The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness has released new research showing that millions of men are experiencing loneliness but suffering in silence – men like Desmond Gregory.
When Desmond’s wife passed away in 2015, his world fell apart. After nearly 60 years of marriage, the 89-year-old from Midsomer Norton, in Somerset, was suddenly alone.
Despite his daughter visiting regularly, his grief was overwhelming and he began to feel increasingly lonely.
“Some days I didn’t see anyone at all. I miss my wife a great deal. I miss going to work. I just miss having company,” Desmond said.
Fortunately his health worker spotted the signs and was able to introduce him to the British Red Cross – we offer services for those experiencing loneliness and social isolation.
An empty home
Before his retirement, Desmond had worked as a cutter at the Clarks shoe factory for 37 years. He met Audrey, his future wife, when he was 24 after a motorbike accident left him in hospital for three months. Audrey had been his nurse.
The couple moved to Midsomer Norton in 1959 with their baby daughter.
They enjoyed gardening together and craftwork with Desmond spending time in his woodwork shed, and Audrey sculpting sugar craft animals and flowers or cake decorating.
The home that they had spent almost 60 years making together suddenly seemed very empty without Audrey in it.
Desmond was referred to the Red Cross Support at Home service, funded by Land Rover. This service provides up to six weeks of support to older people in rural areas around Bath and north-east Somerset, helping them to regain their confidence and independence.
In Desmond’s case, support worker Sarah-Jane Morris began making weekly visits.
“When I first met Desmond he was very low and clearly missed his wife a great deal,” Sarah-Jane said.
“Bereavement can be one of the main triggers for loneliness and so after Desmond and I looked at his needs it was agreed that it would be good for him to get out and about to find ways to overcome the isolation he was feeling.”
Getting out the house
Every week Sarah-Jane would take Desmond out for a couple of hours. From trips to museums to visiting Desmond’s brother, the outings started to help.
“I did enjoy the visit to see my brother. I was so pleased to see him and his wife served me a lovely dinner,” Desmond said.
The pair hadn’t seen each other for a while due to ill health.
“It’s a marvellous service,” Desmond continued. “Each week Sarah-Jane would let me choose where I’d like to go the following week. I’d really look forward to her collecting me and would always be ready on time to make the most of it.
“Just going to the local farm shop for a cup of coffee was nice because it got me out of the house for a while.”
It takes time to overcome the death of a loved one and the loneliness that can come after they’ve gone. But Desmond is making huge strides.
“Obviously I still miss my wife a great deal and still get a bit low, but the visits picked me up a bit,” he said.
“Knowing I would be seeing someone and would be going out gave me something to look forward to. Getting out of the house lifts my mood.”
Sarah-Jane also noticed the improvement in Desmond’s mood over the six weeks.
“Encouraging Desmond to get out of the house has helped him focus on other things,” she said.
“He’s certainly much more talkative now than when I first met him.”
Staying in touch
As well as getting Desmond out and about, Sarah-Jane has helped him to get online so he can stay in touch with family and friends.
She encouraged Desmond to sign up to a four-week ‘iPad for Beginners’ course at the local library and run by the Wellbeing College.
“I’ve had my iPad for a couple of years, but don’t really know how to use it so the course Sarah-Jane suggested should be really helpful,” said Desmond.
“I’d like to know how to do my shopping and look at my emails: just generally feel more confident using it.”
Sarah-Jane also introduced Desmond to Age UK’s befriending service so he will continue to receive weekly visits after the Red Cross support comes to an end.
Desmond now makes sure he gets out of the house every day, taking his mobility scooter to the local shops and having a chat with his neighbours.
“The Red Cross service is really very good. I’d definitely recommend it to others,” he said.
“Sarah-Jane is a very nice lady who really looked after me. We enjoyed each other’s company a great deal.”