Friday 19 April 2019

'I'll spend Christmas Day alone in my bedsit, and I worry that it'll be my last' - Eugene (60)

The festive season can be very lonely for people like Eugene McCarthy (60), who lives on his own in a Dublin bedsit

Home alone: Eugene McCarthy outside his bedsit in Rathmines. Photo: Tony Gavin
Home alone: Eugene McCarthy outside his bedsit in Rathmines. Photo: Tony Gavin

Eugene McCarthy

This Christmas I'll get up at 10am. The last six years I've got up earlier and gone to Christmas dinners hosted by different support organisations, but this year will be different. My health isn't good - I've respiratory problems - so I can't go out anywhere smoky and noisy. I'll be staying home and taking it easy.

It's my first year with ALONE and they're going to bring me my Christmas meal. My volunteer says she'll bring it round - she's lovely, she's like a daughter to me - but apart from her, I don't expect anyone else to call.

I've been settled in accommodation now since 2011 and before that, I had a history of homelessness. I've a lovely warm flat. It's small, it's confined, it's a bedsit really with a medium sized big room and a kitchen and toilet, but it's in a nice area of Dublin and I appreciate it something terrible.

On Christmas Day, I'll stay indoors and watch television the rest of the day. I'm lucky, I have Virgin Media. I'm one of those homeless people who gave up a lot of bad habits.

Now I spend my money on the TV. I like that Virgin Media has Christmas FM on it for a few weeks. That's a priority for me and I tune into that for a few hours on Christmas and I think about my parents.

I miss family terribly. Christmas used to be a very happy time for me but when your parents die, it dies off. It would be impossible for them to be alive now - my father would be 106 - but the loss is still there and Christmas is changed.

Eugene in his bedsit watching TV. Photo: Tony Gavin
Eugene in his bedsit watching TV. Photo: Tony Gavin

My father was a lovely man and he gave us a great Christmas. And my mam was a very gentle woman - she made a great Christmas dinner! I grew up with my siblings in Cork. I think at one point there were five of us in the attic room of a terrace, so it was a full house.

I'm the youngest. I loved building snowmen with everyone and playing in the snow and ice. I used to love getting up on Christmas morning and having a stocking full of goodies, sweets and coins and we always used to get a selection box.

I don't bother putting up a tree or decorations now, my flat is very bare. It's a lonely time of the year for me. I don't have family in Dublin.

I never went into relationships and I wasn't blessed with a family. Christmas is basically a time for children. And when you're older and you have no children, it's very hard. Children are a great support.

Christmas is just not a happy time of the year for everyone, especially if you're elderly and on your own. But support from friends is important too and sometimes I have friends round, like my Crosscare support worker. She does a great job and helps me out once a week, but Crosscare don't come on Christmas Day. I treat her like my niece and like to buy her a Christmas present.

I buy a few things for my neighbours too who are very close and I sent my Christmas cards out a few weeks ago. I've got two cards through the post so far - one from a neighbour and one from my eldest sister.

I'm not totally immobile. I was able to go into town last week and do my Christmas shopping and see the new extension to the green line Luas, but I get bad turns.

My health isn't good and my body is aching, I haven't always treated it well and I worry that this Christmas could be my last. I hope it isn't.

I'm going to one Christmas party this year - the St Vincent de Paul one - which I'm looking forward to. I don't celebrate the religious part of Christmas though, I just treat it as a winter holiday.

What I really look forward to is what comes after Christmas. I look forward to New Year because it always feels like a fresh start.

When ALONE brings me my dinner, I'll eat it on a special chair I have in front of the television. I have a table, but it's covered in medication and I wouldn't sit at a table on my own anyway. At 7pm I'll go to bed. It's in the same room as the television so I'll watch a bit more TV until about 9pm and then I'll go to sleep.

It is lonely. But I don't want people feeling sorry for me. I'm very lucky in some ways and blessed in so many ways. I gave up a lot of addictions. Years ago, I was sleeping rough and compared with now, I feel very fortunate to have a roof over my head.

Last Christmas, I was in hospital right up to Christmas Eve and in 2009 and 2010 I was in emergency accommodation and only had turkey sandwiches to eat on Christmas Day.

I feel I have a lot of support from various organisations and I'd be lost without ALONE - they do great work. This really is a great country for people like myself. The support organisations have done so much for me. But they need donations.

Now that I can, I like to make donations to charities at Christmas and I donate to ALONE and St Vincent de Paul. I used to support animal charities too but humans have to take priority.

The number of people facing homelessness at the moment is scary and it's important to do what you can to help.

To support ALONE, visit alone.ie.

In conversation with Chrissie Russell

Irish Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Life