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A Day in the Life of a Befriender

A huge thank you to John Holden, a volunteer befriender who has kindly taken the time to tell us all about the work he does at Care For Veterans.

The resident that John supports, Paul Unsted, has written a book about his journey through Mitochondrial Disease. If any Care For Veterans supporters have contacts in publishing, local press or local art exhibitions then please reach out to us – we’d love to help Paul gain recognition for his work.

By John Holden:

It was a recruiting visit by Jaime that led me to consider volunteering for some sort of role at Care for Veterans and after browsing their website I decided that a one-to-one role might suit me.  I had served 34 years in the Royal Navy as an engineer and then a second career in ship design with a couple of years in Adult Social Care as a career break.  Put this together with my travels and I thought I could make a decent “befriender” and visit the home to swap sea stories with some old sea dog.

Within days of applying I was interviewed, DBS checks completed and being asked if I would consider befriending a younger, non-RN, ex-chef with serious health challenges.  We were introduced and despite him being a Chelsea fan and me Man Utd we agreed to give it a go.  Our first complication was that he found speech quite difficult and my hearing not 100% so it took a few visits to get to understand each other but patience and occasional reminders for him to sit up and take a deep breath improved our conversations.  Some basic sign language proves useful at times.

One of the early tasks was to start to tick off his Bucket List items, the first one being to write his experience of being diagnosed, and then dealing with, mitochondrial disease.  With this underway I complained to him that his Bucket List was a bit sparse to which he replied that he’d always wanted to do the London Marathon but that there was no chance of that now.  Let’s think about that for a minute!  I had already been trained in the delivery of his SOS medication and we’d had a couple of trips out for coffee so why not do a Marathon equivalent in short stages – from the home to Costa and back is 2.5 miles so only 10 or 11 of those make up the distance.

The trips out were focused on finding easily accessible cafes using routes not blocked by scaffolding or pavement parkers and which are flat and level.  His failing eyesight enabled us to visit Sight Support Worthing for help with his IT and great fun was had trying to work out his various passwords so that we could download the RNIB audiobook application.

Weekly video calls to family can be difficult and as well as helping interpret what he’s trying to say there are times that the calls leave him upset and we need to quietly chat through why this might be so.

Pumpkin carving in the Wellbeing Hub was definitely a two-handed job – him with his one working hand and one of mine holding the pumpkin as he attacked it with the carving knife.  But the corner of the Hub is his safe place where he has an easel and art materials and with support from Gill he’s able to produce paintings that often reflect his moods – good days and bad days can be seen on his canvasses and he delights in showing his efforts to me and explaining what they signify.

One of the recent highlights stemmed from his conversations with Jeff, the Volunteer Counsellor.  During those sessions it became clear that top of the Bucket List was “I want to write a book about my life”.  The notes from those sessions were passed to me (with permission of course) and put together to describe his growing up, how he met his wife, their travels before starting a family and the pleasure of sharing his child’s life in the early years.  When he started with the symptoms of his disease this had a devastating effect on not only his life but the family as well and it became that he had to move to a care home.  The story of this journey is illustrated by family photos and by examples from his art therapy which reflect his moods.  With a rough draft agreed and with the help of a contact of mine the book was printed and presented to him along with an electronic version to listen to on a computer

And what do I get out of it as a Befriender?  A friend who I can help live a fuller life and who hasn’t heard all my sea stories before!  I am able to work with the Occupational Therapists, the Speech Therapists, the Nursing and Health Care staff, the Wellbeing staff and other volunteers so that I can help offer the best quality of life possible despite the challenges being faced.

To learn more about our volunteers or to get involved, please read more by clicking here.

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