Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Why I Made Friends With An Elderly Stranger

Loneliness is the kind of problem that probably doesn't ping up very highly on many peoples list when it comes to the many, many issues in this world that we need to try and fix.

When we think about making the world a better place we probably tend to think first of issues with a little more urgency attached to them - helping the environment, reducing poverty, curing diseases, etc.

But actually, loneliness can have a devastating impact on so many people. And it's something that can be incredibly simple to help ease.

As somebody who has always struggled to make friends, I have often felt lonely myself...and it's such an unpleasant feeling. But I've always been fortunate to have had a lot of people in my life...so although I felt emotionally distanced at times, I've never been physically isolated.

For so many people, that isn't the case. Can you imagine spending week after week never seeing another persons face? Not having any human contact from one day to the next, with no end to your loneliness in sight?

Honestly it's something that I struggle to comprehend.

But it's reality for a lot of people. And the uncomfortable truth is, it could become reality for any of us.

We never know what hand life is going to deal us in the future, we never know how things will end up...this might be a bit of a depressing thought, but it's one that helped me to realise the importance of doing my bit to help reach out to a lonely person and do what I can to make their day a little brighter.

Because I know that if I were ever to find myself in their situation, I would want someone to do that for me.

I've always wanted to volunteer my time to help a cause that I consider important - but as most people would probably understand, finding that time to give has been difficult and it's what has always stopped me from doing it.

If I could split myself into three I'd be fine, but as a mother to three little boys who are at home with me all day long, responsible for the education of my eldest and also the sole wage earner in our home right now...free time just isn't something I have much of. Or any of, in all honesty!

But in 2018, I wanted to do SOMETHING. And I knew that even with as much as I have on my plate, I could surely find a way to spare half an hour or so a week to cheer somebody else up.

And so after some googling, I found the perfect solution for me...I volunteered to become a phone friend for a lonely elderly person.

All I needed to do was fill in some online forms, have a quick phone assessment, and find half an hour each week to have a phone call with someone - that was it!

I was paired with a lovely lady in her 80s called Maureen, and although I was a bit nervous before we had our first chat...I have loved the experience! Maureen is such a character, and she always does 90% of the talking!

She loves to chat. She's had such an interesting life that she loves to reminisce about, and oh my word is she funny! She has me in stitches every single time with her not-quite-PC remarks and her life observations.

Maureen tells me that as her physical health isn't so good these days, she can't get out of the house much and other than some girls from the local college who come to visit her every now and then...she never has anybody to talk to. Her family are all gone, she's totally isolated...and so our chats each Saturday are something she looks forward to. The one chance she gets for some company, even if it is only over the phone.

And do you know something? I've started to look forward to them too. I truly believe that we can learn so much from our elders, and Maureen has taught me life lessons that I never would have expected to learn from her.

The way she talks about her beloved Mum and her childhood made me realise what a truly important job Motherhood is, and how much of an impact we have on our children's hearts and minds...it made me realise that even though the tough days can be difficult to bounce back from and even though we can sometimes feel under appreciated, it is truly an amazing bond that we're creating with our little ones every single day...something they'll remember even when they're in their 80s and we're probably long gone.

Maureen doesn't remember much these days bless her, but she certainly remembers so much about her Mum.

She speaks about her with so much love and affection, even though it's been 35 years since she passed away.

What an incredible impact to have on somebody's life. And how blessed am I to be raising these boys of mine with that same opportunity to leave such an imprint on their hearts.

And I'd like to think that if my boys end up sitting at home alone in their 80s, with no family left around them, feeling isolated and unable to get out and mingle with others...that somebody would take half an hour of their week to just have a little chat with them. To give them that chance to reminisce and to laugh. To give them the dignity of some human interaction. To remind them that they are worth somebody's time. That they are worth listening to. That they are worth somebody's friendship.

So that's why I'm volunteering to do this. Because Maureen, and every lonely elderly person, is somebody's child. And nobody should feel so completely alone.

I first posted about this experience on Instagram, and I received an overwhelming amount of messages from people asking how they could get involved and reach out to a lonely older person.

So here are the details of the service I use, along with some others I've come across.

1) Call in time through Age UK

This is the service I personally use - you can sign up to become telephone befriender on the AGE UK website HERE.

2) Become a community befriender

If you have a little more time to spare, or you're the kind of person who prefers face to face chats - then you can also volunteer to become a community befriender through AGE UK. This would involve being matched with a lonely older person in your own community and popping in to have a chat with them once a week or so. This is something I'm currently looking in to taking part in, too.

You can find out more HERE

3) Spare Chair Sunday

I absolutely love the sound of this initiative run by Contact The Elderly and Bisto. If you have a spare chair at your weekly family Sunday dinner, you can offer it up to a local elderly person and their volunteer driver - inviting them along to enjoy lunch with you and yours.

How lovely is that?! I can only imagine how nice that would be for a person in that position, to feel included and part of a family Sunday lunch. This is something I'd love to be able to do, but host houses do need to have a downstairs toilet available due to the physical needs of some of the elderly invitees.

If you're eligible, you can offer your spare chair HERE

I hope you've found a way that you can get involved, and if you do end up volunteering I'd love to hear about your experiences. I hope you make a new friend like Maureen, coz we could all do with one!!

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  1. I definitely need to sign myself up for something like this! I love the fact that older generations have so much to share and I feel like id get just as much out of it as they do! xx


  2. This is such a lovely idea! We have an elderly lady in our block and I usually stand and talk to her for about half an hour a week - it's not always convenient but I do realise that she is lonely and needs that time more than I do.

  3. This is such a wonderful thing to do Hayley. Good on you. I have a friend who has volunteered on a scheme like this for several years. She lives far away from her own grandparents and she really values the friendship she has with her older friends.

  4. What a lovely thing to do. I bet she is funny. They always seem to have such wonderful stories. When I was younger I used to go into a nursing home that my mum worked in to talk to the elderly people there and not only did they love it but I did too. X P.S love your jumper x

  5. Aww, this is a lovely idea. I use to love visiting my elderly neighbour when we lived at our old house. She use to cry when we went back and visited her. She was so lovely. Bless her. One day we went and she had moved house, I often wonder what happened to her :( Love your t-shirt :)

  6. That is a very interesting thing to do. I've never heard of being a phone friend to an elderly person before. I wonder if they have something like that in my area. I think this is a wonderful and worthy cause to get behind. Our elderly deserve our respect but so often society would just rather forget about them. I love what you're doing. It's amazing:)

  7. Oh my!!! This post has just made me well up! I'd love to give up my time now but the truth is I don't like speaking on the phone. I am definitely going to look into the face to face option, I'm sure my husband won't mind me leaving him to the kids 1 evening a week.

  8. Wow that is so good of you. I should definitely do something like that. Now I feel super guilty and lazy!

  9. This is the loveliest thing. I feel so incredibly sad for Maureen though, how lonely she must be :( I'm so glad you're able to chat to her. How lovely that she speaks so fondly and lovingly of her mum x


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