Evelyn tells her story of how getting involved with Leeds Irish Health and Homes helped her through the loss of her husband.
Evelyn, who hails from County Fermanagh, and her husband Cecil were married for 62 and a half years.
“I was the oldest of seven and he was the youngest of seven,” Evelyn explains. “We decided to come to Leeds because Cecil had family here - that was in 1961.”
Cecil had a powerful work ethic. “He worked for Craven Dairies, Monkbridge Iron and Steel, Murphys. When he was on night shifts, he’d get up and do window cleaning during the day before starting again at 7pm. He was 74 before he retired!”
But when he was 81, Cecil was diagnosed with dementia, and Evelyn became his full-time carer. “I dressed him, I got him ready for bed - I did everything.”
Over time, dementia caused Cecil’s personality to change. “He was such a gentleman; he’d never swear. But the dementia made him say such cruel things and he’d lash out. As my daughter said, ‘We lost Dad a long time ago.’”
During his illness, Evelyn had to take Cecil with her everywhere. Even a trip to the supermarket meant leaving - and locking - him in the car for his own safety while Evelyn dashed in for groceries. Once, he managed to unlock the front door of their home and escape.
Thankfully, a neighbour alerted the police; by that point, Cecil was unable to tell officers his name or where he lived.
The Leeds Irish Health and Homes Lunch Clubs provided Evelyn with some respite. “Cecil would get agitated, but the team would sit us at the same table and serve us first to help keep him calm,” she says. “It was a real help.”
Cecil’s last few months were particularly difficult: he was admitted to hospital in January 2022. He had Covid and visits were restricted.
“Our daughter came over from America to visit and only managed to see him the day before she went back. He passed on 21st May - his first anniversary has just gone.”
Since Cecil passed away, Evelyn has continued to be involved with Leeds Irish Health and Homes. She says the organisation has helped her through her first year without her husband.
“My girls kept on at me to go to the groups - ‘You’ve got to go!’ But now they’re saying that I’m out all the time!” Evelyn laughs. “It’s lovely to have new friendships out of it.”
She still attends the Lunch Clubs. “The meal that you get for £3! And it’s never gone up even when the cost of food is rising,” she says.
And the social side of things helps, too. “There’s a great group who go. You know that saying ‘You’ve been vaccinated by a gramophone needle’? That’s us - we don’t stop talking!”
Evelyn also goes to the CHIME arts and craft sessions, has been on outings with the Cara group and recently completed the BOSS (Be Online Stay Safe) course.
“One week, my car was in the garage and one of the team picked me up. Then they got me a taxi home - I wanted to pay but they wouldn’t hear of it!”
And despite a difficult 12 months, Evelyn’s has just celebrated her 80th birthday with a joint party with her granddaughter.
“She was 21 and I was 80 - we’ve got a lot of big birthdays in the family this year and we’ve got a lot of celebrations planned.”
To find out more about the clubs and activities Leeds Irish Health and Homes offers - including the Anam Cara Memory Group for those living with dementia - call 0113 262 5614. You’ll find plenty of friendly faces and a very warm welcome.