Caring friends of U3A

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Last month one of our U3A Members, Sue, died unexpectedly.

To learn of the death of one of our members was not an unusual occurrence in our age group of retired older people. However, her death at 64 was neither expected nor usual.

She was an extremely active member of the U3A belonging to at least five different groups including bridge, racquetball, bird watching, friendship, weekenders, cycling and gardening. She was also an active member of Harrogate’s Wheel Easy Cycling Group, belonged to a Chi Gong Class, enjoyed American Square Dancing and was an active member of Leeds Carers Group.

The thing about the U3A is that many of the meetings are held in village halls, or regularly in someone’s home. However, if all the groups are ’outside’ groups, like the ones Sue belonged to, or consist of members drawn from a wide area, which is the case for Wetherby & District, it means that many members never get to know where other members of their group live.

Membership confidentiality is big part of the U3A ethos as it is with many other organisations. Sue lived alone and it was when she failed to materialise at one of her prearranged meetings that her absence raised concerns. The search was on to find her address, which took some investigative work on the part of the friend who noted her absence. In the event it was the support of other U3A members which led to locating Sue’s address. She had collapsed at home and died.

It was only when we all attended her funeral that we realised just exactly who she was and how she had spent her time. The U3A was a big part of her life and it was through the friends she made in this organisation and through her other activities that family and friends were able to piece together how she had spent her days and her final hours, and come to terms with what had happened.

At her Humanist funeral service, David Jennings, who was the Funeral Celebrant, quoted from a poem by Brian Patten who reminds us in posing the question: ‘How long is a life?’

‘A person lives for as long as we carry the harvest of her dreams; for as long as we ourselves live; holding memories in common, a person lives’.

How important is it as we get older and retire from paid work, that we remain engaged in new activities? Living alone is often a lifestyle choice, however, in many circumstances it is not, and as we age there are preparations to be made in the event of accident and illness. It is the friends made through shared activities, often within the U3A, who quietly monitor someone’s health and notice changes in a person’s activity level and stamina. This support is vitally important as we grow older and Sue’s death has made us all revisit our preparations for a time when we may need to call for help or as in Sue’s case, leaving things in order in case of unexpected death.

The U3A is a living and breathing organisation because of its members, there’s nothing half-hearted about it. Photographs were taken to record events and these in addition to memories from the various groups she belonged to, painted a picture of someone who, having had a particularly hard time in her life, had finally come through to share her love of life with everyone she met.

I would like to think that as an organisation we have learned something from this unexpected and sudden death, indeed I am reliably informed that Wetherby & District U3A have rewritten the policy and made provision if such an event should occur in the future.

While Sue was both active and involved in many U3A groups and organisations, she lived alone and was retired and didn’t have the support of a daily working environment to highlight her absence. However, what she did have, were caring and supportive friends who checked her whereabouts.

It becomes obvious as we grow older that we need to prepare for any eventuality, however reluctantly, and while remaining confidential, take a wider perspective in terms of information sharing should the need arise.

If you would like to know more about Wetherby & District U3A please check out our website www.wetherbyu3a.org.uk