Eleanor Murphy had to keep a pane of glass between her and her family for her 100th birthday. Photo courtesy Murphy family

Virus can’t stop landmark birthday

By  Wendy-Ann Clarke, Catholic Register Special
  • April 25, 2020

Stuck in quarantine, Eleanor Murphy’s 100th birthday party wasn’t exactly the one she had hoped for, but it was one her family will cherish.

At the Cedarbrook Lodge retirement home in Scarborough, Ont., where she resides, Murphy sat in the main lobby surrounded by decorations on April 14 and waved to her adult children and grandchildren who stood beaming outside the window. Though there were no hugs for the fun-loving Catholic mother of three, grandmother of five and great grandmother of 12, there was an abundance of affection.

“I think she really wanted to be a hundred,” said her son Robert Murphy with a laugh. “It’s really unfortunate, especially for someone like her, that this coronavirus hit because she likes to be the centre of attention and would really have enjoyed a bigger party.”

The Murphy family is thankful to the staff who set up the cake, banner, balloons and helped to facilitate the celebration as they all adhered to the strict physical distancing measures in place. As the pandemic has swept through several nursing homes across the nation, so far, Cedarbrook Lodge has reported zero cases of COVID-19.

“They’ve been very, very careful,” said Robert. “Unfortunately, my mom, once again, becomes more isolated and perhaps lonelier because she was used to receiving visits a few times a week and that can’t happen any longer. It’s been tough for all of us, but we know it’s a good thing. I’m very impressed with how (the retirement residence) has dealt with all this.”

Throughout her long life, Eleanor has seen her fair share of hardships, but has been bolstered by prayer. Born in Newfoundland in 1920, she suffered the loss of her first husband to pneumonia when she was a young woman and more recently lost a daughter to ovarian cancer in 2010.

As a widowed single mother to a two-year-old, she moved to Toronto in 1949, where she met her second husband, Martin Murphy, whom she lost in 1996. The couple had wed at Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Toronto, where she attended Mass for several years.  

With a century of life under her belt, Eleanor has not only lived through personal tragedy but also experienced the challenges of the Second World War, the Great Depression and several other global crises which her family says is a testament to her faith and resilience.

“She believes very much in the power of prayer,” said her granddaughter Lianne Barley. “If people are sick or in pain or in any kind of need, she always said, I just have to pray. Just ask everyone to pray. Prayer works. She also has a very strong faith that there is a Heaven and a God that takes care of people after they have passed from this Earth.”

Barley says throughout the ups and downs of life, her grandmother has held strong to the Scripture found in Romans 8:28, “All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.”

Though her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren have not been able to visit, Eleanor still enjoys regular phone calls and using FaceTime with the assistance of staff at the residence.

Dancing a little through the window on her birthday, her family says Eleanor has always enjoyed having a good time with her close family and friends.

In a time where there is so much fear across the world, Eleanor seems to be taking the global situation in stride and, according to sentiments she shared with Barley after her birthday bash, has no plans to slow down.

“I’m not sure what all the fuss is about,” she told Barley. “I’m not ready to die yet. I’m still doing the twist.”

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