Personal Insights: Henry Delaney - An ordinary man who showed we have much to learn from our elders

Nursing home manager and owner, Joseph Peters, pays tribute to one of his former residents, Henry Delaney, and reveals how his late friend epitomised what can and should be learned from our elders in anxious and changed times.
Personal Insights: Henry Delaney - An ordinary man who showed we have much to learn from our elders

Henry Delaney, front, pictured at a Nursing Home of Ireland awards ceremony

Henry Delaney passed away recently but he epitomised the qualities of the generation who live in our nursing homes and who have made the difficult transition from living at home to a nursing home and who rediscover that they can still find peace and contentment in their new environment.

Henry exemplified appreciation for the simplicity of the world around us. The values he held dear are those cherished by nursing home residents across the country: an appreciation for the natural world, our heritage, our history.

An appreciation to support fellow human beings, to take pride in ones heritage and where they have come from, their generations gone before them that shaped them as people and fulfilled an essential role in advancing Irish society.

They are humble human values.

People like Henry should be commended, celebrated and remembered. Their values should not be forgotten and we should learn from them and promote them to our younger generations.

As per so many in our nursing homes, Henry lived his live in a quiet manner; he quietly inspired myself and other nursing home residents and the younger generations who sat and listened to him. A proud Cork man it is befitting some of his legacy is remembered.

These are very difficult times for residents in our nursing homes. They have faced difficult times in the past but a pandemic such as this has never presented for them. Removing physical contact between residents and their relatives and friends has proven very challenging. Yet it is remarkable how residents have faced up to the reality of Covid-19.

Our residents are stoic, resilient, assuming and enduring. They speak of overcoming Covid19, of days when they will be allowed embraced their loved ones once again. Nursing homes are now their homes. Within these homes, residents have developed very special bonds and friendships that strengthen their resolve and bring them happiness and comfort.

These bonds are shared with fellow residents through conversation, stories, song, reminiscence. They are also shared with staff, whose devotion to care is led from the heart. They hold the hand of residents, engage with them, help them smile, comfort and reassure.

The bond that develops is truly special and during Covid-19 staff in our nursing homes have done their upmost to create a positive living environment for residents in the most difficult of times. Their focus remains on supporting our residents through this horrible pandemic so they will again have opportunity to embrace family and friends.

 

As the owner and manager of a small nursing home (forty beds) I have the privileged opportunity to get to know all the residents we provide round-the-clock care for over time.

When I first meet them they have already decided they need nursing care so they have already decided on their future. What we look to achieve in nursing home care is to allow them be comfortable and to avail of person-centred care that aims to enhance their life and bring them happiness and contentment.

I introduce myself and offer to help in any way I can. What happens thereafter is the beginning of friendship, and, getting to know the person and developing a relationship. It is a real honour to speak to these people who have contributed so much to our society and can tell us stories of times past that epitomise human values in society.

Henry was one such person and loved to regale the staff with the stories of his road bowling days.

As in all aspects of life we make friends often by accident, often by association, but however it starts friendship is a beautiful gift. I like to count Henry as my friend. As the poet Patrick Kavanagh said:

"Every old man I see 

In October-coloured weather 

Seems to say to me 

'I was once your father'."

Henry was a father to his children but a father to many more and his fatherly ways were genuine and altruistic. The first thing that impressed me about Henry was how well he spoke about his wife and family. He was so proud of all of them. He knew each ones strengths and weaknesses but he only talked about their strengths. He spoke often about his father.

I think he learned about having drink in moderation from his father. As true Cork men, the pint of Murphy's was the elixor from them. Henry would have a can or two each night after the Angelus, no fuss, no drama. He could have been the owner of a winery in the South of France, tasting his brew each evening and savouring the occasion.

Henry was a man who knew what he wanted. His bedroom door was electronically held open all day but at night he wanted it closed. He told the staff not to check on him at night as that would disturb his sleep. He knew he had the call bell if he did need someone and if he passed away in his sleep he was fine with that.

Through the open door, each day everyone who passed greeted him. Henry was a great fan of John Mc Cormack and his music and song wafted down the corridor or outside his open window in Summer. It was lovely to hear that music and to feel the good energy it inspired in Henry and his environment.

Henry's profession was a car mechanic and he was ahead of his time in that career. Three years ago I bought a 1954 Morris Minor (split windscreen) and told Henry I paid €3500 for same. He nearly fell out of the bed when he heard that as he grew up when the Morris Minor cost around £500 new.

One day I told him that the car broke down, that I was driving out the road full blast and I lost all power. Without hesitation he said your head gasket is gone. A few days later his diagnosis was proved correct.

Henry was very proud of his uncle Joe Murphy who died on hunger strike after 76 days. Henry felt a strong kinship with his uncle and the struggles for Irish Independence at a troubled time in our history. Henry kept his photograph up on the wall as a reminder to himself and his visitors of his legacy and his sacrifice for Ireland.

Recently the city of Cork posthumously awarded a medal to Joe Murphy and Henry accepted the medal on his behalf. Henry understood the ultimate sacrifice that Joe Murphy made at a level much deeper than most of us and ever comprehend.

In 2015 Henry was nominated for the NHI resident of the year and won the award. I had the privilege of driving him to Dublin in my Honda CRV for the award ceremony where we stayed overnight in the hotel. Henry loved the trip as the CRV is an SUV and sits higher on the road than a normal car so he loved the view from the passenger seat.

Henry Delaney, front, pictured at a Nursing Home of Ireland awards ceremony

Henry Delaney, front, pictured at a Nursing Home of Ireland awards ceremony

I can remember him pointing out all the changes that he saw as we drove in the winter sunshine. He would chat about journeys he had made in his lifetime and he was wonderful company. Before 500 people at the award ceremony, Henry was honoured for the great contribution he made to Powdermill Nursing Home, taking particular care of our garden all year round to produce fresh fruit and veg for fellow residents to enjoy.

Henry was a man who helped every resident in our nursing home feel reassured and at ease. His presence was a comfort for so many. He assumed the award with the humility that was the hallmark of the man. After the award ceremony we would admire a picture of Henry in his tuxedo with the host Gráinne Seoige. We always laughed when I said he got closer to Gráinne than most men in Ireland and then he gave his hearty laugh.

Henry was a great example of how an elderly person who needs 24 hour nursing care can make the transition from home to a nursing home. Initially it was tough for Henry, but Henry was never afraid of tough.

When we realised he missed his garden at home so much we made him "head gardener". When he spoke of radishes and spring onion the glorious "s" sound would resonate with me and his enthusiasm was infectious.

The key to that transition as always is the partnership between care workers and family members who visit and support and encourage especially so at the beginning. Since last March when visiting was suspended you could see immediately how residents felt that loss. However they used the mobile phone, the land line, post, window visits, face time, what’s app to try and bridge the gap.

The residents were informed weekly of the reasons for the suspension of visits and the risks of catching COVID-19. they were stoic and strong yet you knew the felt the fear but kept their chin up. The daily delivery of the Irish Examiner to the residents kept all informed of the serious spread of COVID-19 and of the casualties particularly in nursing homes that suffered an outbreak.

We were fortunate that with the diligence of staff and residents and family and visitors that we avoided an outbreak. Now that the residents received their first vaccination on the 16th January we can look forward to the summer of visits and making the best of life.

Henry Delaney was one of life’s true gentlemen. He took an interest in the mechanics of life; nature, horticulture, automobiles. All staff here in Powdermill and fellow residents will miss him tremendously. But we have fond memories that will live with us.

Joseph Peters has been the owner of the Powdermill Nursing Home and Care Centre in Ballincollig since 2005.

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