Laura O'Connor writes...
The IWO, Limerick is made up of amazing and fascinating women, some of whom came to Limerick to live for a short term, some who came and stayed longer, and some who came and stayed forever. It’s also made up of a quarter of Irish, of whom I am one.
I became a member about ten years ago, after a good friend brought me to a noisy coffee morning gathering and where I was met by the vibrant energy of lovely women from so many different cultures and backgrounds.
Since then, not only did I meet with so many talented, friendly and extraordinary individuals, but I’ve also learned and discovered new hobbies like Mah-jong, cross stitching and Shanghai card games to name but a few.
Recently, I’ve been asked to contribute a story about myself and I thought, what will I write about? These women have far more interesting lives than me!
So, here’s my story….
I come from a large and loving family of seven children. My Dad was in the Army which involved transfers and so our family moved to Limerick from Kildare when I was very young. When I was five years of age, I got my first hearing aids. On further tests, it was diagnosed that I had been profoundly deaf from birth. At the time, there were limited supports for deaf children outside of Dublin and there were pressures on my parents to send me to St Mary’s School for the Deaf in Dublin. However, my mother faced down those pressures as she felt that I was too young to leave home. She believed that the family home was the best environment for a young child and that I would be happier living at home with my six siblings. She had a nursing background and so maybe felt more confident in those beliefs and how best to care for children with additional needs.
Fortunately for me, I remained at home and attended both primary and secondary schools in Limerick. While I believe my mother made the best decision for me, it should be remembered that in the 70s, there were no resources in classrooms for children with additional needs as it was rare to have a child with a disability attending ‘normal’ schools. I got through it all but it was a huge challenge and struggle. After completing my Leaving Cert, I attended Secretarial College and then started work, first with UL and then with the Limerick/Clare Education Board (formally FÁS).
During my twenties, I met a charming, witty and most caring person who loved life and travelling. The first time he met me was when I was visiting a mutual friend, I had my bike with me and he cheekily asked me: ‘Will you come cycling around the world with me’. His character and humour attracted me and in no time, George became my best friend. Nearly a year after meeting and that impish introduction, we set off on the first of our many adventurous travels.
Our first trip was six months in the USA involving a month of cycling around California. We returned to Ireland but our travels did not stop then. A short time later, we married in Spain, travelled to India and Nepal and later settled in Australia for two years. We were joined by George’s sister and enjoyed three months travelling in a second hand campervan in the east coast of Australia. We travelled home via the Philippines, Hong Kong, China with a five-day journey on the Trans-Siberian from China through Mongolia. Our final stop was Moscow (pre 1991) which was a really incredible experience.
After we arrived home, we bought our first home and had one more long-distance memorable trip before our beautiful daughter came along. This time, we travelled to S.E. Asia including Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Our first daughter, Anna, was born shortly after our return. When she was three months old, we bought our little ‘hippy’ campervan, which transported us for a number of years to the magic of France and Spain. However, once more, we got itchy feet for far off places and added Kenya to our list with a magnificent climb to the summit of Mt Kenya. Shortly afterwards, we were joined by Anna and George’s mother and together, we set off to enjoy the sensational wildlife and picturesque landscapes of Tanzania.
Our far off travels (but not our adventures) then slowed as we settled into the lazy summers of France with the arrival of our lovely daughter, Eva, from Moscow and our next addition to the family.
I should mention about my hearing while all this wonderful travels and family life was evolving. By the time Anna was two years old, my hearing aids no longer worked which meant I lived for four years in a silent world with the aid of lip-reading. Fortunately, I discovered through Wurth Phonak Ear in Dublin that a possible solution to my hearing loss could be a Cochlear Implant at Beaumont Hospital. On further enquiry and assessment, I was then placed on a waiting list of three years – despite the wait and surgery, the outcome was well worth it. I cannot state strongly enough how much the implant gave me in terms of a new lease of life and the confidence within myself. It was an enormous blessing, giving me a clarity of hearing which I never had before.
But the most significant event to affect my life story was in terms of George’s health. In 2006, George suffered cardiac failure after an unexplained virus attack to his heart. No one could believe this event as he was the healthiest man around, who loved his walks, hikes, cycling and life. He also struggled to accept his condition but in the following decade, led a normal life as best he could minus playing his beloved soccer and hiking.
By 2016, however, George’s health further deteriorated and was placed on a waiting list for a transplant. Sadly, in the summer of that year, tragedy struck our lovely little family of four as our beautiful George lost his fight for life after waiting for months for a new heart – alas, it never came. Our loss is hard to comprehend and we still miss him desperately to this day. I should add that this has made our families and friends so aware of the importance of carrying donor cards.
While my story so far may seem to end sadly, I cannot finish on this unhappy note. I still grieve for George, but I am stronger today thanks to the wonderful network of support I have in Ireland and abroad. On this note, I will never forget the IWO women for their kindness, thoughtfulness and care during our sad loss. It’s no wonder why this group is so important to other women and especially to me....... so thank you IWO! May you continue to share and celebrate women’s friendships for a long time to come!