A well-known Donegal family has given their mother 8,200 reasons to show her how much they love her.
The Boyle family from Manorcunningham wanted to thank the Donegal Alzheimer’s Society for the care they have shown their mother Ethna.
So all twelve siblings decided there was only one way to raise some much-needed cash for the group and that was to climb Errigal!
And in doing so the family has managed to raise a whopping €8,200.
This is their touching story.
“On a very wet Saturday morning at the end of August, twelve people gathered at the foot of Errigal for a climb they had been planning for a few months.
“Two had come home from England, two home from Scotland and the other eight from their homes in Donegal.
“Only a few other hardy souls were on the mountain that day; but the six brothers and six sisters were determined to make the climb for the first time as a family together – some for the first time ever.
“The climb was a tribute to the lady who they have watched for the past four years climb her own personal mountain as she struggles to live with the effects of Alzheimer’s disease – their mother, Ethna Boyle of Errity, Manorcunningham.
“They aimed to raise a few hundred euros each in sponsorship to donate to support the Letterkenny Social Club each Tuesday at the Clanree Hotel organised by The Alzheimer Society of Ireland (Donegal Branch) and their Home Care service throughout the county.
“Helena, Manny, Bella-Marie, Rosaleen, Joan, Jemmy, Lorraine, Angeline, Peter, Marty, Paddy and Brendan would like to thank all those who supported, encouraged and donated to them and helped to raise nearly €8,200.
“The beginning of the trek brought back happy memories of all playing together outside in the rain.
“However, the boggy foot of the mountain also reminded them of something less pleasant – their initial reaction to hearing the news of their mother’s diagnosis: the disbelief, the denial, the anger that their mother was the person effected. Just as the boggy ground slowed their progress, so those feelings stopped them from finding the best way to help their father Seamus to look after their mother.
“There still persists a sense of unfairness that a woman who had dedicated her life to helping others as a HSE Home Help, mental health nurse and through volunteering with The Alzheimer Society of Ireland and the Irish Wheelchair Association should now need help with the activities of daily life.
“Just as with the climb, different family members progressed at different speeds and with different degrees of difficulty. Although their mother’s illness has brought the family together, no group of twelve people see everything from the same point of view or have the same attitudes.
“There can be tensions heightened by the stress that they feel as they watch their mother gradually having to give up many aspects of her life – driving, working, baking, smoking, travel, overseas holidays in the sun.
“As they proceeded up the mountain, the mist came in at about half-way up. The dense mist blocked their view of anything more than a few feet in front of them and mirrored the growing confusion that has surrounded their mother as time progresses.
“The poor weather made the climb take longer than normal and the sense that the summit would never be reached was felt by many of the climbers – a feeling that they knew only too well from watching their mother gradually deteriorating as she progresses through the seven stages of dementia.
“As they reached the summit, they had to decide whether it was safe to cross the final small path to the actual peak. Having come that far, they decided that they had to go all the way despite the dense fog. With varying levels of trepidation, they took the final few strides in small groups to complete the promise they had made to the people who sponsored them.
“They took a few moments to think of their mother and said aloud “this is for you Mammy we hope we made you proud”. They all realise that despite how tough it is for them to watch their mother as she progresses through the illness, it must be much tougher for their father to watch his wife grow increasingly less capable, frail and distant.
“Seamus is Ethna’s main carer and is grateful for those who still call to visit Ethna, especially her close friend Susan, who is a regular visitor. The family know the importance of good neighbours who know about the illness and helped the family when their mother went through periods of wandering.
“She still listens to music on the radio but no longer demonstrates any emotion in reaction to it. She enjoys the music and stimulating activities at the Social Club each Tuesday and still goes to the shops.
“As anyone who has climbed Errigal knows, the journey back down is sometimes as nerve-wrecking. The fear of losing one’s footing can sometimes make the journey down as long as the climb.
“But they knew their mother would be waiting on them at the foot along with their father and it was quite emotional when they saw her sitting looking out through the window at them. Even when the distressing phases of dementia such as constant repetition and challenging behaviour have passed, the physical stress can be replaced by the emotional stress of not being remembered by someone you have been so close to all your life.
“Ethna is now more content and particularly enjoys the company of her devoted dog, Monty. She can no longer talk to her children and recognises a familiar friendly face rather than being able to name her son or daughter, or her several grandchildren aged from four months to twenty-one years.
“They miss being able to talk with her; her wonderful baking & cooking are just a memory that none of them seem able to duplicate. But she is still their mother, she is still at home with her loving husband and they know that she loves them just as much as they love her.”