A few years ago I met an elderly woman whose husband had just passed away. They had been devoted to each other, and the plan was that she would pass away first. However, this is not what happened; diagnosed with a brain tumour, he died in less than a fortnight. As I saw her sitting alone at the funeral I offered to take her out when everything was settled. They had no children and her nearest relatives live in a different city.
Some time later I rang and we arranged an outing. I picked her up at her neat little unit in a local aged care village and we went for a drive. She had a walker, which was difficult to get in my car, but after years of working in the disability sector I managed.
My dear old friend (for that is what she has become to me) only wanted to sit in the car on the headland and watch the sea. This was a precious thing she used to do with her husband. They would then go to a café for a coffee.
So it was that their old routine became our routine. I would first change the water and seed in her budgie cage, discreetly do a bit of tidying while she had toilet stop, and then she would get into the car wreathed in smiles.
But something strange happened. It stopped being a ‘kind thing’ that I was doing and I developed a love for my dear old friend. With her limited mobility we managed to tackle a few different venues where she would tell me stories of her marriage and the love she had for her husband. Her memory is fading so some of the stories were on repeat, but I don’t mind.
She had no transport to church so I sorted that out, and her favourite café was a leafy little place that reminded her of her husband — so it’s where we go for our weekly breakfast catch-up. The staff love her as she’s always beautifully groomed and wears lovely jewellery. She shines with happiness and contentment as the sun streams in from outside.
My dear old friend has also developed her own way to cope with loneliness and isolation. Every night she gets a cab or a complimentary bus to our local club where she spends three hours and has a few wines. She buys her evening meal (she hates cooking) and the club has a special table reserved for her. Here she sits and greets people as they walk past. Many people stop to have a chat. She is very happy in her own company, but when I can manage, I drop by and have dinner with her.
My own recent bout of surgery means I am not seeing her, but we talk on the phone every day. We are arranging a catch-up soon. My own experience is that as a single woman for many years I have gathered a large group of female friends who have been wonderful during my convalescence. When I look at my dear old fried who is in her 80s, I realise how isolated her being only in her husband’s company has made her. She does have some friends, and can join in at the events in her village, but she chooses not too — instead watching television for company and hoping somebody will drop by to see her.
I am grateful for my community of family and friends who have held me together through the recent trauma of my fall and subsequent surgery. I am also looking forward to hugging my dear old friend and seeing her smile.