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
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
click on Useful Links for a range of supportive and helpful websites,
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.
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.