I light candles, they make me feel somebody is here


‘Why do I light candles?” says Barbara. “I didn’t light them because you were coming. I light candles all the time, because when I look around I see something flickering and it’s like a person. Does that sound crazy? It’s just the movement. They just make me feel like somebody is here.”


We are sitting in Barbara’s well-kept kitchen in Lucan. She is neat and tidy, well-spoken, and looks younger than her 83 years, although she often moves about with the help of a stick. I’ve met her through the charity Alone, and she’s eager to talk to me about loneliness. “Two years ago, Alone saved my life,” she says.


She chose the kitchen for her chat, because the kitchen is usually a meeting point for people. “Not that my kitchen is ever a meeting point,” she says. “But it is today . . . So I do the make-up. I do the hair. I get dressed.”


Barbara has been on her own since her husband, Bernard, died 23 years ago. “I miss him and I will always miss him,” she says. Her daughter lives in the UK with her family. “She is a fabulous daughter,” says Barbara. “She tries to come over every six weeks, and those few days with her are just fantastic. I get up in the morning. I feel wonderful. I put on my make-up. I get dressed. We go out for lunch.”


But the rest of the time Barbara has very limited contact with people. There are 45,000 people in Lucan, she says, but she doesn’t really know any of them apart from her cleaner and a kind neighbour across the road. “I don’t see her all of the time, but she watches my blinds and if they don’t open, she texts me or rings me to see if I’m okay.”


She makes an effort. Recently she had new neighbours move in and she went around with a box of chocolates. “He took the chocolates and never spoke a word to me since.” She has walked the length of Liffey Valley Shopping Centre “and no one spoke to me in all the time I did it”, she says.


People don’t make allowances. They try to “run you over” in their hurry to get by. “Even children don’t talk to you any more, because children are taught not to talk to strangers. If I see mothers and their children are very polite, I always say, ‘You should be so proud of your children, they are so polite’. But nobody talks back.”


There are no casual conversations now, she says, because “everyone has got things in their ears or they’re looking at their phone. The world is getting faster and faster. And the faster it gets, the less we’re going to have for people who are lonely.”


Barbara was born in the English midlands in 1932. She tells me about trading rags for chickens with the rag-and-bone man. She tells me about the bombs dropping. “But the poor people helped each other,” she says. “You couldn’t be lonely then. You never locked your door. Everybody just came and went . . . People now, they have money, they have credit cards, but the caring is gone. Everyone locks the door and that’s their world.”


After a recent decline in health Barbara is struggling to keep up an active social life, and is succumbing to loneliness. Through the help of ALONE she’s making connections with the world again. Video: Enda O’Dowd


Author: Patrick Freyne, curated from I light candles because they make me feel somebody is here