Time to Banish the Stigma of Loneliness
‘Tis the Season to be Jolly – fa la la la la, la la la la!
At least, that is the song most of us sing when we think of Christmas and the festive season. There is no song with the words ‘Tis the season for some to feel lonely. But then, with so much happiness in the air, most of us don’t want to focus on the possibility that Christmas is not always easy for everyone.
A few weeks ago, John Lewis released their highly anticipated Christmas advert. Unsurprisingly, it was yet another tearjerker. Two minutes of pure emotion packed into a beautifully sculpted advert that plucked at the heart strings of each and every person living in the UK. John Lewis Christmas adverts have (rightly so) gained fame over the years for tapping into the deepest emotions of the public and this year was no different. Only it was. Wasn’t it?
Last year saw us all fall in love with a penguin, as we watched a young boy discover the meaning of love and companionship. 2013 Taught us the importance of friendship when forest animals made sure their hibernating friend didn’t miss that special day. ‘The Journey‘ in 2012 had us weeping snow tears while our hearts overflowed with love for a snowman and his epic trip to share Christmas with his snow-love.
Each of the adverts have tapped into the purest parts of our soul where love, family and friendship are the most important aspects of Christmas.
So what were we expecting this year? I for one, was not expecting this. I was expecting to feel uplifted and warmed. Instead I felt a drive and a passion that I never expected. An immediate urge to call my grandparents, my elderly aunts and uncles and tell them I loved them. Ask them if they fancied a coffee and a chat. This advert made me question myself.
Why? Because it brought to light a topic that for far too long has not been discussed and a word that still holds stigma and taboo.
In this year’s advert, we watch as Lily discovers a man living on the moon. As she watches him go about his daily chores, she realises he is all alone and is determined to send something to the moon to cheer him up.
We used to notice these things, didn’t we? When did that change? Take a look at your children the next time you are walking the streets holding their hand. Watch them look at each and every person they pass. Kids notice. Kids see loneliness. They spot it and wander over to talk to the old man with the kind face.
As we grow older we forget to look. We become so enveloped in our own lives that we forget to stop and listen to people. We get so stuck on our phones and caught in the frenzy of rushing from shop to shop that we don’t stop to think of those who can’t zip around as easily anymore.
Christmas can be the loneliest time of the year for elderly people. Those who are widowed, or whose family no longer live nearby, or are simply not able to wander into town alone. Those who hunker down at home during the darkening winter days.
Where are we? Singing carols in the high street. Munching on mince pies in the local cafe. What about the old man on the moon who has lost his wife… and his family are all too busy to visit?
John Lewis struck a chord with me this year. Maybe it’s time we take a moment to think about those around us. Look closer, do you know someone who may be lonely? Someone who hasn’t left the house in a little longer than normal? Do they have anyone to keep them company?
What would it really take to pop by and share a cup of tea and a slice of cake? Take time to listen to their stories. That is the only gift anyone needs to send to the moon this year: the gift of time and a smile.
The advert came at a surprisingly fitting time for me this year, because this was not to be the only ‘sign from above‘ that I was given that maybe we are too selfish as we grow older. Dame Esther Rantzen was recently in Gibraltar for the Gibraltar Literary Festival and the Glass House Girls had the privilege of seeing her talk.
Her topic – The Silver Line. Her helpline for older people.
So what is The Silver Line?
As we sat listening to her talk about her charity, I was shocked by the statistics. More than half of 75 year olds in the UK live alone, and ‘one in ten’ suffer ‘intense’ loneliness.
One in ten. That’s much more than one man on the moon. That’s a whole village of ‘men on the moon’ that go about their daily lives feeling lonely!
9 out of those 10 responded to researchers saying that a simple ‘chat on the phone‘ is the most helpful solution when they are feeling lonely.
The scariest statistic of all? 1 in 4 say they have no one to chat to on the phone. 1 in 4 people have no one in their lives to help them feel less lonely! As we go about our daily lives, busy with shopping lists and Christmas wrapping, is there an elderly person WE know that is sat in a cold unfriendly house staring at a TV with no one to talk to and feeling crippling loneliness?
Esther explained to the captive audience, that the catalyst for setting up The Silver Line was when 5 years ago, after the death of her husband, she decided to downsize from her large family home to a small two bedroom apartment. She went on to explain that although her days were filled with activity, coming home to an empty house was the hardest part of the day. With “nobody to ask you how your day was, nobody to shout at Strictly with, nobody waiting for you with a cuppa.” It’s the simple things in life we take for granted the most.
We don’t think about growing old. Not like that. We think about who we want to spend our Golden Years with, but we never consider what it would be like to spend those years alone or contemplate who will be on the end of the phone if we are.
The Silver Line is that ‘person’. They are the people who sit at the end of the phone to be the crutch for those who simply want to chat. Receiving almost 1200 calls a day, The Silver Line have people calling sometimes simply to have someone to say goodnight to. Calls from those who are recently bereaved, or just sad and lonely, or even simply because their family doesn’t live nearby.
The problem is, there is still a stigma attached to the word ‘lonely’. Nobody wants to feel like a burden to others. Would you? Sat here now in your 30’s or 40’s – would you ever want to be considered a burden to others? Would you simply sit in a home alone and lonely rather than say to someone ‘I just fancy a chat’? The answer, sadly, is yes. Most do just that.
The Silver Line matches people with friends for organised calls, or even gives them the opportunity to write a letter instead (perfect for those who may be hearing impaired). Esther states that: ‘There is a match for everyone. Even those who fear they are too old and we will never find a match for them.‘ The fact is, no one is left out.
“It transforms lives. It’s Extraodinary.” Even as Esther utters these words you can hear the passion and care behind them. This is a charity that really does touch people’s hearts, people like you and me… just 20 or 30 years down the line.
I couldn’t help but think that the Universe was trying to tell me something. The John Lewis advert really spoke to with me this year. It made me miss my Gran (sadly no longer here) and I found myself wishing I could send her a balloon up into the sky to wherever she might be. But it also made me think of all those people I pass on the streets. Those who are alone.
I thought of everyone in my family and made a mental checklist of who I need to call this Christmas, those I need to arrange to go and see – even just for a coffee and a chat. For no other reason than no-one deserves to be lonely, at any time of year, but least of all at Christmas time.
So this year, if you have no money, or if you have bags of it; if you have no idea what to buy, or a checklist longer than your arm… give one gift this year that costs nothing:give your time. Visit someone who may be feeling lonely. See the smile light up their face and remember that one day this may well be you. So be kind.
With that, I am off to bake a cake and call a lovely man who I know will be alone this Christmas. Charities like The Silver Line may not raise money for conditions like cancer, or the homeless, but they give hope and a lifeline to those who need it. So if you you want to do your bit – why not volunteer? Become a Silver Line Letter Friend, or Phone Friend. There are too many people out there that are lonely; 1 in 10. In my book that is 1 in 10 far too many.
So to John Lewis, thank you for yet another inspiring and truly emotional Christmas advert, but more so thank you for opening peoples’ eyes to a topic that needs much more discussion. And to Dame Esther Rantzen and The Silver Line Charity, you guys are amazing and I hope there are many more like you still around when I hit my silver years.
(Note from The Editor: For more information about Dame Esther Rantzen’s charity, please visit www.thesilverline.org.uk)