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Niamh Hopkins: How Gerry's dying has made me more afraid for my fiftysomething father than ever

I was very sad to hear of Gerry Ryan's death.

At the time of writing, the media is still full of reports on everything from his early career and achievements to his two loves and his lifestyle habits.

I don't particularly care for any of that but I was struck mostly by his death, (a) because I was a fan of the broadcaster's larger-than-life personality, and (b) because it is a reminder to anyone of my age that their parents are not invincible and that anyone with a penchant for the finer things in life, who tends to shun exercise and low fat in favour of good wine and a full steak, is playing Russian roulette with their lives, particularly as their 30s become a distant memory.

This in short sums up my dad -- I don't mind saying it.

Anyone who has ever met him knows how he likes to live life to the full, a typical old school journalist where a pint after work and a whiskey chaser was as much a part of his daily job routine as typing up a report or editing a story.

Like Gerry, my dad is in his mid-50s and could do with a losing a few pounds.


Since relocating to Belfast for work between Monday to Friday, he has had to put up with a multitude of harassing phone calls from myself in the past three years.

"Dad make sure you buy brown bread instead of white''; "Dad you shouldn't be drinking mid-week''; "Dad would you not try and get out for a walk'' and the champion nag I persist with: "Dad you really should try to give up the cigarettes.''

As a child, one of the hardest things to come to terms with is watching your parents grow older. Granted, I'm lucky that my dad is only in his 50s and my mother having had me at 19 is even younger in her 40s.

As the eldest child and eldest grandchild on both sides I've been even luckier to have all four of my grandparents around for a long time too.

But nevertheless my dad isn't as young as he once was and the stress of modern life has started to take its toll.

He has spent the best part of the last two weeks in and out of the Mater for tests on his heart.

It was a shock to hear he had gone in, as I would never have considered him at all in the 'old' and 'at risk' bracket.


And nowadays being in your 50s isn't old -- the 'empty nesters' have been fortunate to enjoy a second round at living life to the fullest, with the luckier of the generation enjoying second homes, extended holidays and coveted golf club memberships.

No one in today's world considers the 50s to be a 'danger zone', for slowing down, and even while persisting with the parental nagging, no one ever imagines a devastation such as the one visited upon the Ryan family.

However, nature has other ideas, and when energised guys like Gerry Ryan pass away suddenly it causes ripples among society -- it's so unexpected.

It has become normal now to carry a 'bit of weight', to be a constant smoker who's always about to give up, or to nurse a tumbler of whiskey or a half bottle of wine every night after a hard day.

So many of my friends' parents, along with my own, are in this category and it has become all too normal a lifestyle.

But it's not normal, and nature does not always afford us second chances with our health.

Nature doesn't care about stressful lives, debts and breakups in our parents' generation -- time ticks on regardless.

Unfortunately it was too late for Gerry Ryan, which saddens me as I'd take a wild guess that his caring children nagged him constantly about his lifestyle too.