Muriel Megarry and Anne Gowdy, talk to Local Women Magazine about how Age NI is tackling loneliness in older people and how Age NI Day centre, Anna House, is helping to bring light into their lives.

Muriel’s Story

Muriel Megarry has had more than her fair share of tragedy. The great grandmother who lives in Dunmurry has been widowed twice, but even more heart-breaking, she lost her son suddenly 18-months-ago. It is, of course, against the natural order for a parent to bury a child, and 89-yearold Muriel was bereft at her loss. "Gerry was only 62 and he was the one I would have gone to if anything went wrong or I needed anything," she said. Yet Muriel has found laughter, friendship and support at Age NTs Anna House Day Centre. Tracing back through her life, Muriel was a busy working mum in her younger years and never for one second thought that she would feel the isolation that can come with growing old.

Originally from Cork, her family moved to Belfast when she was 18. She met and fell in love with Ronnie Stewart and the couple lived in east Belfast after they married. They subsequently moved to Lurgan after Ronnie got a job in Craigavon and the couple raised their three children there - until tragedy struck. "Ronnie was 62 when he died, he was 13 years older than me, and I ended up being on my own down there with our three children," explained Muriel. 'It was very sudden, it was his chest and his heart so it was a real shock. "About three years later I met David Megarry and we got married and moved back to Belfast, which is where he was from. "I worked as a secretary and then as an appeals officer in the Blind Centre.

"But then David took a stroke and so we ended up moving to the fold in Dunmurry."Fortunately David wasn't too badly affected by the stroke but he took cancer in the end and will be dead 10 years next month, he was 80. "He wasn't too sick for very long, although the last two months it was really bad and then about 18 months ago, my middle son died the same way as Ronnie.

"That was so hard, he lived close to me and he really was my rock. It's left an awful gap. "But solace has come in the form of Anna House, where Muriel has made firm friends with some of the other users and has come to regard the facility as a lifeline. She now comes to the centre four days a week and enjoys the many activities on offer. Armchair aerobics, watching musical performances, enjoying a manicure – they are just some of the ways Muriel passes her time at the centre.

But by far the most important part of being there is the companionship she has found from the staff and other service users. "It's wonderful, I feel like I'm part of the furniture now," she said. "It's made such a difference to my life. "My other son, Leslie, is a grandfather now and a lot of his time is spent helping out with them. "My daughter, Lynda, lives in Nottingham and she comes over as often as she can, but it's so important to have somewhere like Anna House to come to. "I'd be sitting in the house on my own doing jigsaws or crosswords, or watching the television. It's so nice to come to Anna House because you're surrounded by other people and there's always lots going on at Anna House and I've made good friends here too. I can't imagine what I would do without it, I would miss it so badly”.

Anne’s Story

Sitting beside her at the centre is 84-year-old Anne Gowdy, who credits her friendship with Muriel with helping to save her life. When she has been overwhelmed by loneliness and ill health, it is her friendship with the likes of Muriel and the time she spends at the centre that has given her the drive to keep going.

Like Muriel, Anne - from Lisburn – has experienced bereavement and she has struggled to come to terms with the loss of her husband, Trevor, when he was just 47-years-old. "He had only just come home from work, he was just back five minutes and he died in the shower room," explained Anne, a retired chartered accountant and mum of two.

"I have a daughter who was only 15 at the time and she was in fifth form at school and I just wondered how on earth I was going to get her educated, but I managed it and she did very well as it turned out and she even became head girl and I'm very proud of her. "I did find it hard being on my own after Emma left home for work." Then over the summer, Anne has had to contend with a life-threatening illness after she was diagnosed with a blood clot in her leg.

She subsequently fell ill with pneumonia before suffering a heart attack and it was only that she was in hospital at the time that she survived. However, she has been left with heart failure as a result meaning that she becomes breathless quickly. "I can't really walk very much and I've had to really slow down," she said. "It's very hard, I wasn't looking forward to retiring and it's difficult to feel like a burden”. Unsurprisingly, her situation has impacted on her mental health and Anne has endured some dark times. "I do feel better now," she said. "Muriel keeps me on the straight and narrow, she looks out for me, It's so nice to come to Anna House because you get to feel like you're useful again, even if it's just sitting reading a newspaper. I can come to Anna House and share my troubles with my friends and they always have an answer." There are always different people popping in and lots going on and being here means so much to me."

For Margaret Carlisle (60), who has worked at the centre as day care staff for four years, knowing that she is making a difference to people like Muriel and Anne brings endless satisfaction. "It doesn't even feel like work to be honest," she said. "I love my job because it can be very upsetting to hear how lonely some people can be and to know the impact that we can have is an incredible feeling. We make them their tea and toast and make sure they're comfortable and do activities with them, but the most important part of our job is just sitting down and talking to the service users. Being there for them and listening to them and talking with them is vital.”

"For some of the people who come to us we are the only people they see from one day to the next so our role is really important. At the same time, we have such a laugh, we really do, I'm so lucky I don't even think of my job as a job."

If you or an older person you know needs help and support call our advice line on FREEPHONE 0808 808 7575. Lines are open 8am to 7pm.