Colleen is a widow, a woman in her 90's who like so many of her age lives alone. Her house is at the end of a long country lane about a mile from what could be called a main country road.
The lane itself is narrow, hilly, pitted with potholes and overgrown with briars. A raised central green grass strip runs the length of the lane making access for cars difficult at any time of year but even more difficult in the snows and frosts of winter.
Coleen's husband Owen died some years ago and as Colleen would say with pride; “Owen, at the time of his death, was the oldest man in the parish of Riverstown.”
Owen was a kind man. He and Colleen married late in life and in a way that's another story.
I have known Colleen now for some 31 years and over many of these years have had the pleasure of visiting her from time to time for a chat.
I suppose what makes Colleen’s life different from that of many elderly, even those living in our towns and cities, is that she lives in a caring community. A community where over the years various "state schemes" have been constructed in a manner that for me, makes Riverstown and indeed the wider surrounding countryside, a place apart.
In recent years Colleen has been hospitalised on several occasions, nothing life threatening but enough to require periods in hospital and follow up respite in a nursing home setting.
In spite of this, her determination and wish to return to her own home at the end of such hospital stays has been such that to date, thanks to the love and care of her community, she has achieved her wish.
Each time the challenge to return home has grown and each time the support that she needs to do so has been co-ordinated and ramped up by a team of people at her local community health centre, lead by a quite extraordinary lady, Sister Elizabeth.
Early this year after a period of 8 weeks in hospital and two weeks convalescing in a nursing home Colleen returned home in a frail state. She was absolutely delighted, but behind it all terrified that she would not manage or that a fall would see her leave her home for ever more.
Once more the Riverstown community stepped in. A plan was put in place. Colleen was visited and helped to rise and dress in the morning, at lunch time she received meals on wheels and a visitor that helped her with her meal, in the evening another visit resulted in her tea being prepared for her and finally around 9pm the last visit of the day ensured she was safely in bed.
As the weeks and months passed Colleen’s health improved and while she was confined to the chair for most of the day, her strength returned.
All through this time, and indeed during all my years visiting Colleen, what makes her special for me is her acceptance of life and all it throws at her while at the same time retaining that inner strength to prevail.
Thanks to her "visitors" Colleen knows everything that goes on in the community she lives in. She can tell you the ins and outs of family relationships going back several generations.
Recently Colleen unfortunately fell once more. Her panic button ensured however that the Gardai in Ballymoate responded promptly and within hours Colleen had been taken to hospital where X-ray's confirmed a broken shoulder blade.
As I write Colleen is still in hospital, unsure of what comes next. Her shoulder will take weeks to heal making it impossible to use her walking aid. No walking aid, no possibility of returning home. It’s easy to see where her mind is at and how, in spite of her positive attitude, the future is full of darkness and fear.
Today as I travelled to work I listened to the proposed H.S.E cut backs in the Home Help Service and while there is much that needs effective restructuring and management change in this service, I couldn't help but feel our society, as manifested by current government policy, is simply cruel.
No talk of working smarter or getting better value by reaching into the heart of all those people, be they retired or unemployed, that are true carers at heart. Kind people who would love to work in a restructured, cost effective and meaningful service, if for no other reason than they will someday need this support themselves.
The choices that face Colleen are few; she is now in a system where options are dictated by budgets and cutbacks. A system where her dignity and wishes sadly account for little.
Is it acceptable? Can it be justified even allowing for our economic mess that Colleen and her generation are left lonely, depressed and in such fear as to their future?
Surely communities, be they urban or rural, can find innovative and, dare I say it in the current climate, cost effective ways to ensure our elderly are treated with empathy, generosity, dignity and respect as they grow frail.
Or are we going to sit back and allow the heart to be torn out of who we are as a people?