Having a life changing illness is a confusing and frightening time – even more so if you are on your own.
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Two women brought together through St Catherine’s Hospice tell how befriending has changed their outlooks on life – and why others should consider getting involved with the charity’s worthwhile service.
Viv Watmough and Pat Nagle have known each other for more than three years, after their shared interest in animals and jigsaws saw them paired up by the St Catherine’s Hospice befriending service.
Viv lives alone in Coppull, and suffers from a number of conditions which limit her mobility, including emphysema (a lung disease which affects her breathing and requires her to be on oxygen), and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
Carers come to her home four times a day, but if it wasn’t for her weekly visits from Pat, she would have no-one to call a friend.
Viv says: “I was very depressed before I met Pat because I never really saw anyone. I was incredibly lonely. It’s hard to get out because of my mobility issues, so I was feeling very low. Friends from the past have moved away, and my son lives out of the area so he visits as often as he can, but I hardly saw anyone to talk with.
“Now I have Pat’s visits to look forward to, and it has made such a difference to how I feel. I can open up to her, but mostly it’s just nice to have someone to chat with. It keeps me going.”
Pat’s no stranger to the difficulties of dealing with health problems, after being diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing a double mastectomy in 2009.
It was shortly after that she began volunteering with St Catherine’s, and she has been a befriender ever since the scheme was set up in 2011. The service was initially set up to offer full-time carers a break to see friends and family, carry out chores such as shopping, and attend appointments.
But it soon became apparent that the patients themselves got a lot out of the befrienders’ visits too, and so Viv became the first befriendee who doesn’t have a full-time carer. The service is now available for anyone who lives alone with a palliative diagnosis.
Befrienders spend a couple of hours each week keeping people company. They are not required to do any personal care for the patients or carry out practical tasks such as housework.
“Most of the time we just chat, sup tea and eat chocolate,” Pat, of Lostock Hall, explains. “We talk about Viv’s cats and she also collects dolls so we have a look at them. We also enjoy jigsaws and crosswords, and the time goes quite fast. We have a laugh and have some fun together. Sometimes we go for a walk using the wheelchair and she tells me all about the history of the area. We always seem to find new things to talk about.
“If I’m on holiday, another befriender will step in, which is nice for Viv because it gives her someone new to get to know for a couple of weeks. I also do holiday cover for other befrienders and I enjoy meeting people with various interests and stories to tell. Befriending is a commitment, but it’s so worthwhile and such a privilege. People are welcoming you into their homes and opening up to you, and it’s very humbling. You don’t always know what to expect when you go to a new house. It’s very special.”
St Catherine’s is hosting a series of training sessions for potential new befrienders on January 29, 30 or 31 from 9.30am to 4.30pm to find out more about the service and getting involved.
The hospice’s Family Support Manager, Cheryl Scott, explains: “The befriending service is a perfect example of how the care of the hospice extends out into the community, and we’re really keen to get more volunteers on board to enable us to provide support to even more people.”
n To find out more about the befriending service and to book a place on the training sessions, call the Family Support Team on 01772 629171 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.