‘A lot of people age because they think they are of no use to anyone’ - octogenarian Bridie Sweeney
Inspirational octogenarian Bridie Sweeney keeps herself busy as a volunteer and charity worker but most of all has a positive attitude when it comes to getting older, writes Denise Smith on Positive Ageing Week
From hackneyed depictions of old age to ageist stereotypes that are often harmful and demeaning, elderly people can often be treated with trepidation.
Which is why Age Action is promoting the 17th year of Positive Ageing Week to celebrate the crucial role older people have in society.
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Volunteer, charity worker and family woman, Bridie Sweeney (88), from Tallaght is the beating heart of her local community and a shining example of how our later years can provide new opportunities for growth and happiness.
The former Lord Mayor of Tallaght, twice elected, has been at the epicentre of Tallaght’s most charitable causes for more than 50 years, and as she reaches her ninth decade, the octogenarian shows no signs of slowing down.
Waking at 6am every morning, the former Tallaght Person of the Year winner begins her day.
“I go to classes in the P And T Club every week. We have lovely instructors and we go through a half hour exercise and stretch programme where we sit down and a half hour where we stand up and you can do as much of it as you like and then we line dance.
“You don’t ever give up but you do what you can do and as a result you can walk and keep fit. Often people would say ‘how many hours home help do you have?’ And I would say ‘how do you mean?’ And they would ask me ‘well, who does your hoovering and your house work?’
“Of course, I do it, and then they laugh at me and tell me that they are only 60- something and get their house cleaned every week.”
Bridie’s unwavering commitment to helping people in her local community has made her an important part of the social fabric in Tallaght, a role which she continues to excel at.
“I am a Eucharistic Minister in Tallaght hospital and I have been since it opened. I go up there every Wednesday. I also go to Kiltipper Woods Nursing Home to give patients Holy Communion.
“I work in the St Vincent De Paul shop in Tallaght village a couple of afternoons a week from 1pm to 5pm and I also do one day on the weekend.
“On a Wednesday night, I attend the St Vincent De Paul Conference where we discuss the plans for the week and we go out and around the parish and help anyone that needs it.”
So what exactly is the pensioner’s motivation?
“It’s full-time and it’s really rewarding. I sleep well every night because I am tired. I love what I do and it keeps my mind sharp and my body active.
“I made a pattern for myself and I have a good family and they will allow me my routine as long as I am able. I feel like I am adding to society and doing my part, and that is such a worthwhile feeling. I really feel like I am making a difference.
“Working is all I’ve ever known. I was 14 when I started my first job in Ernie’s Chocolates, five of my six sisters worked there.
“When I got married, 65 years ago, I had to retire because at that time you were not allowed to work when you were married. I asked my husband could I go back to work and I worked in Johnson and Johnson for 30 years.”
Recognising the need to map out her days and keep her schedule busy, Bridie adds: “I would very rarely stay in the house. I would always have something planned. When I go to bed at night, I always have somewhere to go the next morning.
“I never stay in. For us ageing people, life is wonderful we have a quality of life, but you have to prepare for it.
“It’s also nice to know that you are not plucked out of the air to be old, I have grown old with my friends.
“If I look at the group picture of my friends in the centre, nearly everyone that is in a photo is gone, it is nice to be able to talk about them because they are still so alive in my head.
“But you have to recognise, as you are ageing, it is a different kind of world you are going into because really you are not supposed to be able to do the things that you once took for granted, that doesn’t happen all the time, thankfully, but you have to train yourself not to give up.
“A lot of people age because they think they are of no use to anyone, but there is so many things you can do in that time and enjoy it.
“I owe how fit and active I am to my lifestyle and because of the places I go to. I remember getting a repair on my knee when I was 80 and they said they would hold off at least a year until they would do anything else, and I am 88 and my knee is perfect.”
Having lived alone for 30 years, the loving grandmother reflects: “My husband died 30 years ago so I’ve lived alone for 30 years. After living an independent life, I want to go on that way.
“I do find that it’s lonely. If you live on your own, like I do, it can be lonely because if you hear a sound during the night, well, who is it because there is nobody there. When you hear of break-ins, that can affect you.
“Last night, when I read the papers an elderly woman was walking along and two men pushed her on to the ground and she is in hospital and that is frightening because that lady should have the right to walk across the road. Knowing that you are vulnerable, that is hard.
“Thankfully my family are always around me and I am a very happy person and a very outgoing person, I have brilliant friends and family and I love what I do. Family will always take precedent...two of my great-grandchildren made their Holy Communions this year. It is so special. What I would say to people who are ageing? Get involved with the community, join clubs; this is a very special time in your life and can still be very much enjoyed.”
Read more: What's happening for Positive Ageing Week?