Just before Easter, Zee and I were heading down the high street in the unseasonably Baltic conditions. As we rushed past M&S I saw an elderly lady in a wheelchair, in a Salvation Army uniform with a collecting tin. She looked frail and freezing.
I stopped the pram, did a three point turn, rummaged in my pocket for some change and went over. I said hello and put the money in the tin. The lady thanked me and as I began to move away, she leaned forward and said quietly ‘Happy Easter.’ I smiled and wished her Happy Easter too as I pushed the pram away. And as I walked off, tears began streaming down my face to the point where I had to stop and gather myself.
It was the little lean forward that got me.
I worried that maybe this lady just wanted a little chat, a bit of conversation. She’d tried to extend our interaction, to make it more than a polite Hello and Thank You. And I had just left, preoccupied with getting Zee out of the cold. I looked back and was glad to see a couple were now stood by her, donating to the very worthy cause.
I felt really mean. It reminded me of a radio programme H and I listened to in the car on New Years Day, with Esther Rantzen talking about her new helpline, The Silver Line. It aims to support older people and one of its missions is to provide a ‘befriending service to combat loneliness’. It broke my heart listening to the people who called the programme to speak to her. People with no family or friends, who can go days or weeks with no human interaction or kindness. For H and me, as he said in his speech at our wedding, family and friends are everything. They’re what we live for. But it doesn’t do us any harm to spare a little time and thought for those who have none.
Sadly H and I have no grandparents left; I think about mine a lot and so regret that they never got to meet H and will never see Zee. I wish they were still with us. I hope they knew how much I loved them.
When Zee is a bit older I’m going to apply to volunteer for The Silver Line. Just because people are old they should never become invisible. I really believe that and will teach Zee the importance of respecting older people. And to make the most of his grandparents. Not that they are elderly, far from it, they are in their sixties and having a blast. We are lucky to all have each other and it’s a joy to see our parents with their children’s children. And one of the best things for them is at the end of the day, when there may have been a sugar overload or squabbling or they’re overtired and squawking – they get to hand them back. Quite right. They’ve done their time and now, happily for us, it’s ours.