After hearing from NSES’ Care Manager Barbara Quinn about the dedication of caregiver Bill Drinan to his wife Barbara, it became apparent that this was a couple I would need to meet; that there was a love story waiting to be told.
Arriving at the home of Bill and Barbara, I was greeted at the door by a man still enjoying Halloween, despite the holiday having just passed. Bill was in costume as Pope Francis. I was not completely surprised as Barbara Quinn’s description included the fact that Bill loved to dress up and entertain. Turns out the Pope costume is but one of over fifty that he owns, all of which he has chronicled in a binder of photos (which he proudly shared with me).
Bill started providing care for Barbara about twenty-five years ago when she was officially diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. The level of care needed increased significantly the last six years and in the last year Barbara’s health has declined to the point of her being bed bound and needing 24/7 care.
I found Barbara alert in her hospital bed and although unable to communicate with words, she mouthed a greeting of hello to me when I introduced myself. Bill’s smile widened when he looked at her and told me how Barbara is “so special.” “She’s cute as hell; she’s adorable.”
Bill declares that it was love at first sight when he met her as a senior at Arlington High School. She had only moved to Arlington that school year. “I was all set to go to Seminary school in New Jersey when I met Barbara. She’s the reason I didn’t go.” They married at age twenty-one and have been married fifty-eight years.
Eventually they moved to Peabody and raised their four children in the home he and Barbara still share. Bill worked fifty years for Stop and Shop. He spent twenty years working a night shift so that he could spend more time with his family. “I just loved having that time to play with my kids. It was a fun house and a safe house for lots of neighborhood kids. The kids used to come over and ask if Mr. Drinan was coming out to play.” Recently one of their sons reminisced that even though Bill had worked a lot of hours, he had always made time for his kids. Bill felt such pride in hearing this and said it meant the world to him to know his son had that memory.
As Bill broke into spontaneous song with his rendition of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”, Barbara brightened and laughed and those are the moments that Bill says he lives for. “She loves when I sing and I love when she laughs; it’s important that she laugh every day.”
When I asked Bill how he keeps strong and positive and moving forward he sums it up by saying, “I’m having fun. Do I wish my wife was not suffering with MS? Definitely; but this is how it is and I still have her here with me. I’m blessed.” He went on to say, “We did it all in thirty years. We travelled. We went out all the time. We loved to go dancing. Lots of great memories.”
Bill credits three main things to his mental wellbeing; the outside help he has coming into the home (and one worker in particular who has been with he and Barbara for six years), his church, and a solid support of caring people who are there for him, including North Shore Elder Services and Barbara Quinn most notably. Bill calls himself a frustrated actor ever since retiring. Besides loving to dress in costume, Bill has immersed himself in the many activities at the Peabody Council on Aging. He has a group of friends and finds time to keep up with connections and follow his passions and interests.
“I wasn’t always able to do the things I enjoy because I wouldn’t leave Barbara alone. I didn’t think anyone else could do as good a job as me and I didn’t want to turn that control over to someone else. I really believed I could do it all. I couldn’t do it all, no one can, and Barbara Quinn finally convinced me of that and I agreed to extra help coming in. That’s what has made a difference for me. I get out now.”
“I’ve resigned myself to this role. These are the cards we were dealt. This is what I signed up for. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
It is obvious that Bill is an extrovert and loves people. He also has a contagious sense of humor that we both attributed to his Irish roots; it carries him far. According to Bill, there’s no secret formula to his ability to continue in his caregiving role. It’s very simple. He adores his wife, his partner in fifty-eight years of marriage. It’s his love story.