Always look on the bright side of caring

EIGHT years ago, Noel Kerrigan’s life was “turned upside down’’ when his beloved wife, Christina, had a dense stroke.

She was left speechless, and paralysed down her right side. Since that fateful day, Noel has cared for her.

“It changed our lives over-night. Our world was turned upside down and we couldn’t do anything about it,’’ says Noel, 82, a retired machinery fitter from Navan, Co Meath.

“I will never forget that day — Feb 5, 2005 — when she had the stroke. To find out that she couldn’t say anything was an awful shock. We are hardly over it still. To look at her trying to say something, pointing at something, it is pitiful. But without these gestures, we would be sunk altogether,’’ he says.

Noel is so dedicated to his wife that last month he won the Irish Heart Foundation’s Carer’s Award, having been nominated by his daughter, Caroline.

“It is hard to put into words why I nominated him, there are so many reasons. He is a phenomenal man and a phenomenal carer. He has had to change his life around since mammy had her stoke,’’ Caroline says.

“He has had to learn from the very beginning how to cook, how to clean. He has had different challenges every day and he has met them head on.’’

Without Noel’s care and attention, the family says that Christina would not be able to live at home. Every day, Noel showers and dresses her, assuring ensuring that she is immaculately presented, before getting on with the daily household tasks.

“It is a full-time job. In fact, it is more than a full-time job, it is a 25-hour job. I would love that extra hour in a day,’’ he says, laughing.

“I was shocked at how hard it is to run a house. I was shocked at how much work my wife got through and did it so efficiently. I don’t get through half of it, or in the same way she used to.’’

Not surprisingly, Noel has had to learn fast. There hasve been the odd disaster over the years — a burnt pot or two — but nothing that they could not survive. A sense of humour is vital.

“I make her porridge every morning, which is very important and she likes it. Although she did tell me once that mine wasn’t as nice as the hospital’s, which took me down a peg or two,’’ he says, laughing loudly.

“She was a great cook, a very active woman, and, yes, she is still the woman I married,’’ he says.

Next April, Noel and Christina will celebrate 60 years of marriage. They met at a local dance in Navan in 1952, and married the following year. Noel immediately knew Christina was the “one’’ for him.

“The minute I saw her, I knew she was the one. I don’t know why, I just knew. It is something in the chemistry, I suppose,’’ he says.

“Even now, we have our own little way of communicating. It is very frustrating for her, but, over the years, you learn what she means by different facial expressions. It is a problem, but we will survive.’’

Although his own health is not as good as it was, Noel is determined not to “fall apart’’ and to keep on caring for Christina for as long as possible. His advice to anyone in a similar situation is simple — it is hard, it is tough, but you will survive.

“It is not easy, but keep the head up and it will come right in the end,’’ he says.


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