A drama therapist whose “world collapsed” when her beloved father died has run the London Marathon in his memory.
Elizabeth Murphy (33) and brother-in-law Paddy Cunningham (35) joined thousands of other runners on Sunday to raise funds for end-of-life charity Marie Curie.
Nurses from the charity cared for Armagh man Sean Murphy in his final weeks at home before he died in September last year.
And despite having previously “hated” running, Elizabeth made it round the course, describing the experience as “emotional and heartwarming”.
“The support from friends and family and even strangers throughout the 26.2 miles was what kept us going,” she said. “It was tough, but we started together and finished it together. We have raised an incredible amount for Marie Curie.”
The run took place two days after her dad’s birthday and Elizabeth said she knew he would be “watching”.
She said: “When my dad died last year, the world around me collapsed. It was a difficult time. Losing someone who was a big part of my life. Losing your daddy is never going to be easy.
“Paddy suggested doing something in his memory like running a marathon. I had never liked it and preferred walking but I decided doing this would be something to focus on. I found when I was running it helped me with my grief as I could free my mind. I now have the running bug and get out whenever I can.
“It is great for my physical and mental health and I would recommend anyone to get their trainers on and get outside. It has been amazing therapy for me.
“My dad’s diagnosis was very quick but we managed to make some special memories in his final months.
“The care he received from Marie Curie was incredible. The nurses are like walking angels and so caring and compassionate – I don’t know how they do it.”
Marie Curie nurses provide round-the-clock care to people with life-limiting and terminal conditions in the local community or at one of their nine hospices throughout the UK, including Belfast.
Elizabeth comes from a large close knit family with three sisters, twins aged 32, and an older sister aged 37.
Her dad Sean – a former Ulsterbus/Translink driver and inspector- had beaten bowel cancer in 2015 and was in remission. But after his brother died of cancer in October 2021, he requested an urgent cancer check-up scan which thankfully was all clear.
But five months later, her 73-year-old dad went to his dentist complaining of pain in his mouth and was given an unexpected diagnosis.
Elizabeth added: “The dentist called mum back and advised that he should go and see his GP as his speech was off.”
He visited his GP and was referred to hospital for scans which showed he had a brain tumour and only had months to live.
Elizabeth added: “He gathered all the family in a room and told us the news. It was important for dad to share this news with us all together. It was hard for him to process, never mind having to tell his girls and my mum. I was absolutely devastated and in complete shock. My world fell apart.
“But dad was very practical and had already decided he didn’t want to die in hospital and wanted to spend quality time with his family and die at home instead.”
So they set about making memories across Ireland, visiting his favourite place in Donegal where the family had a caravan and where Sean enjoyed his weekends and holidays as well as his country music.
Elizabeth said: “My dad loved visiting Bundoran in Donegal, it was his second home. We used to go there on family holidays as children. It holds a special place in our hearts with so many happy memories.
“His favourite Irish country singers were John Glen and Michael English and he used to love listening to Radio Star Country.
“My dad never had a passport. He used to just holiday all over Ireland as he said everything you need is in Ireland. He loved his country and his family.”
When his condition deteriorated in the last weeks of his life, the family called in Marie Curie nurses for support with his care.
Elizabeth, who now lives and works in Liverpool, added: “They came when we needed them most. Dad had supported them selling their raffle tickets for over 20 years after they had cared for his brother when he was sick. The nurses would sit up during the night with dad ensuring that we could get some rest.
“My dad loved to share stories and always loved having a laugh. When dad had the energy I could hear him sharing stories with the nurses and they would be laughing together. Sharing memories and talking of the connections of people they knew and hearing that made me smile.
“My dad lived life to the full and he would say ‘every day is a good day’ when the curtains were opened in his room and the light shone in.
“My dad would have loved us doing the marathon as he loved Marie Curie and it would give him a great story to tell. He loved having the craic and telling stories and having a laugh. His smile and laugh were infectious and would light up whatever room he was in. I miss him so much.”
Paddy said: “I’m so grateful for the care and support the Marie Curie nurses gave to Sean and all the family during the most difficult time. Their care and compassion made a huge difference. Sean was hugely grateful for the care he and his brother received from Marie Curie.”
Renate Kyle, chair of the Marie Curie Armagh fundraising group, added: “It has been a privilege to be involved with Elizabeth supporting her marathon challenge in memory of her dad Sean.
“We are so grateful for her and her brother-in-law’s dedication in doing the training and marathon and their support. Every donation that Marie Curie receives allows us to continue our vital work to support terminally ill in the community providing care, advice and support.”
Anyone wishing to donate to Elizabeth and Paddy’s online fundraiser can still do so by clicking on the JustGiving link HERE