Hi. My name is Ellen and I’m in my 50’s. I was a teacher for the last 33 years and have just retired. I’m one of nine children and then went on to teach in a school of more than 1000 pupils and 80 staff. As a result, I’ve always been surrounded by people and would be very much a fish out of the water with prolonged periods of isolation. I watched my mother as she got older crave the company of others, she would become dispirited even she didn’t have, what she saw as a decent cohort of visitors. I’ve also watched programmes on TV about loneliness and how depressing it can be.
I was flicking through Facebook one day when I saw that Grandpal was looking for Pals for elderly people in local nursing homes. Believing that I might have something to offer I applied.
I was struck by the fervour and passion of Grandpal’s young founders and their willingness to invest their time for others. They have been so supportive in making it possible for volunteers to match up with their Pals.
When I was told that I would be meeting my Pal for the first time, I did, what all my years of teaching trained me to do. I prepared material!
I went with nail polish, ladies magazines, my iPad and puzzles. That went out the window when I was told that my Pal was to be an 81-year-old blind man!
Now my resources would need a bit more imagination.
I met with Patrick for the first time and it was a challenge. I don’t know anybody else who’s blind and I struggled to keep the chat going. I can only imagine that he wasn’t hugely comfortable either. When I left I felt a bit despondent and could have very easily asked for a different pal.
On reflection, at home, I realized how much this lovely man needed me to step up to the plate. I stepped into his shoes. Six years in a nursing home. For long periods of the day, Patrick is in his room and although the care staff are very kind, his unique needs mean that he finds it harder to socialise with other residents. He is also probably nervous in a larger group setting as he cannot anticipate what some of the other residents might do.
I needed to become more imaginative in how we passed our time together!
I did a bit of research online for ideas but wasn’t inspired by what I saw. I had a bit of a Eureka moment when I was making Sunday dinner and went and cut some of the herb rosemary from the garden! On my next visit, I brought some herbs, namely, basil, rosemary, sage and thyme. Nice fragrant species!
I thought it would be good to stimulate Patricks senses of smell and touch, and also to work on his short-term memory.
I gave him each herb to feel and smell. I spoke to him about how they can be used in cooking and I gave him some word clues about each one. For example, rosemary is also a girl’s name, and I use it when cooking lamb.
After going through all the herbs, I asked Patrick if he could name the herb by its feel and smell. I was able to prompt him with the word clues. I think we both enjoyed this interaction and I was delighted when he said ‘parsley sage rosemary and thyme, that’s a song!’ We looked the song up on YouTube and listened to it together.
The exercise also prompted a discussion on our cooking skills and favourite meals.
I know that the staff have revisited the herbs with Patrick and that I will bring them into him again as I feel that it was a different experience for him. I came away more energized from my second visit and felt more positive about being Patricks’ Pal.
For Patrick, and anyone else who loves Simon and Garfunkel here is their 1966, 12 song album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, with the title track being Scarborough Far / Canticle