This is John’s story, as related by Alice Leahy of Trust, the Dublin voluntary body which provides a medical and health service to people who live in hostels by choice or through homelessness:
John was reared by his mother single-handed. He met his father once. He was grateful to his mother who worked hard to bring him up. He felt that he was different in school: he had difficulties with the teachers; his mother at times was very strict and anxious that he should do well.
He was in the army for a short time, serving in the Officer’s Mess. He left feeling there was something wrong.
He looked for work in dublin but couldn’t get anything suitable. He went to London where he worked as a postman in the West End. he got good accommodation, read a lot, went to concerts, spent one Christmas in a hotel in Cornwall on his own, and went on a bus holiday to Moscow.
After a while he felt there was something wrong. He began to feel a change coming over him. He started smashing windows and didn’t know why. He lost his job. He lost his flat, began to neglect himself and for the first time slept rough, ended up in court and eventually prison.
This pattern continued. One day on his appearing in court the judge said: “This man is not a felon, he is a sick man.” John spoke with gratitude of that unknown judge and remembered clearly what he said. This led to his admission to a psychiatric hospital. He loved the place and often longed to go back and spend the rest of his life there.
He was transferred to hospital in Dublin. On discharge, he drifted between rooms, always in rundown houses, and the Iveagh hostel. He didn’t fit in at any of these places. His only possessions were a radio, the clothes he stood up in, and his Post Office book. He said to Kathering (a Trust worker) once, putting his hand to his breast pocket where he kept his book: “I am not penniless.” He was a proud man.
His relationship with his mother was one of love and admiration although at times he saw her as bossy. Katherine took him to visit his mother regularly in a geriatric hospital and he waited almost child-like with excitement and apprehension.
She looked forward to his visits and once was delighted to see him dressed up in a new suit provided by Trust, collar and tie, and clean shaven. He never asked for help and reluctantly accepted it.
John could not start the day without a cup of tea. He awoke at 5 a.m., had a cup of tea and took his medication. He smoked. “Nobody knows how dreadful I feel, I could do nothing without my tabs,” he once said.
He attended the day centre in St. Brendan’s on a weekly basis in recent years, always keeping appointments. He visited a coffee shop in O’Connell Street and Capel Street every morning, where he got a second cup of coffee for the price of one – two places of importance to John.
He returned to his room at midday having walked miles. He was self-educated and very well informed. He loved classical music. He loved his radio and he listened to it for the rest of the day.
Offers to take him to the national concert hall were declined. He said he could no longer concentrate and, likewise, he found it impossible to read.
Last Summer, his mother was transferred to a general hospital for treatment. When he visited her there, Katherine left details of John’s existence. His mother had not mentioned her son to the hospital authorities. When this was clarified and clear details given and noted her in chart regarding contact in emergency, John was relived. Visits continued.
John’s mother died. We were informed two days later after her burial. She had given the ward sister five pounds in an envelope for John. The ward sister who was off duty at the time these events took place, was deeply upset and visited John in Trust. John expressed no emotion when we told him about his mother’s death. He never showed his feelings. We offered to have a private prayer meeting in Trust with people of his choice to reflect on his mother’s life and death. We asked him to ask anyone he wanted to. There was no one. That morning just a year ago a priest we knew, Katherine and I and two hostel dwellers who drifted in, talked and listened.
Later, I went into the room where John was alone, crying. Tears streamed down his face. I tried to reassure him that is was good to cry, a sign of strength, not weakness.
He sat alone smoking for a while, wiped away the tears, straightened himself up and walked out to the hostel where he lived and never again mentioned his mother to us. He mentioned to Katherine a few times that there was no reason for him to live.
I never saw him with anyone and I never heard him laugh. He was a brave, courageous man who, like others, has left us all asking if we could have done more.
Just a year after his mother died, John’s body was taken from the sea at Dun Laoghaire.