Irena Delahunty

A little over a year ago I joined a group of women at the Alzheimers Resource Center of Connecticut, Inc. The group is the Daughters Group - for daughters of those with dementia. My friend Mary had raved about the leader of this group and the facility hosting the group. I was cautious because the accolades Mary extoled on the leader, Irena, seemed implausible, overly effusive even bordering on hero worship. But I love Mary and don’t take her for a fool. So when she asked if I would like to join the group I gave it a wary shot. I am not prone to hero worship, I don’t like groups, I am not a joiner, if you will. But, Irena cannot be resisted. Irena’s powers of love and healing had not been exaggerated. Irena enchants and strengthens all who meet her.

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At this moment, Irena is in the hospital and we are waiting to hear that she will recover. Our support group has not met for about a month. Irena had taken time away for surgery. She has had many surgeries, upwards of 20, most to save her life after a horrific car accident in her early 20’s, and others to continue to correct problems resulting from that accident. This most recent surgery had gone well and she was to return to work this past Monday, November 12th, 2012. Instead, she was found unresponsive in her home on Sunday. All those she has touched with her love and kindness are praying, worrying, waiting for news of her progress and wishing we were able to enchant and strengthen her as she has us.

Irena's work with Alzheimers Patients is astounding. The Alzheimers Resource Center's walls are filled with extraordinary artwork. Truly beautiful work and all of it done by the residents - Alzheimers patients, many of whom can not communicate in any other way, can not remember their own children, and most of these patients were not artists earlier in their lives. Irena finds a way to coax beauty and expression out of people who have lost their ability to express themselves in other ways. She sees possibilities in all of us, even those most of the world has long since assumed have no possibilities.

Her own work as a sculptor and painter is deeply moving, spiritual and singular. Her skill and devotion as a sculptor inspires and thrills. The breadth of her abilities is extraordinary.

Irena is extraordinary. She is spiritual, she is loving, she is generous beyond reason. But now, as she is in the hospital, we wait. We pray. We worry. And we smile and laugh talking about how wonderful she is and has been to each one of us who has had the great fortune of knowing her.

Below is a letter I wrote in June for Irena, to let her and others know about this utterly fantastic woman. I want to share it now to let others know about this splendid person and with those she has touched who sit and wait and worry.

26 June 2012

Dear Irena,

This is a love letter of sorts to a woman I hold dear. I have never met a person like Irena. Irena’s love and compassion is quite startling and I want to share my thoughts on this with you and with anyone who cares to listen.
Irena loves more than I have known a person capable of loving and this love goes out even to people she barely knows. Often in our group she fights back tears as she explains what she sees in us, what pains or injustice she knows of our lives. Our pains become hers.

She loves us so dearly that we are forced to see ourselves through her eyes. We begin to feel that responsibility for caring for our own pain, just as she does. All the ways that we have been denigrated and in turn we have learned to denigrate ourselves, she forces us to work to push aside. We begin to feel that we can be who she sees in us and we begin to feel the responsibility for that. This is not done with platitudes. This is done with the examinations of the pain in our lives, our struggles, our secret longings and the strong or beautiful or loving ways we have lived – what we have given to our mothers or to our children.

I recently received an email from a member of our group sharing poignant insights into her own mother’s journey through dementia. This was an act of the most private and generous kind which is only possible when the deepest trust exists. This sort of trust and sharing is possible because of the trust, generosity and sisterhood Irena has forged among us in our group.
Again, I have never met a person like Irena. When she speaks, her eyes are bright, she is smiling with perfect clarity, there is nothing being held back as though her position on this earth is only made possible with an inner joy. I know that she has had great pain in her life and this gives the joy in her eyes that much more power.

We all love her dearly and I marvel, as I suspect the others do, at the depth of her love and her soul.

I can say with absolute clarity that I have never met anyone with the power to heal another’s heart as Irena has. She is the most extraordinary therapist I have ever met, and I have worked with many, because she loves you and wants you to be the person you were meant to be. She wants you to be free of what hurts you, what holds you back. She wants, perhaps more than you do yourself, for you to heal.

The evidence of her power is the healing I have witnessed in my 8 months of participation in her weekly group. Every individual has made incredible strides in self-confidence, self-fulfillment, joy and strength. I have not seen that sort of transformation in people in therapy in such short periods of time. I see these changes in my own life, and again, I have not had this kind of transformative experience in any other forum. She has helped us to examine how to move forward in the directions that we want to go. In our group setting, we have found loving encouragement, trust and belief in our abilities to be beautiful people.

Irena is extraordinary. She is beautiful. She is filled with an inner power that she wants dearly to share with those around her. I am confident that anyone who is fortunate enough to work with her will find their life enhanced dramatically.

With love,

Jean McGavin

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Irena Delahunty, Psy. D.
Chaplain
Irena was appointed Chaplain in 2002 and has enjoyed a long career in Nursing, Psychology and as an Art Therapist. She earned her R.N. at Queens Hospital Center School of Nursing and her Bachelor's degree from Mary Mount Manhattan College. Irena also holds a Master's in Art Therapy from New York University and was awarded her doctorate in Psychology from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology. Her interest in pastoral care drew her to Yale Divinity School where she secured a Master's of Divinity and training as a chaplain. While at the Divinity School, Irena also earned a degree in Sacred Theology with a focus on theological arts. She provides pastoral care to residents and their families that has a unique integration of spirituality and art. Residents paint, sculpt and express themselves creatively even as their other capacities diminish. Their art work is on display in the Resource Center's Gallery.
—-From the Alzheimers Resource Center of Connecticut, Inc. website https://www.arc-ct.org/meet_our_staff.php

Jean McGavin
November 15, 2012
Bethlehem, CT

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