How do I find words to describe a rather emotional journey into the vulnerability, pain and plight, pride and resilience of our elderly Irish, often the unsung heroes or the broken survivors. I have plenty of time for reflections as I travel across the whole of London to visit the elderly in their homes, hospitals, and care homes.
I am blessed with opportunities to observe the empathy and kindness, the helpful hands, the listening ears, the reassuring promises provided by the staff team who often accompany me to these various outreaches.
Training for volunteers is provided by the Chaplaincy staff and in my case I was lucky to avail of intensive IT client database training and a familiarisation of the London Transport network, and the
various support and housing agencies. I can merely give a bird’s eye view of my experience of the often unknown work of the Irish Chaplaincy. Many people contact them when all other doors are closed or the cold winds of homelessness drive them to seek refuge. I experienced the joys and gratitude of a paralysed man when we delivered a battery for his talking watch, his only treasure to break the monotony of a long day. I was present when a frightened dependent lady sent a request to accompany her to the hospital surgery for 7 am. Office hours do not apply when need demands!
I visited a proud frail 85 year old man who was distraught by the arrival of an exorbitant BT bill. “I never owed anyone in my life, what will I do”? Immediately a kind word and a long phone call to BT from Stafford solved the problem and his peace of mind was restored. These simple acts of kindness are huge
interventions for an elderly person. Our clients are from all parts of Ireland, many lonely, disconnected from families at home and with physical and mental health issues. Their desire to be buried in Ireland is a dream for many and here the Chaplaincy have assisted in locating relatives, family graves, and have provided legal help for them to draw up wills. Ongoing support through visits, phone calls, newsletters, papers and Ireland’s Own are greatly appreciated.
These are a people with great pride and their wish to remain independent despite illness is all too common. I spoke to a West of Ireland man pushing his wheelchair. “How are you?” I asked observing the absence of his legs. “Sure I’m grand, it’s great to be able to get outside for fresh air. If there was a motor on this chair I’d be free to do a little shopping for myself,” he casually remarked. On occasions I have visited the elderly who feel isolated and rejected, weary of waiting for appropriate accommodation to meet their various disabilities. “Nobody listens to you when you are old”, is a common remark. A man threatened with eviction has waited 15 months for intervention from social workers and Housing officials. Many others receive letters to their requests saying their case “is closed”. The Chaplaincy has intervened in many similar cases providing a voice for the voiceless and a home for those weary of waiting.
What a difference the Irish Chaplaincy, a small voluntary agency is making to the lives of so many here in London. If I were a poet perhaps I may describe it as “A Safe Haven” in the storms of life where staff and volunteers provide:
A human touch, a listening ear,
A sympathetic heart,
An open non judgemental mind,
A ray of hope, a hand of friendship,
Independence in their frailty,
Belonging in their isolation,
Healing in their pain,
A Friend in Need
As a volunteer I feel privileged to be able to dedicate a little time to these wonderful people who emigrated from Ireland. They shared the little they had in order to help rear and educate their siblings back home. The isolation and loneliness of emigration took its toll on others.
I pay tribute to the hard working staff of the Irish Chaplaincy and their volunteers who now provide a lifeline to these people in the frailty of their declining years.
Sr. Mary Richardson