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How Margaret rebuilt her life

“It all got a bit much.”

Facing multiple challenges in a short time left Margaret, 87, feeling low. Here, she tells us about her unexpected career, losing her soulmate, and how she overcame her difficult time.



Margaret has always enjoyed surprising others with her unexpected career choice.

“When people try to guess what I did they say, ‘oh you’re so little you were probably a dancer’,” Margaret laughs, knowing that her interests had in fact led her towards a very different career path. “But I was actually a builder,” she reveals. “When people find out what I really did, they go, ‘wow, there weren’t any lady builders back then!’ I would do plastering and woodwork, bricklaying and decorating. And I loved every minute of it.”

An older lady stands outside the  front porch of her home, which she recently repaired
Margaret outside her repaired porch
An older lady stands outside the  front porch of her home, which she recently repaired
Margaret outside her repaired porch

Margaret has plenty of stories about stunning others with her surprise skills. “I asked a bloke from the council who’d come to fix the plumbing if I could borrow a scaffolding plank so I could paint the high ceiling over the stairs,” she recalls. “He said, Are you sure you want to be doing that my dear? It’s very steep. He said he’d have to see me walk on it first! So he came round with it and of course I jumped straight on and started doing stuff, while he stood there with his mouth open. The next day he offered me a job! My husband was in fits of laughter.”

Now aged 87, Margaret’s love of construction has never subsided – she recently repaired the front porch of her house, and redecorated all the rooms from top to bottom. But, on doctor’s orders, she was persuaded to hang up her hard hat – professionally, at least – five years ago, at the age of 82. “The doctor told me I couldn’t do it anymore because the work was too heavy,” Margaret explains. “So I just do it for myself now, not for anybody else!”

A black and white photo of a young couple in the 1960s
Happy memories with Dave
A black and white photo of a young couple in the 1960s
Happy memories with Dave

A rock-solid relationship

Building a happy home was a priority for Margaret, and when she met Dave in 1965 she instantly knew she’d met a kindred spirit. Sparks certainly flew on the day they met. “The pylon in our street exploded and all my electrics went out,” Margaret recalls. “The neighbour a few doors down said he’d send his son around, and in walked this six-foot tall man, offering to do all the jobs I needed doing around the house. I knew he was the right man for me!”

After a whirlwind romance, the pair were married six weeks later and enjoyed 49 happy years together. “Dave was amazing,” Margaret says. “He never had a bad bone in his body, and always put me first. My husband was my soulmate. We could talk about anything. We went everywhere together, we did everything together. But when that goes, you’ve got no one to talk to.”

Dave was diagnosed with cancer in August 2012, and died just four months later – two days before Christmas. “It was a massive shock,” Margaret admits. “He was only 69. When I lost him, I felt as if I had nothing.”

Weathering the storm

Losing Dave had already left Margaret feeling “so miserable”, but things turned from bad to worse when Margaret began struggling with her own health issues soon afterwards. “I kept not feeling well,” Margaret says. “I couldn’t walk with the pain.” What was initially diagnosed as an infection turned out to be cancer. “If I’d been left any longer, I would have died.”

Following four operations, Margaret was thankfully given the all-clear. But on the very same day that she was told she was in remission, Margaret broke her hip. “I ended up back in hospital for another operation,” she tells us. In the face of yet another challenge, Margaret sank to rock bottom. As well as losing all motivation to leave the house, Margaret lost over a stone and half in weight. “It all got a bit much,” says Margaret.

I would sit there crying, and didn’t want to do anything. I just went down the pan.


Margaret felt unsure of where to turn, and so decided to visit her doctor for support. “He told me he thought I needed to talk to somebody. So he gave me the Age UK phone number.”

Repairing and rebuilding

Margaret can vividly remember calling Age UK for the first time. “I didn’t know what to expect,” she admits. “When I phoned and they said ‘Age UK’ and asked where I got the number from, I told them my doctor had given it to me because he said I needed some help. I kept crying all the time, but the lady on the phone just said to me: ‘Well, you’ve come to the right person’. She was lovely.”

An older lady with a dark blonde bob laughs while talking on the phone
Enjoying chats with Sam
An older lady with a dark blonde bob laughs while talking on the phone
Enjoying chats with Sam

Through the Age UK Telephone Friendship Service, Margaret was soon matched with Sam, and the pair “hit it off straight away”. “After we’d been talking for 15 minutes, it was as if we’d known each other for years,” Margaret explains. “I’m not the sort of person who will open up to anybody – I keep everything to myself. All of my friends are married and have families and I’m the only one that hasn’t got anybody left, so I sometimes feel like I’m the odd one out. But I feel that I can talk to Sam, and I trust her. If I have problems, she’ll help me go through it. She makes me feel really special.”

Over time, Margaret and Sam’s initial connection has deepened into a meaningful friendship – one that Margaret credits with inspiring her to reconnect with life and the person she once was. 

I’m back to my old bubbly self, like I used to be.


“I meet my friends every week now, and they’ve noticed the change,” Margaret says. “It’s gone from me being in a terrible state to me being a happy person.

“My telephone friend Sam has got me through a bad time. She is absolutely amazing, and I couldn’t have got through this without her. She has made me feel like I used to feel. People should be recommended to Age UK more. Age UK turned my life around.”

Your mind matters

As we move through life and our circumstances change, our mental health can change too. But feeling worried, low or out of sorts isn't just part and parcel of getting older.

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Last updated: Jul 18 2023

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