Two years ago, Liesl and Jean sat in front of the TV in their own homes on the same night each week to watch Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, a show that gives older people the opportunity to connect with young kids. While they didn’t know it at the time, this same decision to watch the show birthed their blossoming friendship.
Now every Wednesday, Jean, who’s 88, looks forward to a visit in her home from Liesl, her 38-year-old companion. And so does Liesl. This mother of four refers to Wednesday as ‘Jean Day’.
“It’s always a good day on ‘Jean Day’,” Liesl smiles.
Wednesdays are one of Jean’s favourite days of the week too. Speaking fondly of their relationship, Jean recalls one of her cherished moments with Liesl.
“I hadn’t been out for a while because of lockdown. It was just lovely to get out and see where Liesl lives out in the country area. We came back to the local shops. I think I got fish and chips before we picked up the kids off the bus from school. It was the best day I’d had in forever. It was beautiful.”
Journeying towards friendship
While watching Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, Liesl remembers the moment she felt moved to volunteer.
“There was one story where a man was asked to grade where he felt his life was at. He gave it a one out of five. His wife had gone and his children lived overseas. That really got me. It broke my heart just thinking about how many older people are in that same position.”
With her youngest child starting kindergarten, Liesl decided the time was right. After Googling ‘how to volunteer with older people’, she connected with Wesley Volunteer Visitors, a Community Visitor Schemes (CVS) provider, funded by the Australian Government.
“The CVS volunteer coordinator said it’s kind of like matchmaking, so we’ll find a match for you. And that’s how I met Jean.”
Seeing how easy it is to become isolated while watching the show, Jean decided to try something new.
“If you sit and stare at your four walls it won’t happen. You’ve got to make that first move yourself. Life can be much more enjoyable and not so lonely. Making that first phone, had I not done it, I would never have met Liesl,” Jean says.
“I’m always surrounded with people my own age or even older. To have a friend like Liesl, who’s so much younger, opens up a whole new respect for life.” – Jean, Wesley Volunteer Visitors recipient.
More than companionship
While nervous about meeting, Liesl’s concerns were eased once she saw Jean’s big smile. And the connection was instant.
“She was so warm and friendly. It just felt like you were visiting your grandmother. It was beautiful,” Liesl says.
Jean laughs, “I almost felt that we’d met before, but we hadn’t.”
While there’s a big age difference, Jean appreciates being able to share life with someone in another life stage.
“I’m always surrounded with people my own age or even older. To have a friend like Liesl, who’s so much younger, opens up a whole new respect for life,” Jean shares.
Now Liesl sees Jean as one of her family and often brings along her four kids to her visits with Jean. “You just forget that you are a volunteer. It’s more like visiting a grandmother.”
A sentiment Jean echoes. “I don’t think I’ll ever have great-grandchildren in my lifetime so I love it when they come over.”
During their visits, Jean and Liesl’s daughter bond over colouring in and gardening. And all four kids enjoy playing a game of Rummikub with Jean.
“It gets rather competitive and some cheat, so Jean keeps a close eye on them,” Liesl says.
And Liesl is thankful for how much Jean goes above and beyond for her kids. “She always sends them home with chocolates. She absolutely spoils them every time they come.”
But the kindness goes both ways. Liesl often brings Jean a coffee and a sneaky apple pie or muffin. And if Jean needs to run an errand or needs support at home, Liesl is always willing to offer a helping hand.
They’ve also shared new adventures together, including a visit to Liesl’s family home to meet all her family’s animals. At Jean’s suggestion, they’ve even explored Mount Sugarloaf.
“I’d never been to Mount Sugarloaf and I’ve lived in this region for more than 20 years,” says Liesl.
But most days, they just chat. “After a week of not seeing each other, there’s much to talk about,” Liesl says. “She has such a great life story. I love hearing about her life growing up, her nursing days, her career as a top Avon lady, which is very impressive.”
“I thought I was giving back but she has enriched my life to a whole new level … Someone that I can learn from and knowing that I am here for her.” – Liesl
Reflecting over the last two years, Jean is glad she found courage to “put herself out there” because Liesl’s brought a new light into her life.
Tears well up in Jean’s eyes as she says, “When Liesl comes into my home, I don’t think of her as a volunteer. She has brought so much happiness to me and contentment into my life. I would hate ever not to have her in my life.”
While initially volunteering to support an older person, Liesl was surprised by how this friendship has impacted her own life.
“I thought I was giving back but she has enriched my life to a whole new level. I don’t have any grandparents left. To have Jean in my life, it’s been beautiful to gain that relationship back. Someone that I can learn from and knowing that I am here for her.”
So, when Liesl’s friends share that they’re missing something in their lives, she responds with, “You need a Jean in your life.”
“There’s so many people out there who would just love someone to have a coffee with, have a chat with. Volunteering is a way to do that.”
Liesl hopes this experience will inspire her kids to follow in her footsteps in the future.
“If they can see their mum volunteering and the relationship that we’ve gained by meeting Jean and what she’s brought to our family, when they’re older, they may think about how they can bring something to somebody else’s life that they don’t know and introduce someone into their own families.”
Get involved with Wesley Volunteer Visitors
Wesley Volunteer Visitors helps enhance the wellbeing of older people living in the Central Coast, the Hunter, and Port Macquarie regions in New South Wales.
Find out more about making a new companion or volunteering for Wesley Volunteers Visitors.