Ben Lowry: 2022 will always for me be remembered as the year when mum and dad died

A lot happened in Northern Ireland in 2022 and as a newspaper editor I saw much of it up close.
Barbara and Sidney Lowry, who were married in 1967 and both died in 2022Barbara and Sidney Lowry, who were married in 1967 and both died in 2022
Barbara and Sidney Lowry, who were married in 1967 and both died in 2022

But I will always remember it as the year in which my parents died.

I had turned 50 weeks before mum’s life came to an end on the last day of January. Dad followed in July.

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Many people now, like me, have had the good fortune to reach their 50s with both parents still alive.

Of the seven people of my age to whom I am closest (old pals, etc, all of whom were or turned 50 over the last year) all but one had two parents in January. The friend who did not lost his father only a few years ago. Another has since lost her mother suddenly this autumn.

In other words, of the 16 parents to these eight unrelated (in blood) people, 15 were still alive when their child reached 50.

In the not-so-old days this was unusual – neither of my parents reached 40 with two parents alive, and indeed I never knew two of my grandparents.

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I know people who have reached their 60s with two parents, and King Charles was 72.

It is a feat of science that people now live so long – where once you were lucky to reach your three-score-years-and-ten, now you are unlucky if you do not reach four-score (mum was months shy of 80).

But it does mean that many of us reach middle age without being familiar with death in immediate family. I haven’t quite absorbed the loss – my parents lived abroad in the 1990s and it as if, like then, they are overseas and will be back.

They had difficult ends – I have learned about pain and caring, not just death, in the last 12 months. Mum, who had dementia, waited in ambulance for hours before being admitted to A&E on the Friday before her death on Monday.

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The chronic shortage of carers meant it was a while before they got the home help they needed and dad, 91, never entirely did. But the health and care staff they did get were excellent.

My parents had good lives so it would be wrong to dwell on their ends.

Dad (Sidney) was, like mum (Barbara), a doctor – he was a physicist who later studied medicine and used the two disciplines to advance radiation therapy, later becoming professor of Oncology at Queen’s University (see link below).

At the age of 80 he wrote a book that looked at the future for physicians (The Last Doctor and the End of Medicine). He considered matters including the challenge to the NHS of people living so long.

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I write all this knowing that many people have had their lives shattered by untimely bereavement when young. We report on tragic deaths in this very paper.

I have tended to be, in the American phrase, someone who ‘sweats the small stuff’. If I have learned anything over the last year it is to savour our good fortune – and indeed the miracle of life – so long as it lasts.

Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter editor