By Kim Willis
Friendship is undoubtably one of the great joys of human experience.
Where would we be without our best friends to call on in times of need, or for a good old natter and glass of wine? Friendship that endures is about something deeper than sharing the same school, workplace or, indeed, age range. A kindred spirit can appear in all forms; even if that's your 96-year-old neighbour and your still a teenager navigating your way through life.
Seven women have shared with us their age-gap friendship stories - and it certainly makes for a heartwarming read...
‘What started as a school project resulted in a lifelong friendship’
Amy Rutherford and Eryn Torrie,both 18, are friends with Margo Geddes, 96. They all live in Monifieth, Dundee. Amy is training to become a nurse, and Eryn is studying Art & Design. Margo was previously in the RAF and an avid tap dancer.
Amy: When our school announced that pupils could sign up for a befriender scheme, pairing pupils with people who were lonely or housebound, I signed up. I thought it would help me become a better nurse by improving my communication skills while benefiting someone else too.
The school told us we could pair up with a friend, so Eryn and I put each other’s names down. I was unsure what to expect before meeting Margo in June 2018, as I’d never done anything like this before.
We started visiting every week and Margo was so kind to us, we grew fond of her and visited during school holidays too. When we left school, we didn’t want to lose our friendship with Margo, so we still visit to this day.
We like finding out about the life she’s led and she tells us the latest news about the royals. She’s witty and makes us laugh. I admire how much she’s done with her life and how independent she is. She used to be in the RAF, tap danced until she was 80 and she still goes to Zumba. At 96, she’s still independent and has so much spark. Having met Margo, Eryn and I have huge respect for her generation. What started as a school project has resulted in a lifelong friendship.
Eryn: I signed up to the befriender scheme hoping to speak to people I wouldn’t ordinarily have the opportunity to. I lacked confidence, but I’ve changed so much in the years since meeting Margo. When we arrive, Margo makes us a toastie, then we talk non-stop until the moment we leave. One thing we all have in common is how much we love chatting.
I learnt about World War Two in history class but it was different hearing Margo’s experiences. It’s one thing learning from books but talking to someone who actually lived through a war is fascinating. I love how open-minded and bubbly Margot is, she’s easy to chat to and I value her friendship so much. Plus, she makes a mean toastie!
‘They will always be my friends’
Margo: When my eyesight started to fail I had to stop driving. Then, aged 80, I had to hang up my tap dancing shoes as I was starting to lose my balance. I had to find something to keep me occupied and the Befriender scheme is a lifeline. It’s lovely to feel connected to other people in the community and I think it does younger people good too.
Amy and Eryn are special to me. I love seeing them find their confidence and can see a change in them both since we met. It’s touching that they still make time for me.
‘It’s a privilege to share a friendship with someone older’
Carolyne Barber, 51, is friends with Sr Maria Coates, 75. Carolyne is head of mission, and palliative care educator at St Joseph’s Hospice, London, and Sr Maria Coates is a Religious Sister of Charity in the Mission Team at St Joseph’s Hospice.
Carolyne: I joined St Joseph’s in 2003 and it wasn’t long before Sister Maria’s delightful personality captured my heart. A keen amateur photographer, she took photos in Epping Forest and pinned them to the hospice wall, saying she wanted to bring the outside in for our patients, which I thought was a lovely sentiment.
One day when she was pinning up pictures, she dropped a pot of drawing pins, and let out a swear word I didn’t expect to hear from a nun. We burst into laughter and afterwards she invited me to join her on an expedition to Epping Forest. We had such a giggle looking for ladybirds, taking photos of leaves, acorns and flowers.
Five years later, I had a terrible shock – I walked into Maria’s office and realised she was having a heart attack. We were both very frightened as I accompanied her to hospital in the ambulance. Our age gap hit me then. I realised what a privilege it was to share a friendship with someone older, but that she may not be around as long as I needed her to be.
During her recovery, Maria went from outgoing to anxious, so I’d go with her to hospital appointments, then we’d drive to the seaside and take photos. It was important to me to be with Maria through this vulnerable time in her life and nurture her back to the person she was. I drew close to Maria’s family in Ireland and she became part of my family back in Yorkshire too.
Maria returned to Ireland where she ran a heritage centre and for many years we had a long-distance friendship. Then, in May 2013, when I collapsed with heart troubles of my own, Maria arrived at my hospital bedside and looked after me just as I’d looked after her. Nearly three years ago, she returned to St Joseph’s permanently and now we’re rarely apart. We love going on holiday to beautiful places we can photograph, like the Lake District, and I’ve learnt so much from my friend. My photography has now won awards and I credit Maria for sparking my passion. Maria doesn’t take herself too seriously but she relates to everyone with warmth and an open heart.
‘Carolyne is a gift to my life’
Sr Maria: Carolyne had been in Africa setting up a hospice and first came to St Joseph’s to show slides from her trip. I’d worked in Nigeria myself and thought she gave the most wonderful talk. With a shared love for Africa, it was the beginning of our friendship. Lots of little things bonded us but Carolyne says that when I was naughty and swore that day, her suspicions that I was mischievous were confirmed and our friendship was sealed.
It scared Carolyne when I had a heart attack but it makes us treasure the time we do have. Carolyne is the most beautiful person, she brings fun into my life and although she thinks I’m naughty, she’s just as bad!
When I see Carolyne in her nursing role, I see her shine. She keeps me young, whether she’s helping me level up in Candy Crush or handing down her pink Dr Martens for me to enjoy. She makes me laugh every day but when the going got tough, she was there for the tears too. She has been a gift to my life.
'Holly is a good person with a big heart'
Ivy Garrison, 91, is friends with Holly, 31. They both live in London and met through the Independent Age befriender scheme. Holly is head of transformation engagement for a health and social care regulator.
Ivy: I’ve lived alone for 44 years and missed having someone to talk to. I have two sons, Errol, 69, and Frank, 62. Between them they’ve given me six grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild. Although they all pop by, I don’t put pressure on them to visit and I am happy they are living their lives.
A year ago, my granddaughter heard about the Independent Age scheme and thought it might be good for me because I was lonely. Sometimes I’d sit outside my house so people walking by might say good morning to me.
I think Holly was more shy than I was when we met. I used to work in a hospital so I’m used to meeting new people. By her second visit, Holly felt at home. She opens up my life because we talk about so many different things.
I tell her about my childhood growing up in Jamaica and how I came here in 1960 as part of the Windrush generation. I tell her about the decisions I made during my career, which I hope might help guide Holly in her own work. Holly’s visits keep my mind active. She’s good at keeping me informed about things going on in the world and I savour all the details from our conversations after she’s gone. Sometimes, I pass on something interesting Holly’s told me to someone else.
I have kidney and heart problems, and sometimes I can hardly catch my breath, but if you know bad times, you know good times. Sometimes Holly arrives in the pouring rain and I am so grateful nothing stops her visiting. I can talk to Holly and laugh with her. She’s a good person with a big heart – her visits make me happy.
'Ivy is so welcoming'
Holly: The first time we met, I was nervous because I wanted Ivy to like me, but she’s so welcoming, the feeling dissipated immediately.
In the summer, we sit in her garden and talk about everything from the birds to current affairs. While I was planning my wedding, we talked about marriage. I am fortunate not to have experienced the kind of hardship Ivy has lived through. Despite every challenge, she’s so positive.
I’m always worrying about my next stage of life but Ivy reminds me to slow down and appreciate where I am now. She says as long as we have a home, our families are safe and we’re connected to our community, we’re OK – she reminds me what’s important in life.
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