MEMBERS of a new group, who know all too well the impact that loneliness can have on a person’s well-being, are hoping to use their own experiences to tackle the issue for others in Fermanagh.
Inspired by the news that the UK government has appointed a Minister for Loneliness to honour the death of murdered Labour MP, Jo Cox, Pauline McManus, Stephen Cairns and Andy Rodgers are hoping their self-help group will enable people in the county to reach out to each other and help tackle their feelings of isolation together.
“For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life,” said Prime Minister, Theresa May recently, “I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones – people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with.”
Since the death of her husband, Michael, in October last year, Pauline McManus can very much identify with those feelings of loneliness and isolation.
“Whether you are part of a family or a partnership, at some point in life, everyone feels lonely. Even in a crowd you can still feel like you are on your own some times.
“That is the reality of the society that we live in. Everyone is far too busy with their own lives to realise that other people might need just a bit of their time.”
Pauline says there is a hidden loneliness that many people are unaware of.
“Michael and I were married for 52 years. That is a long time to spend in another person’s company. And it is very hard to adjust when they are no longer there.
“After a loved one dies, and after a certain length of time, people stop calling to see how you are. That is when the loneliness really sets in.
“I suppose age has a lot to do with it. So you are sitting on your own quite a bit of the time.
“I like going to the cinema, but not all of my friends have that same interest or want to do that. I’m hoping that through this group, I can find like-minded people that I can spend time with.”
Pauline says loneliness as a result of bereavement is an issue felt by so many in Fermanagh.
“I had two friends yesterday for dinner: there were three widows in the one room. It is a real issue.”
Aware that she is lucky to still have her independence and be able to get out and about herself, Pauline says she has family living close by too.
“My daughter doesn’t live too far away but she has three children and she works herself. I don’t expect her to come and sit with my every night of the week. In fact, I wouldn’t want anyone sitting with me every night of the week! I want to branch out a bit and speak with people in similar situations to myself.”
Another member of the group, Andy Rodgers, came to know Pauline and her husband through his voluntary work with the Red Cross.
“Pauline was working but because Michael wasn’t well she didn’t want to leave him on his own at home,” explains Andy, “So through the Red Cross I came out to spend time with Michael once a week while Pauline was away.
“In my own experience, being an only child and having the privilege of caring for my late mother in her later years, I really felt the impact that loneliness can have on someone who has devoted their time to caring for a loved one.
“When you find yourself in that position, it leaves you that you don’t have the same time to be available to meet up with friends. And eventually, they stop calling.
“Before you know it, you are solely caring for that loved one and all your time is devoted to them.
“When they pass away, you are very much alone.”
To honour his mother and Pauline’s husband, Michael’s memory, Andy says he feels it is his duty to be a part of the new group.
“I know there are plenty of people in the same boat. I really think it is a societal issue. There are so many ways of communicating nowadays, and yet no one seems to have the time to spend with anyone.
“To the outside world you may seem to be getting on with things and managing just fine, but when you go home at the end of the day and close the door, there is a terrible loneliness.
“I live in the town and have great people around me.
“But the first Christmas without my mother, only one neighbour made contact to see how I was getting on.
“It was the same this Christmas too, that same neighbour was the only one to see how I was. I’m not saying that the rest of my neighbours don’t care, they are just getting on with their own lives.”
Stephen says the catalyst for him becoming a part of the group was seeing the sad demise of a work colleague who retired while suffering motor neuron disease.
“He had one surviving brother on the far side of Omagh and a surviving sister in Millcroft with Alzheimers,” Stephen explains, “He was in Millverne initially and I used to take him out for walks and try to brighten his life up a bit. But he went down hill quite a bit.
“I really felt that the general system and society as a whole had let him down. He deserved better than to feel so alone.”
A drop-in event has been organised at Fermanagh House from 10am until 1pm on Saturday, February 3 for anyone who can identify with loneliness and is interested in becoming a part of the group.