An Honorable Man

November 26, 2006 | Leave a Comment

The news came from Dublin that Grandad was near the end. I had expected, from my visits in the early part of the year, that he wouldn’t make it to Christmas. Niall kept us up to date with regular progress reports, but finally the time came when we knew that Grandad’s struggle was almost over.
Jenn, Eoghan and I headed over; we decided to leave Orla with Grandma here in New York, since the two kids would have been a handful, and Orla would have been more aware of what was happening at the hospital.

The flight over was uneventful; we had taken a later than normal flight, and so Eoghan was pretty wiped out as soon as we boarded. When we reached Dublin we were met by Ann and Caitriona; Eoghan was excited to meet his cousins. And later, when we went to Dunseverick he was thrilled to meet Donal, Maebh, Colm, Sean and Roisin, as well as, of course, Cliodhna and Eimear. He and Sean are about the same age, and so – when they weren’t mad at each other – had a great time playing.

Grandad was weakened significantly over the last few weeks, and so looked markedly worse than the last time I had seen him. He was extremely emaciated, as he was no longer eating or drinking, was on oxygen some of the time, and of course could no longer talk. He was able to communicate with us from time to time by nodding, or winking, or facial expressions. It was nice that he was able to see Eoghan once more, and Jenn was able to tell him her news.

We went to the hospital each day; the rest of the time we pretty much spent with family. We took Eoghan to St. Anne’s park to see the roses – still in bloom – and the Children’s Playground. We also ventured in to the city centre, and picked up some toys for the kids to play together.

There was a constant stream of visitors at the hospital. Niall seemed to live there, and Fr. Eoghan was a regular visitor of course. Barbara came from New York as well, and was able to see Grandad before Mary M whisked her off to the north to visit other family there. Darach came in from Hong Kong late on Saturday night, and was able to visit on Sunday morning. Dad seemed to recognise all his visitors, and joined in prayers by reaching for his rosary beads. He was considerate to the end, instructing us with an imperious command of his finger to go home for our lunch when he saw the nurses delivering meal trays.

Each day it was clear that Dad was declining further. Conventional wisdom has it that terminally ill patients struggle to hang on when visitors are present, but that when visitors depart they often slip away. Dad was manifestly fighting very hard; indeed, the nurses mentioned on Sunday morning that all through the previous night he had seemed to be waiting for someone – Darach, we suspected.

On Monday, the doctor added valium to the morphine that Dad was on. I suspected that the valium would let him relax, that he would no longer struggle as much as he had been, and that the end would be very close. Sure enough, early on Tuesday, the word came that the end was nigh. We gathered at the bedside with Fr. Eoghan, and sat with Dad for his last morning. He seemed relaxed, and calm, and his breathing was shallow. Suddenly, Mary commented that he had turned grey, and we realised he had succumbed and stop breathing. Fr. Eoghan called for the nurse but then, a good thirty seconds later, he came back and started to breathe again – a fighter to the end ! Perhaps five minutes later, though, he slipped away and went to a better place.

I think we all felt that it was a happy release for him, and so we were all glad that he was out of his suffering.

We gave him a good send-off; on Wed evening we had the removal and then a wake at Dunseverick. There was a very poignant moment just before the coffin was closed when Eoghan waved and said Bye, Grandad…On Thursday Fr. Eoghan concelebrated the mass; as usual his homily was magnificent. Art McGann a childhood friend of Dad’s gave a wonderful eulogy, commenting on his intellectual and sporting gifts, as too did Niall. Brilliant student, Winner of full scholarship, Captain of Shelbourne, League Of Ireland Champions and representative, offered contract by Everton, etc…

Friday saw us return to the US, with Darach returning to Hong Kong. It was a long day for us, due to a Shannon stopover and then the two hour car ride back home once we landed in JFK. Orla was thrilled to see us – as we were her, of course. She had had a great time with her Grandma and with Seamus and Ivana, but she was glad to be reunited with her ‘little bro’.