Tuesday 24 April 2018

The Other Side of Christmas: 'Nothing can prepare you for the pain of being alone'

Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

John Reid is 79 years of age living in a retirement residence in Dublin. Four years ago, he lost his wife and best friend Teresa.

Almost two years, he suffered an injury to his spinal cord that caused extensive damage to his body. But he remains positive this Christmas.

"People ask me how I can be so positive, especially with Teresa only gone so recently but she wouldn't know me any other way," he said.

"The first year was very hard but, the good spirits I'm in, she helped me be like that."

John will spend this Christmas alone at home in Chapelizod. But he will not be lonely.

"I won't be able to leave the apartment but I have enough people coming around," he told independent.ie.

"My next door neighbour and his partner will be probably be dropping by and then I have my friend Jimmy [a 64-year-old who lost his own wife to cancer] across the way.

"Jimmy is great - me and Jimmy are here a long time. There is nothing that Jimmy couldn't put his hand to fix for ye.

"He's like myself, he's zany!"

John has two siblings Margaret (Margo) and Lawrence, both with two adult children respectively, and he is in regular contact with them.

"Margo will be over to be on Christmas Eve and on St Stephens Day - and she'll probably bring dinner - so I won't be stuck."

Throughout his daily life, John relies on homecare services for food and medical assistance.

An occupational therapist also calls out to attend to his physiotherapy needs  "which she can only do so much on" and passes recommendations on to the local community nurse.

Sometimes John has to stay in bed for an entire day on one side to assist the healing of bed sores - "but they put me in such a way that I can look around and look at telly".

"I'm an optimistic, I was never a pessimist. I find that optimists nearly always work out ten times better than a pessimists," he laughed.

"I don't see the end product before it happens but I also have a fair idea so I say 'give it a go and carry on'. I'm not going to start worrying now."

Despite an exceptionally upbeat outlook, even John has his melancholic moments around the festive season.

"I would miss her [his wife Teresa] around Christmas because her birthday was New Year's Eve.

"She was the fore woman; she was the main attraction at the family parties.

"As a person, very caring very sharing, she gave presents and clothes away.

"She was so beautiful to come home to - she was always has laughing eyes, smiling eyes.

"She would make me feel ashamed at times for being cranky.

"Teresa wouldn't know me if I was any other way. I'd made an eejit out of myself just to make her happy."

He shares his grief at her passing almost four years ago in a heartbreakingly honest way.

"After she died I went up to Liffey Valley where we used to go and everything was just a noise to me - nothing was real," he said.

"I drank every night after she died, just for company. I heard her voice for a week or two from the bedroom for about a week or two after she died." 

ALONE gave John a hamper two weeks ago "the press is packed" and will be delivering Christmas dinner to John on Christmas Day.

CEO Sean Moynihan told independent.ie that the voluntary organisation aims to help elderly people get the additional support they need to age at home.

Whether through ill health, financial trouble, poor housing or homelessness, ALONE's volunteers aim to help the additional 20,000 over 65s in Ireland every year where needed, regardless of location.

"Loneliness and isolation is one of the biggest issues that elderly people in Ireland face," he said.

"Some 1 in 10 of our over 65s suffer from chronic loneliness. We want to spread awareness that this is just a condition that will pass, that we can help out with.

"People are being left out and people are feeling the pain of that. Nothing can prepare you for the pain of being alone."

If you would like to get involved with the ALONE community - through volunteering, fundraising or donating, access their site here.

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