Worthing woman’s moment of curiosity sparks ‘unlikely’ friendship with elderly resident

Louise Harman had started walking her dogs Tommy and Bert along a new route back in 2016 when she began to notice the flowers.

Tuesday, 15th December 2020, 3:23 pm
One of the letters left under the flowers

Every two weeks – like clockwork – a new bunch would appear by the South Downs path, leading the then-29-year-old Worthing resident to wonder, who were they for?

“I’m just curious,” she said. “I thought, I’m up here all the time, how have I never seen the person who’s leaving them?”

That moment of curiosity sparked an unlikely friendship that would last for years and help her through one of her darkest times.

Louise left a note – and received a reply from 83-year-old Bob, who told her he was leaving the flowers for his late wife, Jeanne. He also left a photo of Jeanne and the order of service from her funeral.

Louise responded, promising Bob she would think of Jeanne every time she walked past. Bob replied again, saying it had ‘made his day’ that someone had noticed the flowers.

And so their letter-exchanging began.

For years, they would each leave each other notes placed under a rock next to the flowers by the path.

Louise said: “It was quite a commitment. Some of the notes got blown away, others going rained on so you couldn’t read them.”

Bob may have been decades her senior, but she said: “It was really nice to know what his life was like.

“It was completely different to mine, but we got on really well and actually had a lot in common.

“We talked about Jeanne, that he missed her, and their life together, all the different countries they had lived in.”

Around a year later, Louise’s dad died suddenly – and Bob was there to comfort her with a heartfelt letter.

“People just don’t talk about grief and I felt a bit lost,” she said.

The fact that Bob still left flowers for his wife made her realise ‘it’s OK to hold on and to grieve’, she said, adding: “That was really important.”

The letters continued until last Christmas, when Bob stopped replying.

Louise recently found out he had developed severe dementia and gone into a care home.

Bob may no longer remember her, but Louise said: “I am so grateful for his presence in my life.”

The events of 2020 spurred her to share the story of their friendship and to ‘raise money for our older generation during the pandemic as a way to say thank you for the kindness that Bob showed a younger person’.

She has already raised almost £900 for Age UK – donate at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/louise-katie-harman

Louise said the pandemic had left many people feeling lonely, adding: “It made me realise that’s what life might be like for some older people, pandemic or not.”

She encouraged people to befriend an older person, as she accidentally did with Bob.

“You’re not doing them a favour, it will make your life better as well,” she said.