It’s the most wonderful time of the year, allegedly. And as we enter the final few days of 2022, which has had more than its fair share of difficult news days, some of our readers have been reflecting with seasonal good cheer on the things they’re grateful for this year.
Ciara Levey’s year didn’t get off to the start she expected when her previously fit-and-well 30-year-old husband, Gary, ended up critically ill on their son’s first birthday in February. “He ended up getting a hemopneumothorax. It’s a very rare condition. His lung collapsed and he ended up with a massive collection of blood in his chest,” Ciara says. “He needed loads of blood transfusions and lost a total of four litres of blood.”
Gary needed emergency surgery and subsequent surgeries. “It was all very dramatic and sudden and really, really shocking. His recovery took a long time. He was in so much pain and learning – nearly – how to breathe properly again.”
We’re just so grateful for blood donors. Of course, it’s an amazing thing to do, but it’s only when someone you know has relied on blood to survive that it really hits home how important it is
“We ended up having to live separately for a few months. Gary went out to his parents’ house to recover, because we knew that he wouldn’t be able to rest.” Ciara stayed in their home and took care of their baby until Gary was well enough to move back home in May.
Gary is “doing great now”, Ciara says. “He’s absolutely flying it.” So much so that the couple, who were legally married in 2020 during Covid restrictions, decided to go ahead with their postponed wedding celebrations in August of this year. “I joked that he took in sickness and in health a bit too seriously,” she says.
“We’re just so grateful for blood donors. Of course, it’s an amazing thing to do, but it’s only when someone you know has relied on blood to survive that it really hits home how important it is. We’re just so grateful that we have our little man who’s very healthy. We have Gary here now for Christmas, thank god ... and the staff [in the Mater hospital] are there. They were so calm and so competent.”
The couple have even more to be grateful for as 2022 draws to a close. “We’re actually expecting another baby next year,” Ciara says. “It’s completely made our year. From starting out like that to finishing on such a great note.”
Carolyn Colvin says she is grateful that this year her 16-year-old daughter, Carys, received an autism diagnosis.
“Carys had struggled all through school, not just academically but with communication, speech and language delay, friendships. She was lacking social skills and things like that. We just felt she was a bit developmentally behind where she should be, but as she got older that gap got bigger, friends began excluding her and she just became more and more isolated.”
“It was a really difficult time towards the end of primary school and obviously entering post-primary the struggles increased, with puberty and her anxiety then was just off the charts.”
When as ASD (autism spectrum disorder) assessment was suggested by a psychologist, Carolyn, who is an SNA, was taken somewhat by surprise. “I hadn’t really considered it,” she says. “I suppose it’s because what I’m learning now is that girls typically present differently.”
Carolyn says it has taken Carys a while to understand the diagnosis. “Over the last number of months, we just talked about it. We didn’t hide away from it. And sometimes I’ll say, ‘That’s because you’re autistic, that’s why you’re struggling with that’. And now she has begun to say, ‘Oh, that’s because I’m autistic’; she’s beginning to recognise things within herself. We talk about it. We read about it. That’s where the positive for me has come in, that I’ve educated myself to try and understand more what life is like for her. And I’ll never fully understand it, because I can’t, but just trying to see the world how she sees it sometimes.”
The diagnosis, as much as it has been positive, it’s not easy ... but we work through those days together as best we can
Carolyn says she reminds her daughter, “you’re still the same person. You haven’t suddenly developed autism, you’ve always been autistic. We just didn’t know. We just didn’t identify that in you. And now we know and that’s why we can now work towards getting supports, putting strategies in place, transitioning, planning things a bit more, to help her manage her days better, so that’s why for me it’s positive.”
The level of understanding has helped their relationship too. “There are very hard days. The diagnosis, as much as it has been positive, it’s not easy ... but we work through those days together as best we can. Day by day, one step at a time.”
“It has opened opportunities regarding school, she did her Junior Cert in the summer but we were able to reduce her timetable. We were able to get the accommodations.”
Carolyn feels it’s beginning to help with issues around school. “School is still a huge trigger for Carys’s anxiety. And it’s not even the academics. She’ll talk about the academic side. Sometimes just physically being in school is tough because she does a lot of masking. She’s having to try and feel like she’s fitting in and watching behaviours and that’s exhausting for her, thinking all the time how to behave.”
“But it’s beginning to help with relationships, I think that’s because she is beginning to understand more about herself and accept her diagnosis. She’s beginning to find her tribe,” Carolyn says.
Annie Trueman is grateful that she finally got to meet the sibling she never knew she had, having learned about his existence for the first time when an aunt mentioned it to her out of the blue, six years after Annie’s mother had died.
Two years later, an old friend of Annie’s mother confirmed to Annie that her mother had had a baby boy when she was 21 and that he had been adopted.
Then during Covid restrictions, Annie received a letter from Tusla adoption services informing her that she had a close relative who had made contact. Annie phoned the social worker the next day, who told her that she had a brother, Ciarán, living in England.
Initial interactions were somewhat guarded as the social worker explained to Annie that her brother wanted to make contact and asked if she would write the first letter. “You’re told not to put any identifying information in the letter, to keep it as generic as possible,” Annie says.
“It transpired we actually had a lot in common. Mum had him in St Rita’s national home. He grew up in Lucan. The irony is that we live in Longford. So when we drive to Dublin, we drive past Lucan.” How many times did she drive past where he lived, she wonders.
After three letters, the siblings were put in full contact by the social worker. “We clicked; there’s definitely a bond and there’s a huge amount of love,” Annie says. “It’s just bizarre how there’s this stranger who has come out of nowhere.”
The only thing that stopped us meeting was lockdown. There was a point where the feeling is so intense that you can’t describe it
“We had a lot in common with our work,” Annie says, explaining that they both work in healthcare. “She gave us each other’s email addresses and I wrote an email that evening. Literally, it was that intense that nearly every day afterwards, for weeks, we would email each other in the evening time.”
“It’s a little more poignant because my mum died in 2011 and I was a twin. My twin brother, David, died suddenly in 2010. I had all this sadness and awfulness in my life.”
“The only thing that stopped us meeting was lockdown. There was a point where the feeling is so intense that you can’t describe it, and there was a day where the two of us were talking and he kind of said, ‘I’d love to just jump in the car and drive to the ferry and come over there now and just hug you’. We just needed to meet each other.”
Following many phone calls and zoom calls, Annie finally met Ciaran in person for the first time this year. “It was the most extraordinary ordinary thing,” she says. “He looked like my mother.”
“It was brilliant that we couldn’t rush into it. Because there were these daily emails, hundreds of emails, really mundane stuff, but it allowed us to just get to know each other.”
Jim McKee is feeling grateful that his 36-year-old daughter, Sophia, managed to buy a house this year
Sophia, who works in graphic design, had been renting on and off for years. During Covid she felt it was safer to move home because she has type 1 diabetes, before moving on to yet another rented accommodation.
“Around two years ago she really started to get active in trying to get her own place, but she was completely outbid ... and it just looked like it wasn’t going to happen at all.”
“Finally this year, my sister, who works in Beaumont and goes walking with a couple of girls, mentioned to one of them that her niece was getting outbid left, right and centre. Then another said her granny was selling her house ... and it was just about to go on the market and that they would mention it to her. Sophia went up that day with my sister ... they agreed on the price ... and the next day they rang the agent.”
Working as a facilities manager in a homeless charity has perhaps given Jim an even greater insight into the value of a secure home, “when you see how people go through things. It’s important when you do get something to really appreciate it, and we certainly appreciate the fact that she was able to get a roof over her head.”
“I’m just so happy for her that it came together and we’re just over the moon,” says Jim. “It’s a stretch and it needs work but at least she got in there. And that was really the best thing that happened to us in a long time.”
“My mum died a year ago in January,” says author and broadcaster Barbara Scully, describing the death of her mother as “very traumatic”. “It started off very dark, but I feel she’s up there pulling strings. And I don’t know whether she’s trying to keep me distracted or trying to keep me happy, but it’s working on both fronts.”
Barbara’s daughter, Carla, emigrated to Australia 12 years ago where she lives with her husband and their two children. Barbara’s granddaughter, Emie, was born in 2017 and from that time Barbara never went more than six months without seeing them. But in 2020, as the Covid pandemic took hold, and while Carla was pregnant with Barbara’s grandson, Max, Australia closed its doors and Barbara couldn’t see her family.
“I had planned to be there for Max’s birth, which was in June 2020, and it wasn’t until the beginning of May that I finally accepted I wasn’t going to get there ... That was a very dark day and I did worry would my relationship with him would be damaged by not being around from his early days. I also worried about my relationships with Emie and my daughter.”
Spending time with groups of women I don’t know talking about life after menopause and the opportunities of our third age has been a pure joy
It wasn’t until March 2022 that Western Australia finally opened up. “It was like the two years just melted away at the arrivals hall in Perth airport,” she says, describing the emotional scenes as the family were reunited.
“I’ll always regret that I never got to hold him [Max] as a small baby ... but I got to meet and spend time with him in March and I just can’t wait to get back again. It was one of those moments of absolute pure, unadulterated joy.”
This year also saw the release of Barbara’s first book, Wise Up: Power, Wisdom and the Older Woman. “It has just sent me on a journey that I could never have anticipated,” she says. “I’ve had these amazing conversations with older women which have been so uplifting, so energising and so positive. Spending time with groups of women I don’t know talking about life after menopause and the opportunities of our third age has been a pure joy.”
“I kind of credit my mother with being behind a lot of it. You’re sitting in the Dalkey Book Festival on a stage and you’re going, ‘I can’t believe I’m here’. My mother and I used to go to the Dalkey Book Festival every single year and I just feel that her handprint is all over the good stuff that happened this year.”
This year was the year Alan Lacasse finally married his long-term partner, Jen, who he had met on a blind date in 2007. The couple moved in together just two weeks after meeting.
Jen had two children when they met and Alan became a carer for one of the children. The couple went on to have three more children together. Alan has a close relationship with his stepsons, and one was groomsman at the wedding.
He knows it’s special that his stepson calls him dad and, although he always felt secure in their relationship beforehand without the formality of a wedding, he’s glad that marrying Jen has offered the children a degree of certainty. “The boys were always asking when we were going to get married. So even though you tell them you aren’t leaving, there’s obviously always that doubt. Being married makes it more permanent,” he says.
Alan’s family don’t live in Ireland, so the wedding was an opportunity for a reunion too as Covid restrictions had meant a considerable amount of time had passed since they last saw each other. “It was great to have my sister over and my cousins,” Alan says. “Unfortunately, mum and dad couldn’t make it because dad is nearly 90 and his health is declining. That was the first time I’d seen my cousins since we were over in the US in 2017, and even then we only saw them for a weekend. It was the first time I had seen my sister since then as well.”
While Alan and Jen were planning to get married, they managed to avoid the pitfall of repeated Covid-related cancellations, choosing instead to defer committing to a date as they watched restrictions unfold. Alan says he’s “grateful for a fabulous day and that we managed to get married without having to reschedule”.
He’s also grateful for the practicalities that married life bring too, laughing at how “unromantic” this suggestion is. But concedes it will be a lot easier travelling through the airport with the children now that they’re married.