It can be difficult to make friends when you’re the youngest person living in a long-term care facility. For many individuals living with multiple sclerosis (MS), this is a familiar story. For Clare, this journey led her to a lifelong friend, Robin. Today, Robin and Clare have agreed to share their stories with us.
Robin was diagnosed with MS in 2009 and began volunteering with the Friendly Visiting program in Alberta shortly following her diagnosis. The Friendly Visiting program seeks to pair volunteers with people living with MS in long-term care facilities to forge social connections. That’s when Robin was paired with Clare, who was living in a long-term care facility. The rest was history.
For Clare and Robin, their friendship extends beyond the Friendly Visiting program and has become something very special. They have been friends for eight years now and attribute their lasting friendship to the Friendly Visiting Program.
“We’re kindred spirits,” says Clare. “I never have to ask the MS Society to send me somebody else. I’m happy with her.”
Robin adds with a smile on her face, “Clare does the talking. I listen. We’re a great team.”
“The most fulfilling part of our relationship is our friendship,” explains Clare. “We keep in touch if there’s something we need to pray about or something we’re concerned about, so it’s more of an emotional need. We give each other support when times get tough.”
During a particularly difficult time for Clare, Robin was there for her. “Clare was very ill for a couple of years and it was awful. Clare was experiencing neuropathy, which is pain in the nerve endings. It mainly affected her in her arms and legs and caused a burning pain unlike anything else. I am just glad that I was able to distract her from her pain with conversation.”
Smiling at Robin, Clare adds, “I’m glad you didn’t run away. I was in so much pain in my legs and my arms, but you’d still come visit. During that time, I really wasn’t myself. I was in so much pain it was hard to even smile. It took me a while to recover, but talking to you helped me get through the pain. I didn’t mind you seeing me like that because I knew you had gone through hardships yourself. When I was sick for the two years, I got depressed. But I prayed and I overcame it. I did a good job, and I can’t imagine going through that without you.”
Robin and Clare both agree that volunteering adds value to their lives. Robin is very involved with the MS Society as a Friendly Visiting volunteer, a member of the Quality of Life Equipment Adjudication Committee, a council member of the Edmonton and Capital Region Chapter, and an education presentation volunteer. To her, volunteering is important: “Being a part of the MS community is important to me because I want to support others, be around those with similar challenges, and advocate for individuals affected by the disease. Volunteering is my contribution to the MS community and it is very satisfying, almost selfish in the fact that it’s a feel-good thing. I started volunteering because I wanted to give back to the community and MS was high in my priorities.”
Clare nods, “I think that’s so important. The quality of life is important, and Robin and I visiting each other like this is exactly that. Any time you visit somebody, itimproves their quality of life. Somebody that will take the time and spend an hour or more and not be worried that they have to go to this or that – that’s kind of a blessing.” Smiling, she looks at Robin and adds, “We are experts in the Friendly Visiting program. We’ve had years of experience with the program and our friendship!”
Clare and Robin also learn a lot from each other. To Robin, Clare’s outlook has influenced her own perspective, “I have a lot of respect for Clare, and her positive outlook in life. She always perseveres.” Putting a hand on Clare’s arm, she adds, “Clare is an inspiration.”
Clare blushes and speaks a little about her positive outlook, “It took five years before they knew it was MS. I didn’t doubt it at all, but I had no problem with it. I was happy it was MS. I knew I could live and it was my choice to live. If I had a brain tumor that was inoperable then it wouldn’t have been a choice. So, I felt really blessed and I told people that. It could have been way worse. People say I’m crazy, but that’s just the way I feel.”
Robin is quick to encourage others to volunteer through Friendly Visiting or other MS Society-hosted programs: “I met a beautiful person through the Friendly Visiting program so I definitely encourage others to do it. It is very fulfilling.”
Are you considering ways you can add value to the lives of people living with MS? Contact your local MS Society office or the Knowledge Network to see if the Friendly Visiting program is available in your area. To learn about volunteer opportunities, visit https://mssociety.ca/get-involved/volunteer.