As our parents grew older, their biggest worry was what would happen to their Downs Syndrome son after they had passed on. While we knew that the day would eventually come along when Greg was dependent on his brothers and sisters we hadn’t really put enough thought into Greg’s changing needs. By his 50th birthday we could see that the biggest music fan in our home was in need of more assistance on a daily basis. Greg’s short term memory and motor skills were slowly becoming impaired. Greg was offered respite care in La Verna, a sheltered home in Clontarf. Eventually this became his full time home for almost two years and there he made new friends and met the love of his life Jean. Unfortunately Greg’s Alzheimers disease was relentless and after Jean passed away Greg suffered a short but serious illness and ended up in Beaumont Hospital.
After recovering it became clear that Greg would need a higher level of assistance. He could no longer climb stairs and had difficulty in doing simple tasks like getting dressed. Greg was offered a room in the purpose-built Cara Alzheimers Centre. Cara is a bright airy and happy place built on one level with courtyard gardens and individual rooms. The staff in Cara, who we now think of as our friends looked after Greg and the other service users with professionalism and great care. We can’t thank them enough for their patience and the love they showed to Greg during his time there and especially in the final weeks of his life. No problem we encountered with Greg’s Alzheimers was too big, even the months that Greg spent only wearing pale clothes and eating pale coloured food.
In the final days of Greg’s life, he was made as comfortable as was humanly possible. Not only was he looked after but his brothers, sisters and friends were all “watered, fed and rested” in what became our home for several days.
We cannot thank our friends in Cara enough. Greg passed away on 19th May 2016.
Gregory Flynn – His Life
Gregory Sullivan Flynn was born at a time when people with an Intellectual Disability were considered a burden by some. Thankfully our parents were more enlightened. They felt that when their eight child was born in 1961 that he would benefit from being trust into the rough and tumble, hustle and bustle of a large family and he would be treated no different than the rest.
Brought up on the Swords Road to May & Christy our parents knew he could copy and learn from his siblings and always did. He was just one of our gang and he thrived. In the world of the Flynn Clan Greg was loved by all. As a child he was super active and was a climber. Dad’s treasured Super 8 movies show him climbing walls, throwing balls and getting into all sorts of mischief. He always hated going to bed, afraid of missing out on the fun, and would transform into a reluctant cross-legged statue to avoid bedtime.
At 7, he began attending primary school in St Michael’s House on the Ballymun Road. He spent many happy years there, and was in his element getting the support he required to help him to develop and grow. When he was 12, Greg suffered a ruptured appendicitis. It was a very worrying time for the family, and we were all afraid that we would lose him. But he was a fighter.
After finishing in St Michaels House, Greg, like the rest of the family at some point during their lives started working for Flynn’s Sign and Display, the family Sign Manufacturing business in Bolton Street, Dublin 1, which Paul still runs today. Greg was Dad’s right hand man, his chief advisor and loyal assistant. He even worked on the Engraving machine and etched key fobs, as well as organising tea breaks, which he took a lot of himself. He helped balance the petty cash budget by regularly diluting the milk with water or sometimes even 7-Up. He also looked after the German Shepherd Dogs who adored him, especially Captain, who was Greg’s favourite. He was such a big dog, but with a gentle soul, that suited Greg’s lovable and trusting nature.
Throughout his twenties and thirties Greg attended the Monday Night Club in Whitehall, run by Carmel and Joan. This weekly club was something he looked forward to – probably because he was a top notch Pool Player and loved beating the others. In 1982, after the tragic death of our brother Declan, Greg was devastated like all of the Flynn family. He had been so close to Declan and they shared a love of music together, especially Elvis, who Greg idolised. It was an extremely sad time in all our lives. Around this period, Greg started developing some bird-like traits, or more accurately those of a Magpie. Magpies gather shiny glittery objects from all over, to bring to their nests, but Greg was a more practical type. His collections included: shoe laces, shampoo, toilet rolls, dish washer tablets and of course CDs. He was never found in the actual act of “collecting” these objects of desire but somehow he amassed a considerable stockpile. In later years this developed into a passion and word went around that you needed to frisk Greg, airport security style, before he left your house.
Greg had a great sense of fun and regularly slagged his older brothers and brothers in law with the endearing expression of “Old Man you”. He loved all his family equally and didn’t hold back on affection for his sisters, sisters in law, nieces and nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins, who all loved him in return. After the death of our Mother May in 2001, Dad (in his eighties) finally decided to retire and Greg then re-connected with St Michael’s House again. Dad was known as Boss No. 1 and Greg was Boss 2, and they were great company for each other. He began attending Northbrook Industries in Santry. Chris O’Donovan was the Manager at the time, and Michelle was his keyworker who he adored. She assisted him in gaining new life skills and complete independence on public transport. Greg would set off each day with his lunch box and his bus pass for the daily routine of 9.30-4pm. Except Greg had decided early on that this was not for him at all. He had his lunch in work at 1pm and would then disappear to get the bus home to have a second lunch with Dad. They were very united and extremely routine based.
Greg began swimming lessons with the Northbrook gang – and Dad assured us that he had spare togs that Greg could use. We unfortunately believed him. One morning some of the family took a trip up to the Swimming Pool to see Greg’s progress only to discover, to our horror, that Greg was wearing Dad’s Hand Knitted World War 2 togs which stretched when they connected with water. We bought him new swimming togs the next day. Dad died in 2007.
Titles changed as Greg now became Boss 1 and Colm was Boss 2. After spending time with his siblings Greg was offered respite placement with St Michael’s House, La Verna, Paul O’Donnell was the Boss, as Greg would say, and La Verna was filled with wonderful staff. Eventually he was offered full time placement there. It was a difficult decision for the family to make. Greg would generally spend weekdays in La Verna and would come home for the weekend, and we began to see a new independent Greg, who had a base, support and a routine in a loving caring environment, as well as still having his family. In La Verna Greg met the lovely red headed Jean. He was totally smitten. Jean took a little longer to come around mind you Greg’s face would light up when he saw her – he was a man in love. After weekends with the family he liked to be back at 6pm so he could say good night to Jean before she went to bed. They exchanged bracelets and rings and it was a lovely time in his life.
When Jean died after a very short illness Greg was quite low for a time. He was helped through this grieving process by the caring La Verna staff for which we are forever thankful. Family weddings, anniversaries and birthdays were all occasions that would see Greg in the centre of all the action – He was in his element. He was given a present of an accordion one Christmas and on many occasions would entertain us with his budding musical talent – and was much too generous in the length of time he spent entertaining us. We always had to encourage him to take a much needed break.
In 2014 Greg’s health began to steadily decline and his illness lead him, and us, as his family, to St Michael’s House Cara Alzheimer’s Service. This unit is headed by the incredible Fidelma McManus and Stephen Cullen who work alongside amazing staff day and night. Greg attended the weekly Memory Clinic in Cara which he loved. All Greg’s friends in Cara look forward to Wednesday afternoons when Gerry comes along to play live music. Here Greg was like Lazarus on the dance floor and came back to his old self once the music began. He would don his gold Elvis jacket that Tom Gilson, the Elvis impersonator had given him and he was in Seventh heaven. He showed us how important it is to throw shapes on the dance floor to music you love.
The Lewy Body Dementia that Greg developed was cruel in its progress. It created difficulties for all the staff in Cara, who never complained and always assured us that Greg was still the same wonderful, gentle person but the condition was the challenge. We bought Greg an iPad in the last six months of his life. We downloaded some of his favour songs, Elvis, Abba, The Carpenters, Cliff Richard, Neil Diamond among others. We also had family photos on a slideshow which he could look at. The music was beneficial in helping him relax. Dr Janette Tyrrell and Dr. Maeve Murphy worked tirelessly in trying to lessen Greg’s anxieties. Sarah and Ken, Greg’s keyworkers were so caring to Greg and to us his family who are so incredibly grateful and to all the staff in Cara.
In Greg’s last few months he proposed marriage to at least twenty female staff in Cara. “I marry you” was heard on a daily basis, sometimes on the hour. They all happily accepted and each planned a wedding with him. His only stipulation was that they must wear a Red Dress – not white. We wondered about this – why red? This fell into place in the last few days when we heard that he and his much-loved Jean’s favourite song had been Chris de Burgh’s “Lady in Red”, and this happy, loving memory must have remained close to Greg’s heart, even through his illness.
People have said that Greg was the glue that has held our family together though all our ups and downs. But be assured that we didn’t have any old ordinary glue we had SuperGlue. Our parent’s hopes and dreams for Greg was that we his siblings would help educate and look out for him as he progressed through life. And we hope we did – but over the years there has been a shift – we have in fact learned so much more from Greg than we ever could have shown him.
- He taught us to love unconditionally
- Not to hold back on laughter
- That a smile can light up a room
- To avoid arguments
- To always show courage and meet adversity head on
- And although a broken heart is not easily mended, life does carry on and that love conquers all.
So darling Greg in your own words it was “Excellent” having you as our brother and “Thank you”.