January 8, 2017

I didn’t feel like leaving the house this morning. I didn’t sleep well and I’m at the tail end of a cold which is zapping all my energy. The alarm went off and I thought: ugh. It’s bad enough when your alarm goes off for work, let alone on a weekend. BUT I had a purpose for getting out of bed today and that purpose was to go to Joan’s* house and make her lunch….

A year ago, BBC Radio 1 launched #1millionhours with the aim of encouraging listeners to pledge a million hours to volunteer for 4 large UK charities. I’d wanted to volunteer for a while. I had been advocating volunteering for my clients as a stepping stone back into employment and had been listing the many benefits on a daily basis. I kept thinking I should practice what I preach and hearing the reminders on Radio 1 acted as the kick up the bum that I had needed. I picked Age UK to support out of the 4 available charities. It was a toss up between them and Cancer Research UK. I had supported Cancer charities over the years and wanted to help a different worthy cause. As it happens, I would go on to support Macmillan in a significant way in 2016 regardless. (see blog: Who needs hair anyway?!)

During 2016 I completed 45 hours volunteering for Age UK Northamptonshire in various ways including collecting donations, bag packing in Iceland, helping in the Venton Wellbeing Centre, visiting people in their homes through the hospital aftercare service and most recently through meals with care.

This was my 7th trip to see Joan. She lives alone, having lost her husband and their daughter. Joan’s sister, who is 91 lives in Kent and they speak infrequently on the phone. Joan has been ill and hasn’t been taking care of herself which has compounded her health problems. My job is to go to her home, make her a hot meal, pudding and give her some meaningful company. We have been having lovely chats about my family, work, her health, food. Polite, surface level conversations which we’ve both enjoyed.

Today Joan wasn’t in a rush for her food so I sat with her at the dining room table and we talked about life. She was born in 1928 and remembers the war years very vividly. Her brother, 14 years her senior, went off to war and never came back. She described seeing German planes flying over head, the sound of the bombs dropping and how it felt like they were aiming for her house despite being miles away. She talked about rationing and having coal fires and everything being dirty all the time because of them. She remembered her older sister “having fun with the GI’s” which bought a cheeky smile to her face. She added that she felt on edge during those years. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like and hope to never find out.

Joan commented on how easy life is now. She explained “Everything is so convenient, we all have cars and central heating. We can do what we like. We’re very lucky but I’m not sure people realise how lucky they are.” I looked at the 88 year old woman in front of me and thought, “You’re so right.” I observed the wrinkles on her face and the white hair poking out from her bobble hat (worn to keep her warm) and realised how ignored she is by society. She’s almost seen as irrelevant. She’d be the woman in the queue at the post office in front of me who I’d roll my eyes at for taking too long to get her purse out of her bag. We’ve all done it. We’re all guilty of it, but she shouldn’t be ignored. She’s far from irrelevant. This woman has lived a life and survived things that are unspeakable. She’s intelligent and perceptive and interesting. She’s funny and streetwise as well as being naive and vulnerable.

“Do you think I’ll get better?” she asked, anxiously. “Of course you will!” I said without hesitation. She smiled and looked reassured.

I came away from my visit today feeling uplifted and grateful. I know I’ve made Joan happy. (She described me to her visiting neighbour as bubbly and full of life). She’s certainly made me happy in return with her humour and encouragement. It’s an honour to be invited into someone’s home and to have them share details of their life. Today was a reminder of how easy we have it in Britain and also how hard it still is for people in war torn countries. It was also a reminder that the lady in the post office queue in front of me deserves more care and respect. She deserves our time.

It also put into perspective my “ugh” at the alarm going off and will make me think twice about reacting so dramatically to tomorrow’s alarm.

(*Real name changed to respect her privacy)

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