With the Lancashire Evening Post
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Thursday 7 February is Time to Talk Day 2019 – and I’d like to talk about Freda.
Freda lives in Plungington. She’s 94 years old, and she’s housebound. She lives with chronic pain caused by arthritis and a trapped nerve. She has injections to try to control the pain, but surgeons say they can’t operate on her.
Freda’s son had learning difficulties and lived with her until he died in 2017, aged 57. She catches up weekly with her sister who lives about a mile away, but over the phone rather than in person, as she is housebound too. She looks forward to seeing her brother who visits from down south every few months.
A couple of family members regularly come to see Freda in her small terraced house, and she occasionally gets out to the shops with their help. Her slightly overweight and really rather grumpy cat Tinkerbell also provides some company.
Nevertheless, Freda’s days are long and lonely.
Can you imagine what it’s like? Spending day after day staring at the same four walls. Struggling to even move freely around your own home.
As Freda’s befriender – through the Age Concern Central Lancashire befriending service – I see how hard life can be for her at times. I’ve been visiting on a weekly basis during my Friday lunch hour for almost one year.
Visiting Freda is humbling, thought-provoking and sometimes upsetting.
But visiting her is also uplifting, fun and good for the soul.
During the past year, Freda and I have become more than members of a befriending service; we have become friends.
Never mind the 58-year age gap. We have a natter, catching up about what’s been going on in our lives and in the world. We love doing jigsaws together, but Freda can’t bring herself to break them up so one of them has been framed, and the others will be too.
Occasionally there have been tears, usually of frustration, but we always end up in fits of giggles at least once or twice during our hour together.
It’s interesting to speak to Freda about her life in days gone by – from her growing up in the 1920s to living through the war, and from her role as a mother to four children to her many varied jobs including confectioner and bus conductor.
When I caught up with Freda for this article I asked if she thinks about the past a lot. She said: “Ooh yes, the good old days, I often think about them. We had the best times.
“I used to go swimming, dancing, walking – you wonder how you end up like this. I used to enjoy all that, but I can’t do any of it now.”
I asked Freda about feeling lonely, and what difference the befriending service has made to her over the years.
She said: “I’ve felt lonelier since my son died. You feel better if someone’s here, like when my brother comes to visit I feel alright. But when there’s nobody there to talk to it gets lonely, especially in the winter.
“I just try to do something to keep occupied, I’ll do a little bit of cleaning if I can. I’ll watch anything good on TV, I like my soaps, but I don’t like reading as I fall asleep. If there’s nothing on the tele I’ll go to bed.
“Not long ago I used to be able to get a taxi to town, take my walker and have a little trot round the market and B&M. I really enjoyed it but I can’t even do that now, so it’s good to have some time to see someone and have a little talk.
“When you’re just sat here day in day out there’s nothing to look forward to and it’s a bit boring and lonely. It makes a big difference to have a visit as it’s a bit of company and it passes the day on. You’ve also got something to look forward to with the next visit.”
There are currently 88 service users and 63 volunteers in the Age Concern Central Lancashire befriending scheme. It’s a self-funded service that aims to support the emotional, physical and social wellbeing of lonely and isolated older people across Preston and South Ribble.
Roger Jones, Executive Director Services at Age Concern Central Lancashire, said: “It is essential for older people to be able to look forward to a visit from a befriender. Someone they feel they can talk to, whether it is about the news, their family or what’s going on in their local community.
“The fact that someone is taking the time to listen, who is interested in what they are saying and sharing their passions can have a massive impact on their well-being, their motivation and any feelings of loneliness and isolation can be reduced.
“At Age Concern we value the time our befrienders spend with the people they visit. Our service could not succeed without them and we cannot thank them enough for the time and effort they put in.”
For more information on the befriending service, visit the Age Concern Central Lancashire website or call 01772 321868.