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A phone call can go a long way

Meet Arielle & Ann

A weekly phone call with a friend can do wonders to lift spirits, especially during a pandemic under months of Level 5 restrictions.

COPE Galway’s TIME to Care phone befriending programme was an answer to the loneliness experienced by many older clients who had to isolate in their homes. Matched based on similar interests, volunteer Arielle Locke had an immediate connection with Ann Kirwan because of a shared link to Canada. Arielle is a Vancouver native studying medicine in Galway, and Ann’s late son David had emigrated to Alberta before he passed away.

“I have a friend now I call every week,” Arielle said. “[Ann] is the most lovely, caring woman who has gone through so much in her life but has the best possible outlook. I keep on learning things, and she has a really sharp memory for what we talked about last week.”

arielle and ann

 

Arielle began volunteering with COPE Galway through the Helping Hands at Home programme, but after the Covid-19 pandemic set in, she was contacted to take part in TIME to Care. COPE Galway staff matched Arielle with Ann, who had connected with the programme. “I’ve always volunteered growing up, mostly with children, so I hadn’t really had much experience volunteering with the older population, and that’s something I wanted to explore because it’s a different generation and a different stage of life,” Arielle said.

The pair’s phone calls usually take place on Fridays, and both women look forward to the calls every week. Arielle said she’s learned so much from Ann’s stories and advice, and the two women enjoyed swapping cultural differences between Canada and Ireland. Their connection has also brought the realities of Covid-19 for older people into sharp perspective, Arielle said.

“You’re hearing on the news how older people are very isolated, and you feel for them, but it’s different when you’re actually talking to someone [in that position],” Arielle said. “It’s very isolating and I really felt for her in that way.”

Before beginning TIME to Care, Arielle said she was picturing short telephone calls and small talk, but she described her calls as just as open as talking to any other friend. “I’m very lucky to have been paired with Ann. [The conversations] are very open, she shares and we talk about anything,” Arielle said. “She always asks how my week was, and how my college work is going. It’s really like a friend.”

Ann echoed this sentiment, saying there’s ‘nothing off-limits’ when talking to Arielle, and she too found their conversations very open.

Ann, who has suffered the loss of her son, her husband and has her own health difficulties, remains remarkably positive. A mother of eight, she says she is blessed with a great family and her children are ‘always ringing and checking up on me,’ but it’s nice to have someone outside her immediate circle to discuss things with. She said the family gathers every year for her son’s anniversary mass.

“It did turn into something very special and nice because my husband and I started to do gardening. There was a little patch at the back of the house and we said we’d do a remembrance garden for David and that’s what brought us out of this slumber. It got us moving and motivated so when the family came home they could go into David’s garden and sit there and think about him.”

Ann and her husband also planted an oak tree in front of their house, something David had asked them to do. “Something came over me that I wanted to extend the garden, so that’s me kept busy and going,” she said. She continued gardening after her husband passed away and said visiting garden centres was a great comfort to her – something she’s missed most throughout the Covid-19 lockdowns.

Arielle emphasised that her friendship with Ann is reciprocal – she benefits quite as much as Ann does.

“For me, it’s rewarding to be a point of contact for her, and it’s nice for her to have someone checking in. She’s doing the same thing for me, so it’s a mutual relationship,” she said.

TIME to Care is an amazing way to build a new connection or relationship with someone you might never have met otherwise, Arielle said, “For me, I’m on my own so it’s nice to actually call somebody.”

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