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Christmas and isolation: ways to reach out

We all often talk of the mixed feelings around December. There is such a huge pressure to be jolly, isn’t there? And many of us really do get into the spirit of this, as there is much to be joyful about. It is, after all, one big birthday party that everyone is invited to. There are cakes, pretty lights, presents, favourite films, a coming together of families and friends, and a huge sense of build-up to a magical event. I still get excited about choosing and decorating a tree and eating my first mince pie!

Christmas tree with lights on

Yet most of us know that the underbelly of Christmas represents a lot of loneliness and complications as hard to untangle as last year’s tree lights.

My mum lives alone at home and has come to terms with life without her beloved husband who died last year. She says she probably won’t put up the tree this year. My aunt is living in a care home and says she dreads spending the day 'with strangers' trying to feel part of the celebrations when she just doesn’t want to be there. She knows the staff are 'doing their best' and she should make the effort, but she becomes tearful remembering the joy of all the family Christmases we spent together. Interestingly, I know these Christmases were often far from perfect, but they now seem rose-tinted.

My mother and my aunt are philosophical about the fact that Christmas just won’t be the same – but, at their core, they are both feeling sad about the contrast to how they remember Christmases past, where they have felt at the centre of things. They will pull the crackers and wear the party hats on the day, but their hearts won’t really be in it.

Many of the people we support at Plan with Care don’t have any close family in their lives, or those relatives they do have are too far away to share the Christmas experience. Our Wellbeing Companion service goes some way to ensuring those people will still enjoy a sense of being special. They may sing together, cry together or reminisce together, meaning they won’t feel completely alone.

Plan with Care focuses on enhancing quality of relationships, not just ensuring the basics, and this is ‘for life, not just for Christmas’. We are dedicated partners to those for whom the phone and the doorbell doesn’t ring very often. We know that December and January are particularly tough, and our team does our best to rally round the people we support.

But what can each of us do to reduce loneliness or sadness for someone this Christmas? Some choose to extend an invitation to an older neighbour to share a meal. Others volunteer with or donate to great charities like Crisis, who run ‘Crisis at Christmas’ or the Salvation Army. Some find a way to make just one individual feel very appreciated – for example, giving a very large tip to an overworked waitress in a restaurant or writing a ‘thank you’ Christmas card to a postal worker or a street cleaner.

Being grateful for our own blessings is important but taking action of some kind – even if only a simple gesture – to extend these blessings to another human being who is less fortunate is surely the greatest gift we can give this Christmas.

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