The older Irish in London should not die alone

Living on his own in London, Martin was away from family in Ireland in his final days

‘I find it so upsetting that men and women who have contributed so significantly to this city often die alone, or with very few family and friends around them.’

‘I find it so upsetting that men and women who have contributed so significantly to this city often die alone, or with very few family and friends around them.’

 

Living alone in London, Martin was away from family in Ireland in his final days. His health had deteriorated, he was living with cancer and he knew he was dying. 

Some of the clients at the London Irish Centre (LIC), like Martin, have been coming through our doors for more than 50 years. From registering births, securing housing, and overcoming benefit hurdles, our staff have celebrated the many milestones that they have achieved in their lives here in London.

This year we had to say goodbye to a number of our older clients. Death is always a difficult and distressing experience, but there is an added sadness and loneliness when someone dies away from home, and away loved ones. Unlike a funeral in Ireland, there are no neighbours who will drop in for a cup of tea with a tray of sandwiches.

The LIC’s advice worker Denise recently supported Martin, one of our older Irish clients, in his final days. His GP was visiting him on a daily basis but he was still in a lot of discomfort and pain.  Visiting him in his home, Denise found him very distressed and agitated. He wanted a bed in a hospice, but had been informed there were none available.

Those who have watched a loved one die know well how the nights can be dreadfully long. Martin knew he was dying and he was naturally fearful. He did not want to be on his own, especially at night.

It can be an enormous challenge to get an on-the-day social services assessment, but Denise made a call and later that day, Martin got a hospital bed delivered to his home, and confirmation of a 24-hour care package, including someone to sit with him at night.

She left for home reassured that all of the support was in place for Martin to rest well. He died overnight in the company of the care worker.

Martin’s family, who contacted us to ask for support for him in his final hours, could take comfort in knowing that he was cared for and peaceful, and that most importantly, that he did not die alone.

At Martin’s funeral, it struck us how empty the church was. Although he had lived in London for more than 50 years and had a happy life with family and friends, Martin’s network naturally diminished as people moved away or passed on. It was heartbreaking to see that a gentle soul like Martin had only a handful of people to mourn his passing.

I find it so upsetting that men and women who have contributed so significantly to this city often die alone, or with very few family and friends around them. It is not that they are forgotten; it is simply that their loved ones have died before them, and friends have moved away or lost touch.

London is a transient city; as the years go by, my own social network may also diminish as my friends return home, or move on elsewhere. In a lonely city like London, Martin’s story could be the future for any of us.

At the LICC, we work to try to prevent the loneliness and the isolation that Martin endured. The sense of community among the Irish in London is what makes us flourish as a charity, and the support the Irish are willing to offer one another helps us to provide critical care and crisis assistance to those who need it most.

Our staff and volunteers are currently supporting a 50-year-old man called Paul who has been living in a homeless hostel for seven years. When asked what would improve his life, Paul said he would love a bed of his own. Paul will have a new flat in time for Christmas.

On Monday at the London Irish Centre’s annual carol service, two Irish communities came together, young and old. United we sang the “Fields of Athenry”, and as tins of Roses and Afternoon Tea were shared around, what was clearly evident was that strong community spirit that ties us together, no matter our age.

Caitriona Carney is director of community services at the London Irish Centre. SeeLondonirishcentre.org/Christmas.

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