A selfless Drogheda woman who takes care of her four children with additional needs has been named Netwatch Louth Family Carer of the Year.
Marie Matthews from Newtown Meadows beat very stiff competition for the title – including that of her husband David – and was presented with her award at a ceremony in Fairways Hotel, Dundalk during the week.
Marie was a nominee in the Family Carers Ireland awards, the national charity supporting Ireland’s family carers.
"I was so surprised to win, especially since my husband, who is my main help and support, was also nominated,” says Marie with a smile. “But he doesn't bare a grudge and we can share the award!”
Marie cares full-time for two of her sons, Christian (10) and Kaleb (7). Christian has autism, a rare eye impairment called Duane's syndrome which means he has no peripheral vision, he is partially deaf and has a sensory processing disorder. Kaleb has a moderate to severe intellectual disability, epilepsy and is a wheelchair user.
It is a very busy household as there is also Jacob (4) and Benjamin (3) to care for who both have speech delays.
"I also have to share the award with my mum Diane Byrne, who knows the children so well, and is the only one who can really look after them if David and I have to go somewhere together,” explains Marie. “She is my rock, and I don’t know what I would do without her.”
Marie has fought to secure essential supports and services for her children, recently having to spend over three months to secure a wheelchair for Kaleb.
Despite the many challenges she faces, Marie has a very positive outlook on life and while she is an amputee herself, this doesn’t stop her.
A normal day is spent making sure everyone is dressed, fed and washed, doing the school runs and helping the boys with their homework. As a team, David and Marie focus a lot of their time stimulating Kaleb, as he finds it difficult to engage with others. Marie is working to pinpoint his triggers so as a family they can support him in the best possible way.
"You just have to keep going, so you may as well do it with a smile, but it can be exhausting,” she says. “I encourage other family carers to reach out for support as the caring role can feel isolating at times and I am so thankful that I have David beside me on our journey”.
Now in their 15th year, the Netwatch Family Carer of the Year Awards seek to recognise and shine a light on the remarkable contribution of the more than half a million people in Ireland who provide care at home to loved ones such as children or adults with additional needs, physical or intellectual disabilities, frail older people, those with palliative care needs or those living with chronic illnesses, mental health challenges or addiction.
The 19 million hours of unpaid care provided each week by family carers would cost the State €20bn a year to replace. Family carers often go unnoticed in the community despite the immense workload they take on and the significant commitment they show to those that they care for. This has particularly been the case during the pandemic with many left increasingly isolated.
“Caring for a loved one at home can be rewarding but it can also be challenging, particularly in the absence of vital supports and services including respite. This can take a toll on a person’s physical, mental, financial and social wellbeing. Often, a person can find themselves taking on the role of a family carer with little or no warning. These are mums, dads, sons, daughters, siblings, relatives, friends and colleagues who sometimes don’t even see themselves as family carers. They are doing extraordinary work that is too often unseen and undervalued,” adds Family Carers Ireland Community Support Manager for Louth and Meath, Páraic McGahey.
“These awards are an important event in our calendar every year as we seek to provide some small recognition to all of those who care at home for loved ones with additional needs and to ensure their stories are heard.
“As a charity, we want family carers to know that they are not alone and that we are here to help them no matter where they find themselves on their caring journey. As a society, we must ensure that family carers are not only recognised for their immense contribution, but truly supported to care safely at home.”