out to be motor neurone disease, with a prognosis of two to five years of life.
She said she “thought that two to five years is a long time in child’s life”, so she would not need to break the news immediately to their only child.
However, because of the rapid deterioration in his health, the young girl now knows of her father’s illness.
Mr Holden can no longer fully walk, brushing his teeth and dressing himself is a difficulty, while his speech is slurred. “He can go up the stairs once a day but I have to be behind him,” said Ms Holden. “He cannot walk outside the house or do many of the things we take for granted every day.”
A few years ago he illustrated a book for his daughter when she was reluctant to let go of her soother.
“It is about giving up something. Now we will have to take the book out again because it’s about saying goodbye and going to a better place,” she added.
A measure of Mr Holden’s resilience and creativity is that he is studying music production which helps with his positive mental attitude.
He has also participated in a Virgin Media documentary which explores why as a country that is so good at funerals and death we find it so difficult to talk about dying.
The exhibition takes place at the Richmond Education and Event Centre on Brunswick Street, Dublin 7, at 7.30pm on October 20, and a number of Mr Holden’s fellow artists will also be taking part.
Proceeds from the art are going to the Motor Neurone Disease Association, and the ticket sales are going to support his personal journey.
He has taken great strength from former RTÉ journalist Charlie Bird who also has motor neurone disease and has been at the centre of heightened awareness of the condition and generating huge fundraising.
There are more than 420 people living with motor neurone disease in Ireland. Around 150 new cases are diagnosed annually.
The Holden family said they are very grateful for the support they have received.