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Canadian Red Cross Friendly Phone program helps isolated senior ease pain of loss

WARNING: This story includes mention of a death by suicide. If you or a loved one are struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available 24 hours a day by calling the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566.
 
Ayden Dewar pictured in her nursing scrubs.Ayden Walter is a registered nurse. She’s a newcomer to Regina and was looking to make connections in her community when she discovered the Friendly Phone program on the Canadian Red Cross website.
 
“It was exactly what I had in mind; a way for me to share my time and company in a meaningful way. “
 
Bonnie Kell is a retired postmaster. She lives in the village of Kennedy, SK, population 216. She loves gardening, her grandson, and she loved hunting with her dad, her son Dave, and her husband Bill.
 
Bill was a heavy-duty mechanic who was said to have been born with a wrench in his hands. After years of chronic health issues, “he took his life in his own hands,” said Bonnie of his death by suicide. “It was pretty traumatic.”
 
After her husband’s death, Bonnie said that while she had great support from her family and some friends, there were just somethings she felt unable to talk to them about.  
 
“I lost a lot of friends because I was my husband’s caregiver and I didn’t have time for friends,” explained Bonnie. “The problem [of living] in a small town is that you are isolated because you can’t talk. People think you are doing fine and don’t ask. My son was going through grief too so we could share but you don’t want to drag your family down.”
 
Bonnie found her way to the Friendly Phone program and was paired with Ayden.
 
“She was a friendly voice that was reaching out,” said Bonnie. “Not just saying hi and then checking her watch. She had energy in her voice, that picked me up and pulled me out of the mire. I am so thankful to the Red Cross for this program.”
 
The Friendly Phone program pairs specially trained volunteers with isolated seniors for weekly phone calls to provide support, companionship and links to resources in the community.
 
Ayden remembered those initial calls. “I came into Bonnie’s life shortly after the sudden death of her husband; many of our calls focused on talking about the good memories she had of Bill as she worked through her complicated grieving process.”
 
Bonnie Kell pictured in her garden with a sunflowerIt has been a year since Ayden and Bonnie began their weekly phone calls.
 
“What I have enjoyed most is seeing Bonnie grow and find inner strength to create an independent life after losing the partner she has had for decades,” said Ayden. “Generally, the calls focus on being supportive of one another. It is great knowing there is someone who cares about your wellbeing and is a compassionate ear if you need to talk. This goes both for Bonnie and for myself, as Bonnie has also developed a vested interest in my life as well.”
 
“It took a while for me to warm up,” said Bonnie. “Ayden was very patient and let me talk or not talk. My grandmother had a saying - it takes a while to find your tongue.”
 
Find more information about the Saskatchewan Red Cross Friendly Phone program. If you are, or know a senior who is isolated and could benefit from this program, please complete and submit the online form here.
 
If you, or someone you know is thinking about suicide, help is available through the Canada Suicide Prevention Service by phone at 1-833-456-4566 24 hours a day, by text to 45645 between 4 p.m. to midnight Eastern Time or you can find other resources online at crisisservicescanada.ca. If someone is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.
 
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