Saturday 31 January 2015

'These people care about me'

On reaching retirement, living alone meant living in isolation for Leo Kelly until a health nurse suggested he meet with Alone, writes Edel Coffey

Leo Kelly and Eamonn Lawless meet for a chat and a cuppa

LEO Kelly (69) from Balbriggan, Dublin, was first faced with living alone 14 years ago, when his marriage broke up. Initially, living alone didn't bother Leo. He was still working, and had a routine to his life, even if his social life had dwindled.

"When I separated, I realised most of my social occasions were with my wife's friends. Everything was organised by her. I used to go to the pub on Friday nights because Gaybo was on but when everything ended, I found all I had was those friends from the pub and they're not friends as such."

He tried dating for a while. "You feel a bit stupid at my age going off on a date. I went out with a couple of women here and there, but I gave that up as a bad job.

"The few women I met, the first thing they do is tell you their troubles. I said, I don't need this. When I thought about it, I realised I wasn't interested in either a casual or a long-term thing."

When Leo retired, living alone suddenly became an isolating experience. "I had no social back-up. When you retire you lose the people you work with and Balbriggan is out of the way."

Leo's two sons were grown up and working, with one of them living abroad. "I was here on my own. I didn't mind it. I was grand but I ended up not really knowing anybody at all. It got to the stage where I didn't want to go out."

A combination of the smoking ban and the clampdown on rural drink driving meant Leo also stopped going to the pub. "I got terribly isolated. I had never heard of ALONE but I was at the stage with my chest where I couldn't walk from the car to the shop and I began to panic.

"I was just sitting in, smoking. I had no exercise. I needed help to look after my daily chores. I wasn't cooking. I wasn't doing anything. I was probably depressed but I didn't know it."

Leo did realise he needed help, however, and when he went to his doctor, he put him in contact with his public health nurse, who suggested he meet with ALONE. "That was the turning point," says Leo. "It broke the momentum."

That was when Leo met Eamonn Lawless (68), from Artane, Dublin. Eamonn and his wife have always volunteered.

"When I retired, we decided we'd get in touch with ALONE."

Eamonn and Leo were introduced about three months ago and they hit it off.

"He had lost confidence that he could make it from the door of his car to the door of the shop. Now we go to the centre in the Naul for a coffee in the mornings or we go back to the house and have cake. I've got to know him and he's got to know me. We're the same age, he's from the same area, he's a very articulate man. It's something to look forward on a Monday.

"I'd be very disappointed if I didn't get to see him. I like being able to help him. You see that you're giving someone an outlet, even though it's only an hour or two hours a week.

Because Leo and Eamonn are similar ages and both come from Dublin they find they have a lot in common. "We talk about Dublin in the '50s and '60s," says Leo.

'We can talk about Keano and O'Neill taking over Ireland. There's a common thread. We find conversation easy. When you're 69 you've a lifetime to talk about. As Joyce said, there's nobody in this world who is boring."

Leo cannot overstate how important his experience with ALONE has been for him. It is not going too far to say it has been life-changing.

Irish Independent

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