“I first became involved with Embracing Age’s Care Home Friends project during the Pandemic, having retired the previous year. I had worked with children and their families all through my professional career and I wanted to use my knowledge and skills, but with a different group of vulnerable people. I had listened to personal stories of loneliness experienced by older people in care homes (a direct parallel to how children in care feel) and by chance was introduced to this charity by Rebecca, who had recently become the Isle of Wight Coordinator.
It seemed like providence that the opportunity to do something useful, which also focused on local vulnerable people was presented to me at this time.
While I was involved with the Cards of Kindness project, I was introduced to some amazing people who were volunteering their time and skills and it was truly humbling to see how many generous, gifted people are in the community wanting to support others.
I feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of a charity that offers such an important service to older people, who are often invisible and without a voice (again I was struck with the similarity to Children in Care with whom I had worked for 40 years).
Whilst delivering the cards during the Pandemic, it became clear how committed the staff in the residential homes were to their residents and the huge pressure they were under. Once restrictions were lifted and the homes opened up for visiting, I was connected to one of the residents to whom I had been writing. He sadly passed away earlier this year, but it was such a privilege to get to know him and spend time talking about his life over a nine month period.
When I first visited Keith, one of the other residents said, “Don’t bother speaking with him, he doesn’t speak.”
How wrong they were! I found that by encouraging, listening, and spending time asking Keith questions, he had a remarkable memory and a great sense of humour. He had suffered a stroke which meant that at times he struggled to articulate the words clearly, but with time it became a lot easier to communicate. He had a twinkle in his eye when he was talking about his life, which was heartwarming.
Keith’s life had been hard - he had been separated from his family during the war for several months, without a clear understanding of why and whether he would see them again. When he did become reunited, there was little joy that he could recall - no parties or celebrations for birthdays or religious festivals. He had been in the navy and finally a fireman. He married a woman who had escaped domestic abuse and had 6 step children. There was little contact between him and the step children after his wife’s death, hence finding himself in residential care following his stroke.
One of the striking characteristics of Keith was that he never spoke with bitterness or regret, which I found amazing given the hardships he had encountered. He also talked animatedly about some of his travels in Australia and Europe and we were able to share many experiences given I had also been lucky enough to travel a fair bit.
When I heard that Keith had passed away, I felt terribly sad, but also fortunate that I had been given the opportunity to get to know him. I was particularly grateful that I had managed to see him before Christmas and watch his face light up when I gave him the bag of presents from Embracing Age, as well as some personal gifts from me.
It was a privilege to be able to engage with Keith and the wonderful staff at the home who are so overworked. It would be impossible for staff to spend such intensive time with each resident.
I am sure that Keith also looked forward to my visits and it always seemed that his speech was a bit clearer at the end of each visit, which was a bonus.
I would certainly recommend others getting involved in Embracing Age - to bring a smile to someone’s face is so rewarding.”
*Name has been changed for anonymity.