Wednesday, 1 June 2016
Not so long ago I wrote about loneliness, and how it's currently an epidemic for our elderly population.
A couple of months later I took my own advice and contacted the Royal Voluntary Service who run a befriending service in my area. A couple of weeks later, and following the required safety checks, I was on my way to my first befriending visit with Miriam, an 87 year old lady who lives less than a mile away from me.
I was nervous and so, it turned out, was she. It's one thing saying you'd like to visit an older person in their own home, but it's quite nerve wracking when you finally get to do it. What if we didn't like each other? What if we ran out of conversation? What if...?
As it turned out we needn't have worried because within a few minutes of meeting, the kettle was on and we were having a cuppa, a choccy biscuit, and a good old natter.
It's been six months since I started visiting Miriam, and it's become part of my weekend routine. Every Saturday morning I call round to see her for an hour or so, and we watch Saturday Kitchen together, talk about all sorts of things - nothing is off limits - and more often than not we have some real belly laughs. We've spent time looking for her childhood home town on my iPad, we even found a photo of the school she attended in the 1930s, and I've introduced her to the joys of social media. She's picked it up really fast too. These days if we need to check something, she'll say "Can you ask twitter?"
She has a wicked sense of humour - when she asked me if I could pick something up from the pharmacy for her I said yes, of course, what do you need? "Condoms," she said, "I've got my eye on the 83 year old fella down the road".
I know Miriam looks forward to my visits because she tells me. She enjoys the company and knowing that she will see someone every week. She recently told me that she used to stay in bed on Saturdays because there was nothing to get up for. Now, she looks forward to my visit and gets up and dressed, does her hair and 'makes an effort'. It's quite humbling to know that our visits mean so much to her, but it also shows how vital this type of service is.
It's not all one-way though, because I get a lot out of it too, it's very rewarding and let's be honest, if feels good to know you're making a difference to someone. But more than that, she's become a good friend, she's had an interesting life and I love asking her about it, plus she's given me some cracking advice over the past few months. Visiting her is a pleasure, not a chore, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who's thought about volunteering.
This week is #VolunteersWeek. There are so many ways you can make a difference, and if you can make that weekly commitment of an hour or so it really is worth doing, I promise. It doesn't have to be befriending, there are plenty of other ways to volunteer that might suit you better.
I can honestly say it's one of the best decisions I've made recently, just wish I'd done it sooner.
Are you a volunteer, or have you considered doing it?