Maimie, who is 87 and one of our Seniors, was convinced there was a bishop coming to visit her, and as each of her guests came into her flat and turned out not to be a bishop she seemed to grow more and more disappointed. First in were Paul the Seniors’ Project manager and Joe, one of our wonderful volunteers. They were followed by two special visitors from Ireland: Alan Brogan, former Dublin Gaelic footballer, and Harry Casey who works closely with the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference (which is where she must have got the notion that there was a bishop flying over to see her). As I trooped in last, Maimie asked be, almost in desperation “are you the bishop?”
The visit to Maimie was part of a hugely enjoyable day spent in London introducing Alan and Harry to some of the elderly Irish supported by our Seniors’ Project, in anticipation of a sponsored walk which will take place in Ireland on October 6th to raise funds for the project and for which Alan has kindly agreed to be ambassador. Maimie proudly took us into her little back garden which has been transformed by Joe’s hard work at weekends. As the illustrious party settled down for tea and sandwiches prepared by Joe, Maimie mentioned once more that she really had been expecting a bishop. Alan may be a 3 time All-Ireland title holder (and he was incredibly attentive with each of the people we visited), but what Maimie wanted was a bishop!
Maimie began to tell us a bit of her story, how she had left Dublin to come to London in the 1960s and how she had met and married her beloved Nicholas. It was following the death of Nicholas in 2010 that Maimie was supported particularly closely by the Irish Chaplaincy. She was given assistance in arranging the funeral; the visits to her were increased; and she was helped to link back into the community. Nowadays she is very settled and attends a day centre four days a week. But she says she gets a bit lonely at weekends and she still has a regular Chaplaincy visitor. What’s more, the Chaplaincy has arranged each year for Maimie to travel to Limerick to visit her sisters, both in their 90s; and somebody accompanies her to the airport and ensures she has the support she needs when travelling. Last year Maimie was able to go on such a trip a few months before one of her sisters passed away, and she was so pleased to have seen her before she died. Maimie had wanted to go to Lourdes this year and so the Chaplaincy has booked the trip for her and will accompany her to and from the airport for the flight. She has also asked that we arrange her funeral when she dies and she will be buried in London with her Nicholas. Maimie’s niece in Ireland told us, “It is so lovely she is supported by the Chaplaincy. You are her family over there. Thank you so much”.
The 2011 Census showed that there were 20,000 elderly Irish living alone in London. We have 110 people on our books currently and we’d like to increase that number to 200 over the next three years. We’d also like to have more of a presence in care/ nursing homes where there are significant amounts of elderly Irish. And we hope to do more work and awareness-raising in the area of dementia, mental health, and the interplay between spirituality and mental health.
Others we visited during that day are reluctant to talk about their early lives; for some, it’s too painful. But what struck me most was how grateful each person is for their visits from the Irish Chaplaincy, to have someone who comes regularly to sit with them and chat. “I can’t praise these people highly enough”, and “I don’t know what I would have done without them” were two comments made during the day. Sean, who is 76, said of his Chaplaincy visitor Pat, a fellow Dubliner, “Pat is fantastic-I love his visits”. And Maimie has said “I would have gone downhill without the Chaplaincy. Now I’m enjoying life again and getting out”.
“Keep up the great work” was Alan’s encouraging message to us the following day, and we have every intention of doing so. And the final comment from Maimie as we were saying our goodbyes: “make sure they send a bishop next time”!