Meet Mairead and Tony, Seniorline volunteers
Posted on 6th July 2017
Seniorline has over 170 volunteers aged 55+ who take calls every day of the year from older people all over Ireland. While volunteers don’t talk about their own lives while on the line, they can have a lot in common with callers. Both have lived through many societal changes, both know all about the ups and downs of life, and this shared history can create a helpful bond.
Volunteer Tony Doran, Malahide, Co Dublin ran a busy newsagents in Portmarnock for 33 years with his wife, Margaret. “It was a family business, and we ran our shop very much on those lines. We knew all our regular customers by name and many of our occasional customers as well. There were conversations, chatting with people about the rugby, about whatever was going one. I worked 24/7” he says.
When Tony retired, himself and his wife began to do many of the things they had promised each other. They travelled back to Canada where Tony had lived as a younger man, and visited family in South Africa. Then Tony began looking around for something to do and met an old school friend who volunteered for Seniorline: “The way he described it appealed to me. It meant you could work anonymously and help other people,” he said.
Tony has now been working on the help line for over two years. “I have enjoyed it. I have had some excellent calls. We are encouraged to ask callers if they feel better for having talked to us, but often I feel better after a call myself. It is very good to know you have helped someone. We have a number of people who phone us very regularly, and talking to them is also positive, because you feel you are giving them an outlet.
Seniorline is about listening. It’s not hard, though sometimes I need to remind myself that the call is not about me, it’s not about my giving advice to the caller, it’s about asking the right questions to help them. So sometimes I need to remind myself of this, and cop myself on”.
Tony and Margaret have a son and a grandson in Aberdeen. “We go over there more often because we have time on our hands,” he says. Though he would not say so himself, Tony is a stalwart on the help line and often fills in at short notice if needed. He is interested in rugby, in walking, reading and Irish social history. “I did an external Trinity College course on how life affected the non-combatants over the period 1912-1922. Knowing some of what was going on behind the scenes did make the 1916 celebrations last year particularly interesting for me”.
Volunteer Ireland offers helpful guidelines to all those interested in volunteering whatever their age. The organisation suggest potential volunteers consider what they enjoy doing, what kind of personality they have, and how much time would be able to give. Seniorline volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds and offer a wide diversity of reasons for their motivation. These include doing something new, to gain more self-awareness, because they have spare time, and because they believe in volunteering.
When Mairead Flanagan joined Seniorline as a volunteer in 2015, she brought to the role many years of self-awareness. With a career in nursing, Mairead contracted a brain tumour 18 years ago and had to retire. She later went on to develop depression: “You often believe you deal with early difficulties in your life, and then when something traumatic happens, it can all come forward again. That is what happened to me, my tumour triggered earlier unresolved issues, and I began to suffer depression in the form of anxiety and panic attacks.” She did not resort to medication but used a more complementary route, including reflection and meditation to get better. “I really grew through it as a person, and it opened up a lot of new avenues for me”, she says.
Having gained an insight into depression, she began to volunteer for Aware, the organisation helping to combat depression. Mairead also took two years training as a counsellor, where the value of attentive listening was reaffirmed. When she saw the ad for Senior Help Line, she knew she wanted to be involved. “At this time in my life, I realise that many older people suffer the pain of loneliness, and opening it up through talking is essential. I absolutely love my work on the help line. I realise the value of talking to someone else when you have a problem or are on your own. I think it is an excellent service and very essential.
“I don’t think we are an uncaring nation, but we are an ageist one, and we sometimes have to be taught how to care. We are inclined to push square pegs into round holes, dismiss people as they grow older, and see all older people the same,” she says.
“People are different from each other, and you see this on the help line. I had a contrast in calls the last time I was on duty. One caller who is very self-absorbed and that is their way. Another was from an 83-year-old female caller who phoned with a particular legal question. We looked at that and then we went on to have a long chat. She was absolutely great, positive, funny, told me all about her life, and at the end, I told her she was like a tonic. I also knew the value for her in talking and telling someone about her life.
“I think some older people have a lot of wisdom, and if you listen you can draw it out of them,” says Mairead.
“I see the value of the Senior Help Line approach and believe it is absolutely the correct one. I have been through the stage of wanting to fix it, and this is not what people are looking for at all.”
Mairead is married, lives in South Dublin and has two daughter and five grandchildren. “This is a very good time in my life,” she says.
Seniorline is a confidential listening service for older people by trained older volunteers for the price of a local call anywhere in Ireland. Seniorline is supported by the Health Service Executive and The Atlantic Philanthropies. Freephone 18500 80 45 91