'There are days where she’s sick herself and she just gets on with it' - Daughter of woman voted Carer of the Year
Irish Red Cross Carer of the Year Eileen Cunniffe is a full-time carer for not just one, but two people.
Eileen’s husband Liam had a stroke eight years ago and her mother Colleen Curley was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia six years ago.
Eileen’s daughter Emma said: “Although Dad is independent in a lot of ways, brain injury has affected his coordination, and his personality is altered a lot. With Granny, her short-term memory isn’t great, and some nights she’d be up five or six times a night, so Mam doesn’t really get to sleep much at night.”
“She has two people with mental health issues which is a lot to take on when you’ve your own family and grandkids as well.”
Eileen’s week is a “whirlwind of constant appointments” – both in hospital and with the doctor, while Eileen also ensures Liam and Colleen take all of their medication.
“She’s the kind of person who would put everybody before herself,” says Eileen’s other daughter Colleen. “She’s always been that way inclined, it’s just in her personality, it’s in her nature.
“Obviously there are days where it would be quite stressful and it is exhausting, it is tiring for her but she just does it, she gets on with it, even if there are days where she’s sick herself or there’s things going on, she just – they just don’t make them like her anymore!”
Eileen has also become involved in an Alzheimer’s Association Memory Café which was set up by Fiona Carmody and Aoife Tynan and meets once a month.
“Mam volunteers there because she knows what other families are going through and she bakes for that,” says Emma.
“She goes down and chats with those who need to talk - it’s an outlet for other families who are struggling with a family member being diagnosed. With all that she’s doing – she’s trying to give a bit back to the community as well. She’s great, she’s very much a selfless person and I would say definitely a person who’s full of empathy. She’s always able to feel what other people are going through.”
The Irish Red Cross Carer of the Year Awards acknowledges the vital role carers play in looking after the most vulnerable members of our society. This is an annual award open to all voluntary carers in Ireland. This award acknowledges the dedication of carers at home and in the community, who display true humanitarian values.
“It’s nice for her, just to say thank you, and for her to be acknowledged for the work she does in the background,” explains Emma. “A lot of people probably won’t even know what goes on behind closed doors or what people have to go through on a daily basis - there is a lot to be dealt with. Even at night time, most people are able to lay their heads down and get a good night’s sleep whereas Mam still has a full-time job throughout the night making sure that granny is ok and that she’s safe, and to comfort her.”