On Wednesday the 28th September 2011, Noel surrendered unto death, having remarked to one of his brothers that he couldn’t fight any more! He had fought the good fight and now those who are left mourning his passing trust that he rests in natural great peace. We extend our deepest sympathy to his wife Caroline; his daughter Nadine; his beloved granddaughter Rhianna; his sister Bernie and brothers Liam and Jimmy.
Noel had finished working in One in Four earlier this year, though his very being will remain as part of the fibre that makes the organisation what it is today. As a mark of respect and in tribute to and honouring all of what Noel had brought to One in Four since April 3rd 2003, the organisation closed its door on Friday the 28th as former colleagues joined Noel’s family, friends and other former colleagues from some of the places and spaces where Noel had worked; to accompany him on his final journey on this earth and to pay tribute to this most unassuming of men.
Death brings with it such finality, a loss of the physical presence of someone we love and cherish. As the shock and disbelief begins to subside we can be met with intense and even overwhelming feelings of pain, sadness, anger; a sense of regret or remorse. In remembering Noel, alone or in the company of others, intense feelings such as these have been expressed, along with many more.
We know that grief is universal and yet there is something profoundly personal and private in our individual experience of our loss. Noel was and is loved deeply. The following reflections from Edel Bose and Rachel Somers capture so much of what many of us who knew Noel felt and feel about him and also give a sense of the qualities that made being a colleague and friend of Noel’s something quite unique to be treasured. Both Edel and Rachel had worked alongside Noel in One in Four and Rachel had begun her friendship with Noel before this when they worked together in Coolmine Lodge. Edel’s piece is an adaptation for Inside Out, of the eulogy she offered during Noel’s funeral mass.
I was honoured to be there with Noel’s family, friends and former colleagues and talking about Noel and some of the beautiful parts of him that I and others had experienced in working with him over the years. Some of what I said came from the many reflections of Noel I had been privy to over the last few days.
Anyone working with Noel learnt very early on, that the brightest lights in his life were his daughter Nadine and his granddaughter Rhianna and that while Noel loved his work and lived for his work in so many ways, his family came first and it was beautiful to witness the living out of this over the years.
Sometimes Noel got into a chatty mode – he loved to talk and let us new therapists know about the very early days of One in Four; how it got up on its feet and how it all came about. He would include the challenges that came with starting something new and the difficult times the organisation met and how it came through these times. You`d see the excitement in his eyes and hear his voice full of enthusiasm and you could hear how happy he was in those years.
The therapists had their own space and it was also from within this space that Noel helped me to open my eyes to new ways of working. He was such a good role model to watch. He never tired of helping. As soon as Noel would hear “…can someone help me?” – you’d see him stop what he was doing and get in there to help his colleague. Noel never said; “I’ll show you next week or tomorrow” or “I’m too busy” – he just got on and helped you out.
Then Noel might be going out the door and the phone would ring and the voice at the other end would ask; “…is Noel there?” or “…can you ask Noel to pop into me for a minute…” and sure this could end up being for half an hour or even longer. The voice was that of our former Clinical Director and as with everything else, Noel always went without any hesitation, his willingness to support had no bounds. Noel was part of all the beginnings in One in Four and we would discover over time just how instrumental he was in the ongoing development of the psychotherapy programme. From individual therapy Noel led the way into providing group therapy, workshops, mentoring, offender treatment, family work. He was the first staff representative on the Board and was keenly involved in the production of databases for everyday use and for statistical purposes. Noel had so many talents and gifts and yes, he was a computer whiz too! Once things were up and running Noel would quietly and graciously hand it over to others only to take on the next challenge. He was inspiring to witness.
When I joined One in Four, I shared the therapists space with Noel on Friday’s and was always met by a very warm welcome from Noel. He would ask me how I was and wondered if I had any difficulties in the work and whether there was anything he could do for me. This was all so new to me. I never experienced anyone looking out for my welfare to this extent before. He’d be asking me how was I getting on and giving me hints and ideas on things and of course he gave plenty of help on the computer, which was really needed! At times I thought he was just a bit odd – and then I began to think he was doing up a report on me to give to the boss each week! I hadn’t the nerve to ask him about this. However, as time went by and other new therapists came on board, I discovered that he was the same way with them and realised that this was Noel’s way of helping all the people he came into contact with. Noel’s kindness towards his colleagues was out of this world. In fact, you’d have to see it to believe it – you were a gift from heaven Noel.
For Noel, his client work came first and all the extra bits came naturally to him – if someone arrived at lunch time, Noel would meet them; if there was a crisis at 5pm, Noel was there to respond; if there was an urgent phone call, Noel would willingly take that call. There was never, ever a sigh out of Noel – he did his work and beyond and seemed always to want to do this.
While Noel was so open and giving, he was also very private and respected other people’s privacy; always seeming to know the appropriate boundary to hold. He was full of wisdom, courage and strength and there was a depth, warmth and kindness in the softness and gentleness of his responses. He was, in the truest sense of the word a gentle-man. We may not have known Noel’s family in person but their presence in his life could be felt by anyone who took time to sit in friendship with Noel for a while. You’d not only recognise his love for his daughter Nadine and his granddaughter Rhianna in the words Noel spoke – it was written all over his face – the joy they brought into his life and you just knew by him, that there was nothing he wouldn’t do for them.
One reflection on Noel’s integrity and courage was offered by Evelyn Murphy another former colleague of Noel’s in One in Four; “…many people will never know the work Noel did, his name will never be in lights and his need to hog the limelight was not one of his weaknesses. Yet Noel will not be forgotten by us, and all who had the honour to walk this journey with him. In our time together I never remember him having a cross word to say about anyone, yet, he addressed the truth in all situations with honesty and courage. Noel, with a quiet dignity, made his presence known and stood with those who needed a champion.” Noel touched the lives of so many – he worked with more clients than anyone in One in Four and we can never truly know the many people’s lives he touched and the lives enriched by his life. Noel wanted nothing but the best for each of us. He tried to keep life simple, finding joy in the freedom and achievements of others.
I had meet Noel before the summer and he spoke about his vision and desire to return to work as a therapist and supervisor. I felt he was visualising it and it was wonderful to hear him talking about returning to the work he loved. There were many who had hoped to work with Noel again, old doors that remained open and new doors ever on the latch just waiting for when the time was right for him – those at the other side knowing how truly blessed they and others would be by Noel’s very presence. This time, this opportunity, this possibility has sadly passed and so now, it is in our hearts and our memory that we carry the light that was Noel with us. Noel was my friend and I miss him.
I went through my mobile contact list today. I came to Noel’s phone number and was overwhelmed. For the past 12 years I’ve looked at this number knowing that with one touch I could connect, listen, laugh, joke, slag, cry, contemplate, form decisions and moan. Now I’m fighting the urge to ring his number just to hear his voice on the answer phone.
I first met Noel McGuinness in 1999 in Coolmine Lodge, the male residential community for those in recovery from severe substance abuse in Blanchardstown. His face seemed very familiar to me, and through our introductions, we discovered we were both students of The Tivoli Institute. Noel had just graduated and I was in my second year in training as a psychotherapist. The Coolmine job description specified the facilitation of one to one sessions with clients as well as group therapy sessions – however, the demands of working in a residential treatment centre became much more involved both in the facility and outside it. Noel McGuinness annoyingly excelled at both.
Noel had a knack. He had the knack of making a person feel at ease, feel as though one could tell him anything. In Coolmine, we met a wide variation of clientelle. Noel’s gentle nature and understanding of the individual were qualities which connected him closely with those who had been through horrific abuse, those who had been failed within their families, the school system, and shunned by society. Noel faced the challenge in meeting strong defences, aggression, resistance and dependency from some clients who had joined residential treatment as a means to get out of or keep out of Mountjoy. He knew how to develop unique relationships with hardened guys he had never known before, guys who had been mistreated, traumatised, abused and rejected by society.
Noel donned many hats. He ran workshops for prisoners in Mountjoy detox unit, to prepare clients for life outside the unit, as well as assessing clients for the transition from prison to treatment. Noel regularly faced the challenge of attending court with his clients to fight for further time for their treatment, before sentencing for whatever crimes had been committed. Noel ran family therapy sessions; interventions; developed workshops on dependency, relapse prevention, alcohol awareness; as well as designing individual treatment plans. He worked long weekends staying on the facility overnight holding the responsibility of the entire programme, as well as monitoring those clients who could return home for the weekend, and performing urinalysis testing for the same.
Despite the demands of the work, Noel had a unique ability to meet the person in a respectful and unobtrusive manner. Often as I sat in my own office I could look outside to see Noel with one of his clients, hands in pockets, deep in discussion. Whether the discussion was about behaviour, emotion, craving, dependency or whoever won the football that weekend, Noel made connection with the person and displayed an innate ability to see beyond behaviour. This together with his capacity for humour and fun meant he created such warmth and ease; one was instantly relaxed and unintimidated. His knack of seeing the person, looking beyond behaviour, and connecting to inner process taught me so much.
As with his clients, Noel taught me the same message. It was ok just to be. No labels, no expectation, no judgment. “Sure it’s just me”, he’d often say, “no big deal”. I could laugh with him till it hurt and cry with him till the hurt faded. He told me what I needed to hear, not always what I wanted at the time, because he was my friend. I heard him because I trusted him just as his clients did. Noel had no agenda, he met everyone just where they were, where I was.
Now I can’t call because he’s not there. But there’s an internal whisper I hear. Sure it’s just me, no big deal.