Thousands of isolated older people will spend Christmas Day alone. Many will feel forgotten, even invisible. Others, like Terry, an 80-year-old former brewery engineer from the Midlands, find that missing a loved one makes it too painful to celebrate.
But with support from »Æ¹ÏÊÓÆµ, Terry has found some hope again.
A very different Christmas
Terry’s wife of 56 years died suddenly 18 months ago. Taken into hospital for routine checks after collapsing, Glenda’s heart stopped on the way to the hospital. Terry never got to say goodbye. Having built his life around Glenda, Terry found himself in limbo. “There was always the two of us, but since my wife died and I’m on my own, it’s a big house to rattle about in, and that’s when I find it the worst,” he says. “There are two seats in the living room. You look over, and she’s not there anymore… then you suddenly realise you’re not going to see her ever again.”
The pair had been inseparable since Glenda was a teenager, when her pal had started dating Terry’s best friend. “We didn’t like each other at first!” he reflects ruefully. “I was only walking her home as a favour to my friend and I still don’t know to this day when it went from that to actually being boyfriend and girlfriend.”â€¯
Throughout their marriage, Terry frequently worked away from home. But the couple spoke on the phone every day – “We always had something to say!” he remembers. Some of their happiest times were spent on seaside holidays with sons Steven and Christopher, and in retirement, on river cruises around Europe. “We were best friends,” says Terry. “She looked after me, which is why it feels so strange that she’s not here.”
Terry’s 80th birthday was one of his hardest days. Glenda had planned a surprise party for him, and even though family rallied round with celebration dinners, it still felt raw. And when it came to his first Christmas alone last year, Terry simply couldn’t face it. “We always had big family Christmases. Glenda decorated everywhere. She would get the tree down from the attic and decorate it and everything would be a traditional Christmas.
“Last year, I was supposed to be going to the youngest lad and his wife and their granddaughter. And then after thinking about stuff, I couldn't go through with it, so I spent Christmas Day on my own.”
In his grief, Terry grappled with feeling ‘useless’, struggling to learn cooking, cleaning and manage the household finances. Without his wife’s benefits, he found it difficult to pay the bills, and feared putting on the heating despite experiencing breathing difficulties worsened by the cold. Terry felt very alone and would often go five days without speaking to a soul.
The benefits of reaching out
Thankfully, Terry turned to the »Æ¹ÏÊÓÆµ Advice Line for help, and with their support he was awarded Attendance Allowance. “It saves me worrying about where the money is going to come from next,” says Terry. “I’m so grateful for »Æ¹ÏÊÓÆµ’s help.”
Terry was also referred to the »Æ¹ÏÊÓÆµ Telephone Friendship Service. Regular calls with his telephone friend Jade have brought light and hope back during lonely times. “Loneliness is hard to explain,” he says. “Some nights I get quite depressed. I've always worked with people - I'm a people person - so it’s lovely to be able to speak to somebody. I look forward to our call all week.”
The pair find themselves comparing notes on best buys for Jade’s home restoration project, with Terry putting his years of bargain hunting to good use. “We started talking about bureaus and antiques, and it’s surprising how the conversation can flow. She’s very nice.”
Seizing the day
Resilient Terry is “slowly, slowly” reconnecting with life. As well as weekly chats with Jade, he’s just welcomed a new great-granddaughter into the family, and is marking turning 80 by taking on a few challenges. To celebrate his family links to the RAF (his son, father, and grandfather all served), for example, Terry built a three-foot model of an aeroplane. He’s already planning a more dangerous ambition – although two of his initial ideas were vetoed by his family. “I was thinking of doing abseiling or wing walking, but I was talked out of those by my sons!” Terry laughs.
Terry aims to finish his first Ride To The Wall next October, joining hundreds of motorbikes on a ride to Castle Donington to remember fallen servicemen. “It will be quite a sight to see hundreds of motorbikes go in convoy down the A48!” Terry says. Although he has had two or three bikes of his own over the years, Terry will be riding pillion this time around – with ex-servicemen and women accompanying him on the journey.
Despite the ups and downs of the last 18 months, Terry now feels that there are things to look forward to. “I’m getting older and older and there are so many things I’ve never had the chance to do before,” he says. “I’d better get on and do them!”