Sunday, 28 July 2013

Birthday Blues in Ballyronan

I've been in Northern Ireland this week visiting Dad.  Took the camera and snapped away as usual for the record.  And could now put together another 'happy' post with what I gathered.  But...
that wouldn't be a true reflection of my week because the reality was not that happy at all.

This week Dad had his 81st birthday.  A year ago on his 80th we had a big celebration.  All his 5 daughters and 11 grandchildren ages 3-20 gathered in Ballyronan, a rare occurence since we are scattered widely around Britain and beyond.  It was wonderful - the extended family got together in a local hotel.  A friend who was was in a band provided the entertainment.  Clever crafty sister created a cake reflecting Dad's love of crosswords and included all the grandchildren's names; I wrote a poem about his life; Kate and her cousins did a dance.  Unfortunately this year's birthday wasn't so happy.

Dad has always remained optimistic in the most difficult of situations. And there have been a few of these.  But this week he was as low as I have ever seen him.  His legs have let him down: one arthitic hip and an infection in the other leg have left him almost immobile, struggling to shuffle between the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen with the aid of a zimmer frame.  He's in a lot of pain with his leg. And he can't even do his crossword properly anymore as he has cataracts growing on his eyes so can't see the clues. He conceded defeat after a recent fall and the infection and has finally agreed to have some help beyond that provided by kind friends, neighbours and members of our extended family.  So carers now come and help him wash and dress each morning.

It breaks my heart to see him like this.  It seems no time since he was hoisting bales of straw for the cattle on his shoulder and whistling as he went about his work on the farm.  And barely a year ago if we arrived on a Sunday, he'd have cooked a full roast dinner.  And a trifle for pudding. 

The carers I saw last week were without exception kind and compassionate.  It's not always the same one but the lady I saw a few times was lovely - chatting away to him as she worked about her family as he told her about us.  Yet it's all so undignified.  She called him 'pet'.  He hates feeling this useless and is frustrated and unhappy about his situation.  He's hoping that the hip replacement that he's on the list for will improve his mobility.

It wasn't all bad.  He has a mobility scooter which helps him get out of the house.  So we went up and had a look at his garden which is tended by another cousin.  Leeks and beetroot doing well.  So were the scallions (or spring onions to you English people).  Plenty of tomatoes in the greenhouse, but none ripe yet, but he was cross as his lettuces had been eaten by rabbits.  And a blackcurrant bush heavily laden with ripe fruit, unlike my barren bush at home.  I picked some and made a pie.   And we took a trip to the marina, Dad, me, my sister and Kate.  We walked to the 'lighthouse' and through the woods.  He bought us Mr Whippy ice creams.

View of Ballyronan Marina from Dad's house

I'm not much use. I'm not comfortable doing the physical care and too far away to help with everyday stuff.  So I tried to help by cooking him proper meals with local new potatoes.  Put some in the freezer. For his birthday I made a rhubarb tart the way mummy used to do it.  Memories of better times.

My Rhubarb Tart
He's lucky I suppose to live in a community where people still look out for the elderly who live alone.  I suspect I won't be so lucky when it's my turn. Found myself checking out my pension this week after another birthday brings me closer to the age where I can claim it.  Like dad I'm wondering where the time's gone.


  1. Sorry to hear about your Dad's change of health. It must be difficult for you being away from home but as you say it's good that he is surrounded by people who care.

  2. Your post really touched me.
    My Dad saw his oncologist today to finalise plans for the assault upon his cancer. He came back with Mum looking... well... looking lost. And Mum is finding his cancer harder to deal with than her own cancer diagnosis last year.
    They are 'young' elderly.
    72 and 69.
    They have always seemed so vigorous. They have kept my home and cared for my kids for the last 23 years. Looking after my father-in-law when my husband and I worked. And holding down their own f/t jobs for the first 15 years of that 23.
    I just see a shift.
    It happens when you're not looking. And when you turn back they are just a little frail. Less confident. Won't drive abroad now. Take coach tours. Have stents fitted.
    I am certain they will be fine and will see this cancer away.
    But your post struck such a chord.
    Oh where does the time go. Lovely blog. Thank you. :-)