Mrs B. had buried her husband many years before I met her, petite and slim she had a smile that deepened the life lines etched on her face. A member of The Salvation Army (SA) church, she had the knack of always making you feel welcome irrespective of how busy she was. Bringing up three children on her own hadn’t been the easiest task but she spoke of her grandchildren and their achievements with pride. Mrs B always looked very smart in her SA uniform and although she was soon to celebrate her 85th birthday, she made time to sell the War Cry every Friday night.
She was adored by her family, loved God with all her heart and through her spiritual life she did all that she could to make a difference in the community. She took her place in The SA choir, attended the Women’s Meeting, Over Sixties and Lunch Club. Mrs B had a deep sense of belonging to her God, her family, her church and the community. When the local newspaper decided that it was time to honour local people Mrs B was the first citizen of that English country town to be honoured as ‘Citizen of the Year’.
Two years earlier, during a different SA appointment, I was contacted by a woman who wanted to trace her daughter through The SA’s Missing Persons Dept. I went with the relevant form and was sullenly welcomed into Mrs J’s home. Her home had nothing to commend it and through further discussion I learned that she was at odds with her neighbours. She had no contact with community groups and apart from her missing daughter she was completely alone. She had been spurred to action due to knowledge that her life was coming to an end. I completed the document and invited her to answer the final question about why she wanted to find her daughter. I expected her to say that she wanted to ensure that she had put her life in good order but her response shocked me: ‘I want to see my daughter again, so that I can give her a piece of my mind before I die.’ I have no idea whether Mrs J. saw her daughter, whether there was some form of reconciliation or whether she died as she had lived the latter part of her life, isolated and belonging to no one.
Most of us choose to belong and our sense of belonging can be as varied as our unique individuality. The isolation and loneliness that comes in later life may be foisted on a person through tragic loss of family and friends. Some people are left with only minutes each day when they can chat to the care-workers who have come to their home to dress, feed or ready them for bed. Sensitive and careful listening can make a massive difference to someone who lives with unsought losses and isolation. You can help them to feel that they belong again!
Written by Bob Rendall, Chairman Faith in Older People