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Finding a friend when you need one the most

Written by Michael Cummings
on October 07, 2019

Graham Ruthven knows more than anyone that, when times are tough, you find out who your true friends are.

When he came downstairs to Weary Dunlop’s lounge after feeding his wife, Helen, in the retirement village’s specialist dementia unit, there was, like clockwork, a glass of sauvignon blanc waiting for him.

And waiting with it were fellow residents Jim and Kath Garrie.

Graham would leave his independent apartment at lunch and dinner time every day to help Helen with her meal.

Watching his wife’s health deteriorate was one of the toughest times in his life, but Jim and Kath were a constant pillar of support.

They caught up most days, but a quiet drink together in the village lounge every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evening, after Graham had left Helen for the day, became “like a ritual”.  

“Jim would say, ‘I’ll get you a drink about 5.20pm and I’ll see you when you get down’,” Graham says.

“Sometimes I’d be late for one reason or another but when I got down they were still there and there was my glass of wine waiting for me.”

Jim: “The time was of no consequence to us so if we had to wait for half an hour, three quarters of an hour, we’d wait for him.

“He needed to be debriefed because it was very, very stressful for him. Honestly, he never missed going up there and feeding Helen, and he found it pretty hard towards the latter part of it and it was more important from our point of view to de-stress him a little bit and give him another conversation, have a drink and just let him settle down.”

_53Q3134 (Large)Graham Ruthven (centre), with Kath and Jim Garrie.

Looking at Graham, Jim and Kath now, most people would assume they’ve been lifelong friends.

The truth, though, is that when Graham and Helen moved into Weary Dunlop in 2016, they didn’t know anyone there.

Not long after, Jim spotted Graham at Happy Hour at the bar.

“We were sitting over the other side of a large circle of people and I noticed this bloke sitting across from me,” Jim says.

“I didn’t know him and there was no one talking to him. He was sitting on his own and I thought ‘I’ll sort of observe him for a little while’ and thought that’s not good, I’ll go and have a chat to him.

“There wasn’t a chair there, so I sat on the floor and Graham and I had a chat and we got on like a house on fire. We talked together for over an hour, and it just developed from that.”

Graham doesn’t know how he would have coped with supporting Helen, and her passing earlier this year, without Jim and Kath to lean on. 

“I think I would have struggled,” he says. “From the point of view of Helen’s illness, going through that period of time you definitely need someone to back you up.

“It meant a hell of a lot because they were very supportive... Jim and Kath were there in spades.”

IMG_9390 (Large)Graham and Jim dressed to the nines at Weary Dunlop Retirement Village's five birthday party.

The three of them see the story of their friendship as emblematic of what Weary Dunlop Retirement Village is all about.

When someone is having a tough time, residents step up to support them. When someone is having a birthday or celebrating the arrival of a new grandchild, people are there to raise a glass and share the moment with them.

Like any thriving community, people living there show care and concern for those around them.

“We ourselves have made lots of new friends here,” Kath says. “I just chat to anybody. I think it’s good for your own mental health. It’s very good for your own wellbeing to keep making friends.”

That ‘chat to anybody’ philosophy saw one man decide one day to sit on the floor in front of a stranger because he looked liked he needed someone to talk to.

Nearly four years later, the conversation is still going strong.


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