JANET AND EUGENE Bennis are like many Irish parents in their fifties. They have grown-up children, a number of grandchildren, and are looking forward to the next chapter in their lives.
But with all of their children now living tens of thousands of miles away in Australia, the couple are having to make the major decision to leave Ireland – forever.
They have decided to sell their house and move to Brisbane, where three of their children live, to start a new life.
The couple’s children.
Eugene has been unemployed since Dell in Limerick closed, but Janet loves her job in the University of Limerick’s Café Allegro. They are being wrenched from Ireland, but desperately want to be near their children.
It’s a decision they never thought they’d have to make.
Janet told TheJournal.ie that their children are currently applying for a loan to pay for their parents’ visas – which cost around $43,000AUS each.
“We can’t do anything till they have the loan but we’ve done all the ground work,” said Janet. “We’ve made the decision, which was the biggest thing to do.”
The couple are hoping to be able to sell their house and move themselves and their belongings to Australia within the next 18 months.
Two of their children are married to two siblings, and between them they have bought a home in Brisbane that the parents can also move into.
“It’s like a role reversal,” said Janet.
It’s like the kids are coming to stay with mammy and daddy, but mammy and daddy are the kids. They are so excited. It is an empty nest syndrome. My husband still cooks dinners for six people and there’s only two of us here.
She knows their children won’t be returning to Ireland.
“It’s a nice idea to think that they would come back, that Ireland would pick up, but the reality is that Australia has great opportunities.”
Her daughter Jennifer left for Oz when she was 19. She turns 30 in July. Eoin (29) is gone about seven years, while Claire and Cian emigrated in the past two years.
‘You still have to get up in the morning’
Janet and Eugene.
Life without their family near is difficult, but they have been getting on with things.
You still have to get up in the morning, you still have to go about your business, you still have to go to work.
They entered a radio competition last Christmas to win a visit home for all of their children.
“When we didn’t win the competition, that’s when we realised we have no business to stay. If we go shopping we see our friends with their grandchildren. We’re like a childless couple for all the word. It’s just so hard.”
“It’s like a grieving process,” admitted Janet. A recent clear-out of the house brought memories flooding back. “We were coming across their schoolbooks, and handmade pictures. We were both there with big sad faces.”
They Skype the children every second day, “but it’s not enough anymore”.
Janet and Eugene will be sad to leave their family here. “It’s different things, everyday things we will miss. We’re living in this house 28 years… saying goodbye to our neighbours… it’s a big, big thing,” said a tearful Janet.
“We don’t know whether we’ll ever come back. I know I’ll come back to visit my uncles.”
Janet loves her job – “13,000 students call me their mammy in college” – but feels the move is necessary.
We need to have our kids in our lives.
“We’re just an ordinary family… emigration affects every family,” said Janet. They’ve only seen their granddaughter Saoirse five times in four years. “It’s not right,” said her devoted grandmother.
“They’re brought up with Skype but to us it’s so alien not to be able to hold them and bring them to the park, put them to bed… just so much more that we’re missing out on; not just the grandkids but everything really.”
The entire process has been, and will continue to be, an “emotional rollercoaster”, but Janet (53) and Eugene (58) are looking forward to this new chapter in their lives.
“Claire, my younger daughter said ‘Mam, while you and Dad are still in Ireland, our hearts are still there. But once we are all together there will be nothing to bring us back there.”
All pics: Janet Bennis