“We have so much in common”
Bill, 87, from Cockermouth tells us how being matched with a friend through Cockermouth Linking Lives has given him a new lease of life …
When Bill was referred through his medical practice to his local befriending service – Cockermouth Linking Lives – he didn’t imagine he would be matched with someone so well suited to him. “It was quite miraculous when I met Jeremy, my volunteer, to discover just how much we have in common. We both love wildlife, have got a background in sailing and various outdoor activities, and have many shared acquaintances. Our family, like Jeremy’s, also used to regularly holiday up and down the west coast of Scotland, so we both know a lot about the area between us. I could go on for ages listing the similarities; it’s really been quite remarkable.”
Bill was referred to the befriending service at the beginning of 2020, after he found himself struggling to cope with the loss of his wife. “June passed away in September 2019, after us being together for 68 years,” says Bill. “We met when we were 17 and 18, married almost immediately when I finished college, and had four children together.
“After 3 years in the Royal Navy, I had various teaching jobs and also worked with June improving old houses and gardens. I then retired early from my job as a comprehensive school headmaster due to health issues, so my wife and I practically lived in each other’s pockets from our late 50s, developing our wonderful garden, travelling to Scotland or Ireland and supporting our children and grandchildren through good and bad times. Then with June’s health issues I spent an increasing amount of time caring for her. It was a blessing to be able to spend so much time together, but also made it so much more difficult when that was suddenly taken away.”
“If I didn’t have the hope someone might drop by the days would seem very long.”
Although Bill counts himself very lucky to have four children for regular visits, as well as a carer who also helped to look after his wife, he found he was feeling lonely. “I felt very much that I needed a friend and thought it would be good to have another man to chat to.”
He was matched with Jeremy shortly after being referred to the service, and they now meet up once a week. “We usually go for a walk together and he will come back and have a cup of tea with me when allowed (in accordance with social distancing restrictions). We are very lucky living where we do, where there are so many lovely views, and we normally manage half an hour on a river bank or lake while chatting about everything and anything.”
Bill has also started to get to know Jeremy’s father – a retired vicar and widower who lives a few miles away, near where June’s ashes were scattered. “Jeremy thought we might have some things in common so we all had a cup of tea together a little while ago, which was really enjoyable, and we plan to do it again in the future.
“There are all sorts of benefits to my friendship with Jeremy and it has definitely improved my life. It’s good to get out and about and also to have someone outside of the family I can talk to if I’m feeling miserable. He provides a listening ear so I can express what I’m feeling if I need to, knowing I’m not worrying him like I might be worrying one of my daughters.
“If I didn’t have the hope someone might drop by the days would also seem very long, so I look forward to my visits from Jeremy very, very much. Knowing there is something specific happening on a certain day and I haven’t got to look for another book to read or find a way to fill time is very important. We have become good friends and I’m grateful he’s been unbelievably suitable. You couldn’t believe the connection we’ve got.”
“Having worked as a Macmillan nurse in palliative care for 25 years, spending time with vulnerable people who are in difficulties, I know how important listening is and what a huge difference it can make. I have also always found it tremendously rewarding and satisfying to support others in the community, so when I was coming up to retiring and Terry – an old friend of mine who set up Cockermouth Linking Lives – mentioned to me he thought I would make a great volunteer, I decided to get involved.
“You can make a significant difference to someone without huge amounts of time and effort.”
I was introduced to Bill last year, and it’s been a pleasure to get to know him. We go for walks and chat about all sorts of things – including wildlife, travel and our families and friends. I feel honoured that Bill has opened up to me a lot about his life and his feelings, which shows there is trust there and he knows I’m a safe pair of hands.
Although Bill has a very supportive family, he hadn’t got to know a lot of people in the village and make local friends as he moved there later in life and spent a lot of time caring for his wife, so I know he appreciates having a new male friend to chat to and it has been great to see the change in him during the time I’ve known him. Latterly – due to a combination of things – he is a bit brighter in himself and more aware that perhaps he wasn’t managing some aspects of his life so well following his bereavement, and he is beginning to see a way forward. He is also going to be on the local Linking Lives committee as one of the Link friends, which he agreed to without hesitation when I mentioned it to him. He told me if he could start to help other people himself, rather than him being helped, that would be a really positive thing for him.
Volunteering has definitely enriched my life and is something I find very rewarding and satisfying to do. I’ve learned so many things from Bill in terms of gardening and plants and the local area, and conversation always comes easily for us. I have thoroughly enjoyed sitting peacefully in his garden on a warm, sunny day and having a natter, or wandering around his garden and seeing what’s going on with its constant flowering and colour.
Hearing how much Bill enjoys getting out and doing things also gives me a really good feeling. It makes me realise you can make a significant difference to someone without huge amounts of effort and time. I also know from conversations with other volunteers that their experience is similar. You don’t have to be an expert or have special skills to volunteer for Linking Lives – you just have to be prepared to sit with someone and listen. It’s about spending time with someone and showing you care, and I think that’s pretty precious.”