Don’t worry, be happy!

buy_a_vowelPicture the scene. It’s Christmas Eve and I’m driving home at 9pm. It’s pitch black outside and raining so hard I’m praying that someone in the house asked Santa for an Ark. I spot an old guy standing at the bus stop, just outside Cadburys in Coolock.  Given that it’s the season of goodwill to all men and the miserable weather, I pulled over and asked if he wants a lift.

His Story:
Tom (not his real name) told me that his sister had died 12 months previously. They had lived together all their life and he seemed lost. He was very drunk that first night we met. When I brought him up to his flat, Tom couldn’t open the door with the keys. We eventually got inside and it was like stepping into a freezer. Unbelievable as this may seem, he’d never learned how to light the fire or to cook. His sister looked after him, almost like a mother and Tom seemed helpless without her.

Christmas Day:
The next day I called up with some sticks and coal and we got the fire going. It was the beginning of an 8+ year relationship. I’d send Tom postcards from various countries where I was working and visit every 6 weeks or so.  At one point, my kids bought a budgie to keep him company and they came along on some of the visits if I bribed them. I even passed on my meager cooking skills – boiled eggs, French toast and coddle (Linda would die laughing if she ever read this blog, saying that it was a miracle he  didn’t die of food poisoning).

Tough Calls:
Now Tom wasn’t always easy to be around. Most of the time he was cranky, continually moaning about his health, the weather, his lousy pension. He reserved particular vitriol for ‘the government’. He was frequently drunk, using alcohol to self-medicate. But, on the plus side, he was a likable old rogue with a good memory and I always felt better after the visits; it was an alternative to going to confession (there’s always a large dollop of self-interest in helping others). I hooked him up with some of the local social services and he even attended a day centre  (albeit Tom didn’t get on too well with the other folks; he thought that they were too old and crotchety). Our relationship, often uneasy, shuffled along.

Christmas Eve:
About 9 years after we’d first met, I dropped up a plated Christmas dinner (Tom stayed in our house one Christmas but that didn’t really work out).  In advance of calling up, I phoned ahead – without success.  When I knocked, there was no answer at the door. I tried the phone again, but no dice. When I spoke to his neighbours  no-one had seen him for over a week. Suspecting the worst, I went to the Garda Station in Coolock and explained the predicament. Two policemen accompanied me to Tom’s apartment. They banged down the door and, when there was no answer, forced an entry. In a freezing cold room, Tom was lying prostrate across the coach. Then, almost miraculously, one of his eyes opened and he took in the scene. When he saw the policemen and myself he let rip with a stream of invective that can’t be reproduced in this ‘family blog’. To say that he went ballistic is like saying that it gets a tad warm in the Sahara around noon (even the Garda were embarrassed at the language and that’s some accomplishment). One of them said: “We’ll leave you to it now”; I could hear them laughing, as they beat a hasty retreat down the stairs.

Walk Away:  
I spent the rest of that Christmas Eve trying (unsuccessfully) to find a Glazier. I eventually found a piece of wood in our attic, cut it to size and boarded up the broken pane in Tom’s door. The overall mission, from start to finish, took about 6 hours.  Immediately after Christmas I had the window properly repaired. Tom was still not talking to me – other than to add some new swear words to his vocabulary. When the window job was completed, I told Tom that we’d come to the end of the road and I never met him after that.

Exit Stage Left:  
In my opinion, age is not a ‘get-out-of-jail-card’ for any behaviour. At some point behaviour moves across a line that cannot be tolerated. In walking away I was hugely conscious of leaving an old man who’d very few friends in the world. It can certainly be argued that the decision was callous or even an overreaction (there were a couple of other instances, too long to recount here).  For me, it was the right call at that moment in time. I know that Tom has since passed on. I think of those couple of years as having some high and low points – for both of us. While I’m saddened that we ended on a less than positive note, like the French singer Édith Piaf, I have no regrets.

Ending any relationship is never easy. But such events are inevitable. Not everything in life is fixable. Sometimes ‘marriage counseling’ works well; sometimes a ‘divorce’ is the only answer. So, here’s the question for you. Is there a relationship in your life where you need to call time out?  Don’t let a concern that you have already ‘invested’ 10 years in a relationship (business or personal) lead you to waste the next 20.



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