The Impact of unconditional Love

I spent some time last night reading through some of my efforts at blogging over the last year, and it dawned on me that it’s been six months since I last posted anything on Angels Harbour.

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Over the last number of months, I was more focused than usual on someone very special in my life; and I was also putting significant effort into living my life as though everything was “normal” – although don’t ask me to define “normal” because I don’t think I’ve ever achieved that status in my entire life!

It’s important for me to be authentic in these posts, so in order to do so – I’d like to share a personal story with you.

A Life Worth Living…

Brenda came into our lives on the 30th April 1974.  As children, my brother and I  were always hoping for another sibling, so when we heard that Bren was on the way – we were thrilled.

I can still clearly remember the first evening that we went to visit my mum and new sister in the hospital. I was all of 12.8 years at the time. I also remember the fear I felt as the doctor explained the challenges that my beautiful little baby sister was likely to experience, and that was “if” she survived.  I can recall how important Bren was to me from those very early days. The day after she was born, whilst I was on my lunch break from school, I went to the local church and prayed that my one and only beautiful sister would survive.  Thank God those prayers were answered.

As the years went by Bren began to make a very real impact on all of our lives. My brother and I knew that we were loved by our parents but we always knew that Brenda was our mum and dad’s favourite child – how could she not be? She was goodness personified. Our parents, extended family, friends, and my brother and I, were all head over heels in love with her.

She had the ability to ground each of us through her kind and gentle way of being, and to make us feel like we were the most important people in the world. She never made demands. No matter what anyone gave her, she was happy with it. I would look at her sometimes and think to myself that I’d be doing extremely well if I had only a fraction of the goodness and grace that she possessed. She taught me more about unconditional love, gratitude and non-judgmental behaviour than I could have hoped to learn in my lifetime.

The Picture of Unconditional Love

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Bren celebrated the usual milestones….her christening, with me and my cousin as her godparents; holy communion, confirmation, eighteenth and twenty-first birthdays. She was a flower girl at my wedding, and bridesmaid on two occasions for her cousins. She thoroughly enjoyed those experiences.

She was the adored auntie of her nephews, grand nephew and niece; and she equally loved each and every one of them in return.

Bren had what one might describe as “eclectic” taste in music. She basically enjoyed everything that had a beat.  I remember when the film Mama Mia was released, she couldn’t get enough of it. We forgot how many times she went to see it in the cinema, and she then played the DVD until it was almost worn out. Whenever she went anywhere and we asked her if she’d enjoyed herself – her standard response was “brilliant”.

At different times throughout her life, Bren suffered physically from poor health, but she never, ever complained. Bren’s first real experience of loss was when our dad died 15 years ago. Bren and dad absolutely adored one another, and it took some time for her to get over his death. But in her own unique way, she did so; and she then placed all her focus on being loving and kind to our mum.

She would come home on Friday evenings after working for the week in a local sheltered workshop and restaurant (a job she loved!); however, she wouldn’t be happy until she had given our mum her wage packet to ensure that mum had enough money to get her hair done. If she knew that my brother or I were calling in, she’d have our tea or coffee mugs ready and the kettle boiled. She had a heart of gold, and she also had a terrific sense of humour and fun.

Then, about six years ago we began to notice slight changes in Bren’s personality; and five years ago we were concerned enough to seek a medical opinion.  Eventually, we were given the heartbreaking news that Brenda was suffering from what appeared to be a rapid type of dementia. Unfortunately for her and for us, Bren was in the 8% of people with Down’s syndrome that develop dementia around the age of 35.

The last four years of her life were unbearably painful for our family because our beautiful Bren seemed to be fading before our eyes.  At times it felt like we were looking at death in slow motion.

In the last three years of Bren’s life, she lost the ability to do almost everything.  As a result, our family had to seek full-time residential care for her. That layer of “letting go” was extremely painful. However, it is very important to highlight the amazing lengths that the management and staff in Bren’s residential service went to during this time. The care, support, kindness and LOVE from each and every member of staff towards Bren, and indeed towards our family, was admirable.  There was nothing that those good people wouldn’t do for her or us. Something that became very obvious to me during this time is that LOVE as a component of professional practice is at the heart of person-centred care.

Because the management and staff in Bren’s residential service were willing to work with us for her highest good, it meant that she was able to spend the last days of her life in her bed at home. She was surrounded by people who absolutely loved her. I was blessed in that it was possible for me to be with her 24 hours a day for the last ten days of her life. I was able to be by her side before she finally spread her wings at 1:10 am on the 26th May 2017,  at the age of 43.

It’s at times like this that I thank God for my faith and my belief in life after death. It’s this deep-rooted faith that allows me to think of our beautiful Bren shining bright as the true angel of light that she always was. It also brings a smile to my face to think of her being able to dance with our father again.

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Not many people are able to say that their life brought out the very best in those around them but undoubtedly that was Bren’s most significant achievement in her lifetime.  She showered people with unconditional love and had no expectation of them – in return they became the best version of themselves.

Three Weeks Later…

Last Thursday night I went to bed just after 11:00 pm. And as I do every night, I said my prayers and chatted to Bren. Before falling asleep I said, “are you there Bren, can you hear me?”. As there was no sense of any response, I fell fast asleep.

Sometime later I woke up and felt rather startled. It seemed as if someone was in the bedroom but I knew it wasn’t an intruder because it was an extremely peaceful feeling – I felt as if my sister was near me – particularly around my face and hair. I then got a really strong urge to check the time – it was almost like a mantra in my head “check the time, check the time, check the time” – this would be very unusual for me as I don’t check the time when I wake up during the night; and that’s for two reasons a) I find it difficult to see my watch in the dark; and b) I tend to become fixated on the number of hours left until the alarm clock is due to go off, which hinders me falling back to sleep again.  But, as a result of the urgency, I felt, on this occasion, I reached out for my IPad to check the time on it.

I almost lost my breath when I saw the time – it was precisely 1:10 am.m. This was the exact time that Bren had passed away three weeks earlier. Thursday night was the first time I’d asked Bren if she was “there” and if she could “hear me”.

It would be my strong belief that when our loved ones transcend this earthly life and step out of their bodies, they are never more than a thought away from us. Our rational minds can be very quick to “rubbish” any such notion; however, I feel extremely privileged, because, as a result of my belief in God, I’m able to trust in something much greater and wiser than my limited experience of this life and my simple mind.

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On the first anniversary, since Bren went towards the light, she is loved more than ever and missed beyond words. There are moments in time when I would give everything in this world for things to be different; but then I see her beautiful little face and remember her words…..’no tears now’. 🙏🏻

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Responses to “The Impact of unconditional Love

  • Andrew Wilson
    2 years ago

    What a wonderful gift she was to you and you to her xx

  • Beautifully written Nicole and echoes my feelings having lost my closest friend. I feel her presence and know that she is Home with God. And likely dancing in the light with your Bren ❤️.

    • Caroline Lennon-Nally
      2 years ago

      Thank you Jean. Bren loved dancing, so that’s a wonderful thought!💕

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