Sharing food, and bluebells
Updated: May 14
At least 20 per cent of those whom the Time to Talk Befriending (TTTB) Team on the south coast are supporting have a dementia diagnosis. Anna Chaplains, Emily Kenward and Julie Williams, who are part of the befriending team (Emily is the founder of TTTB) have seen their workload growing exponentially during the health crisis.
Time to Talk Befriending was set up in 2013 to support over-65s, and as soon as lockdown began staff and volunteers started phoning their members – all 357 of them. In recent weeks they've partnered with local churches and schools to provide emergency food packs and hot meals to those who need them.
Emily says of the befriending effort: 'We have transitioned to phone support entirely now. Keeping in touch and supporting people with dementia is a rapidly expanding part of our work.'
In collaboration with Brighton's Story Chaplain, more and more volunteers are discovering the joys of developing friendships with people with dementia. One has written this reflection.
Sharing the bluebells
Today I spoke to my new Time to Talk Befriending telephone friend. Jill (name changed) has just turned 86 and is living with dementia. At the start of the call Jill was low and tearful, and shared, ‘If I’m honest, I’m depressed. So many people round the world are suffering right now, and it’s just awful.’ We chatted about the challenges in the world and shared how we were encouraged by Captain Tom, the 99-year-old veteran raising funds for the NHS.
After we chatted a bit more about television (Eastenders), the British temperament (reserved) and favourite holidays we’ve enjoyed (Italy), I asked Jill what she could see out her window. She told me about a dandelion she’s had her eye on for the last few days, wanting to pick it, but not having the energy to leave the house. Jill said in the past her garden was her pride and joy and she spent every moment she could outdoors, especially this time of year. She said, ‘It’s all wild now, just awful.’ I said I knew it wasn’t how she liked it or had kept the garden in the past, but that the overgrown look could be pretty, and it was definitely great for wildlife. Jill seemed unconvinced, and we started talking about seagulls, a conversation we often return to. In Brighton the seagulls are never far off, and always a solid talking point.
At the end of our call – which was just over half an hour – Jill sounded much brighter than she had at the start of the call. Our conversation had lifted my mood too, as we’d both been looking out our windows and describing all the signs of hope and greenery we could see.
Five minutes after our call, the phone rang. It was Jill. Thinking that something might be wrong, I answered the phone to hear Jill exclaim, ‘Bluebells! There are bluebells in my garden! I hadn’t seen them before before the curtain was pulled across the window! After our phone call I went into the back garden to see more, and there they all were. It was lovely, like being in the woods! They would never have grown before, I wouldn’t have let them!’
C.S. Lewis said that ‘delight is incomplete till it is expressed’. Jill calling me to share her joy at discovering the bluebells completed her delight. And not only her delight, it made my morning, too. What a joy to have a friend to share such a back-garden discovery with, a sign of growth and hope that was there all along, waiting to be discovered.
Who can you look out of the window with today? Open the window if you can. What can you see, hear, or smell? The more we look, the more we can see, share, and delight in.'
(Copyright of Story Chaplain // Brighton & London – shared with permission.)
Footnote: When I read this reflection it reminded me straight away of the Kerry Hardie poem What's Left. You may watch the poet reading her poem here.
Hardie dedicated What's Left to her friend, the historian and academic Peter Hennessy, who, incidentally, was on the radio as the pandemic was just starting saying time would divide from here on into AC and BC… meaning 'After Coronavirus' and 'Before Coronavirus'.