Sometimes the only kind ear is at the end of a phone line

November 13th, 2019 10:11 PM

By Southern Star Team

The SeniorLine service helps older callers to talk about their loneliness or isolation. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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Widow Maire fell out with her family after the death of her husband, but a national helpline has given her an outlet to discuss her fears and open up about her struggles with loneliness

MAIRE, (not her real name) who lives outside Skibbereen, often phones SeniorLine. Now aged 68, she was widowed two years ago, and continues to live in the home she shared with her husband for over 40 years. 

Maire’s main problem is that there is now little family time in the family home. A falling out with her adult son and daughter at the time of her husband’s death has continued, and the gap seems to be widening.  

‘My husband died suddenly and we were all very shocked,’ she explained. ‘It should have brought us together, but there was a misunderstanding at the time that has not been resolved. I don’t see either of them very much. It’s heart-breaking,’ she says. 

SeniorLine is a national telephone line for Irish older people like Maire. They can contact it and share a wide variety of problems. Callers may be lonely, insecure, ill, or depressed.  Some find it hard to make ends meet, others may have had conflict in the family, and at this time of year callers can dread the advent of chillier days and long dark nights. 

Established in 1998, the phone line is Ireland’s only dedicated phone service for older people. It received 10,000 calls in 2018. It receives core funding from the HSE, recognising it as a primary community healthcare service, helping to keep older people living independent lives at home for as long as possible.

SeniorLine is part of Third Age, a not-for-profit organisation promoting the social engagement of older people and the value of the contribution of older people in their communities.

Many callers like Maire have experienced bereavement, either recently or in earlier years.  What they like most is that each call is answered by another older person – a trained volunteer – with whom they feel comfortable and at home.  ‘SeniorLine never pry, I feel safe in talking, as I still want to retain my family privacy,’ Maire says.  

She recently began attending a bereavement counsellor and is finding it helpful. ‘It is allowing me grieve in a better way.  For the last two years, I was very caught up in the row. So now, I am leaving things as they are, getting on with my life, and allowing myself be sad about my loss.’

She says SeniorLine has allowed her to ‘just talk’.  ‘I am reading again. For ages I couldn’t concentrate enough to lose myself in a book. I am also getting out more. Talking to SeniorLine – another older person who understands and does not judge – has really made a difference’.

SeniorLine is a peer-to-peer service,  where older people keep company with others in the same age group.  All volunteers are trained to listen with empathy and to support callers as they discuss their own options.  SeniorLine does not give advice, but in sharing the problem, the caller often comes to their own decision about what they want.

The closure of local facilities such as shops, banks, garda stations and post offices is contributing to greater isolation for older people in rural Ireland, and callers talk about having to go further afield, where they are less known, to avail of necessary services.  This is not helped in many cases by poor public transport.

SeniorLine believes there are more people in West Cork who have issues they wish to discuss, and would appreciate the company and welcome offered by SeniorLine.  

The line is open every day, including Christmas Day, 10am-10pm Freefone 1800 80 45 91.  

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