I did my voluntary session today, as normal. I ring around some people, just to say hi and chat. I usually refer to these people as "clients", although there is more to it than that. Over the months you get to know people, they get to know you, so they become friends. In fact, I deliberately use the word "client" to remind myself that ultimately, this is professional. If they decided they didn't want to speak to me any more, for whatever reason, I wouldn't have a choice but to not call them any more.
I've been doing this for almost a year now, and it has happened a couple of times. You can't take it personally - one of the clients said after only a couple of calls that she would prefer to speak to a woman. Reasons can be that fickle. For the mst part, however, you build a relationship with somebody which, like any relationship, grows over time.
I had a first today. One of my clients I've only spoken to intermittently for the last few months. I knew she was ill, and at one stage she told me she'd had a spell in hospital. Today I phoned and was told by her husband that she'd died last week. I mean, I was very shocked. Perhaps I shouldn't have been - the work is by definition with the elderly, this lady was in her nineties, plus I'd known she'd been unwell.
But I'm afraid I did find it quite shocking. I remember saying how sorry I was to hear that. I used to really enjoy speaking to the client and told the husband so. But it is only really now, after the news has had a few hours to sink in, that there was other stuff I could and should have said. The obvious thing should have been to ask the husband how he was holding up. I mean, he must be a similar age, I suppose, and they had probably been married for many years.
I did at least tell the Age UK woman all about this, so hopefully she will have had the presence of mind to call the guy at some point, but I know only too well how stretched the charities are. At the very least I must learn from this.
BEFORE YOU START: Please note that although I currently volunteer for both the Stroke Association and Age UK, the views expressed in this blog are strictly my own. I am not a spokesperson for either (or, indeed, for any) organisation, and I accept complete responsibility for the views expressed herein. As indicated by the domain name, I am based in the UK and the blog therefore has a UK bias - I've tried to use the Glossary to explain any ambiguous terms, but if you think there is anything I've missed, please message me.