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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - 45

It could be you....   

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.


Say hello to a neighbour

With Christmas over and the New Year getting underway, there is a lull in activity for some of us. But there are people who didn’t have the social side of the holiday, didn’t have visitors or go anywhere to see friends or relations. For them, Christmas and New Year just meant different things on TV and radio, and reminders of how alone they are feeling.

It isn’t always a person living on their own who feels this. It can be someone who has to care for their loved one, perhaps a spouse or adult son or daughter, or parent. It can be someone who is going through a difficult time with their own health or their relationship, or someone who is depressed.

I have worked lately with a person who has for all kinds of reasons been living with depression, her only companion for some years. In December, every day that passes makes her fear and dread the holiday period. For her, it is a reminder of how alone and how unwanted she is, how unlikeable she feels, and what a failure her relationships – and therefore life - must be.

We make an effort to contact lots of friends and relatives over the holiday period, either by sending cards, by phoning, or by visiting or inviting them to come and spend a little time with us.

What is it that urges us to invite cousin Maud and her monosyllabic husband over for two or three hours to eat cake, drink tea and talk of inconsequential things? You steer clear of politics because you don’t know/share their views. You avoid bragging about your very gifted grandchild who is already reading the labels on his Cow & Gate baby food jars while their lumpen son of thirty and his partner are still struggling to find somewhere other than Maud’s back bedroom to live in - or it is vice versa!!
And then you know you won’t be in touch again until next year.

What is it that gives us the stamina to go through this annual ritual and not notice that the man or woman in the flat below, or the house three doors down, is on their own all day, every day?

We can argue that Maud is family and we have a duty to family first. We can say that we don’t know the woman or man down the road or that we assume they wouldn’t want to come in for a cup of tea any way. But we do it for the Mauds of this world – and we don’t know them well either.

My client is someone who believed that people would not want to spend time with her because she lives alone and therefore must give off some sort of message that she is solitary. This makes it easy for us to ignore people like her, people who are trying to be invisible. They avoid eye contact, they don’t speak unless spoken to. Yet my client is a very kind, intelligent and thoughtful person who quietly worries about her elderly neighbour and would help anyone in need, but is very lonely herself.

The difference we can make in someone’s life, just by offering a small space to be warm and welcoming for an hour or two, is enormous. It will say to them that you see them as a normal member of society, not an outcast or someone to be avoided.

We can make time and we can make our boundaries clear. ‘Please pop in for a cup of tea… an hour’s chat would be very nice before I start my ironing/letter writing/preparing supper’… is all that it takes.

Saying you have an hour to spare gives you a reason to get up and murmur that you must get back to work. That helps if the conversation is heavy-going. It also lets your guest know that you have other things that regularly occupy you.

If you are really worried about someone making a habit of visiting or coming into your home, just make a point of having a chat each time you bump into them in the street, when out shopping or gardening.

The person who is housebound because they are a carer is not going to have time to drop by regularly. Perhaps they will suggest that you go to them because there is no-one to look after dad or mum while they are out. That allows you to chose how long you stay.

Someone who is depressed is not going to want to drop by much either. They are often too wrapped up in their daily struggle to have the energy. Indeed they may even refuse your kind offer in the first place if they cannot bring themselves to face making conversation. But you offered.

That can be a lifeline to someone who feels that they live outside of local society. Even if they refuse your offer, they will have felt cared about and noticed. You will have been a good neighbour. It is enough.

For those who feel they have more to offer, the following organisations welcome volunteers. For those readers who feel lonely and isolated or depressed, the following websites can be a lifeline.


Crossroads provides short-term breaks to carers in their own homes. Guide to local schemes, newsletter, fundraising events and information for volunteers.

Go to the government website  and click on Useful Links for a range of supportive and helpful websites, chat-rooms etc.


Samaritans is a confidential service for anyone feeling lonely, isolated, depressed or desperate. It isn’t just for the suicidal. They can be contacted by phone – in your local telephone directory, letter or email.  or overseas:


Depression Alliance can put you in touch with a support group in your area, answer any questions you have about treatments, connect you to a pen-friend and has a fund of information and helpful booklist.


You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

To view previous articles in this series - see the Relationship Counselling Index page




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