Graces bestowed this Christmas

Had one of my nicest Christmases ever this year, thanks be to God! We managed to get my father over from Ireland to spend a week (20th-27th) with me + my fellow Brothers in our community. With Mum bedridden but comfortable and well looked after in her nursing home in Kilmallock, Co. Limerick, Dad (83 years old), who had just spent 4 weeks in hospital himself (physio initially for his extreme difficulties walking - then treatment for severe diarrhoea that lasted 7 days, then the 'flu...) would have had to spend Christmas by himself in his bungalow, or go into Mum's home (no way he wanted that), or get farmed out to an Irish relative (like last year - not a total success). So my sister went over and flew with him (wheelchair + plane lift service in each airport courtesy of Ryanair) from Shannon to Liverpool. The night my sister spent with us here before going back to her home in Bushey, Herts. was in itself full of unexpected graces.

Dad at our Christmas dinner.

Dad seemed to really enjoy the company of the other Brothers (+ invited guests) during the week and said he really enjoyed coming to Mass with us in the community on 3 consecutive days (24th-26th, thanks to our good friend Fr. Des Power, ex-De La Mennais Brother and recently retired). I also managed to take him out (zimmer frame in tow) to some friends of mine for a few meals and a couple of Irish music sessions. Even managed to get him to pick up the drum sticks for the first time in 3 years. He'd been a semi-professional drummer, gigging in jazz and English folk bands up to 4 times a week for 40-odd years of life in English exile. Butcher by day, drummer by night.

The banjo beside me was my grandfather's. My Dad got it reconditioned last year and gave it to me. It's a lovely instrument with a gorgeous, rich tone. Just which I could do it justice. At least I had a chance to play it with my Dad playing next to me. Meant a lot.

My Dad said that whilst he was in hospital they diagnosed him as having the beginnings of Parkinson's. Apparently his decreased mobility is a sign of this. His memory is also starting to go. He is fully aware of this but is determined to keep fighting and still live on his own in his Knocklong bungalow (Co. Limerick). It's very hard for us with none of his children living in Ireland (my parent retired back there in '92). Fortunately he has a few wonderful neighbours in his not-very-big village. Myself and one of my sisters share duties of going over for weekends as much as possible. Lots to sort out for him to prepare for the eventual... the time when home help visits and caring neighbours will no longer be enough.

So "carpe diem" basically! Trying to give him things to look forward to, experiences he never gave himself whilst he could (weekends in Connemara, a week in a Spanish apartment...). Fortunately he is motivated, gets himself up, looks after the bungalow as best he can, gets over to Mum's nursing home 8 miles away at least 3 times a week on his own, despite driving being a challenge to him now.

And trying to make the most of the time we have left with him around...

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