Good luck with that

News and Comment from Roy Lilley.

We have a Minister for Loneliness.  She is also a qualified FA football coach, the minister for Cup Final Tickets and something else I don’t understand.


Loneliness is such a sad affair.  Life lived today, framed in the memories of a life long ago and far away.  A daily thought of; I can’t wait to be with you again.  Don’t you remember you told me you loved me… we thought forever meant something so much longer.

I shall never forget talking to an old soldier.  It was Remembrance Sunday and I’d been laying the poppy wreath on behalf of the corporation.  

It was a bitter cold day and after a lifesaving cup of steaming hot tea at the Legion, against the hubbub and the clatter, I chatted with Bill.  

He had a strip of polished medals pinned to his blazer.  Once it had fitted him but illness and neglect meant he had lost weight.  His clothes hung, limp like a charity shop rail.

He talked me through the row of memories.  He glossed over the wine-red ribbon and the cross.  We both knew what it was.  I didn’t want to pry.  He’d tell me if he wanted to.

Conversation wasn’t easy.  His hearing aids whistled.  They ended up in his trouser pocket.  I moved closer.  Leaned across the Formica top table.

‘How are you?  Are you managing. Ok?’

Old solders never stop being old soldiers.  Resourceful.  Bill looked past me.  Stared into a middle distance where only he could see the images that drew him into happier days.

‘Everyone is very kind… but I miss my Eileen…’

Everyone in Bill’s life is paid to be there.  They come and they go.  Strangers.  Well meaning.  Professional visitors.

As we thawed out Bill relaxed.  His son, daughter-in-law and grand children… living in the sunshine of Silicone Valley.

A small leather wallet polished by use and time; from the rear fold he produced a dog-eared black and white picture of a striking young woman leaning in a doorway.  Another picture… the same beauty in a wedding dress.  An austerity wedding.  Next to her a strapping man in the uniform of a soldier.

No explanation required.

‘She went with cancer.  Wasted away.  I wish it could have been me…’

And then an intimacy I never expected.

Trance like, Bill said, ‘I still lay on my side of the bed and I reach out to hold her hand… I know she’s there.  She ain’t left me…’  his voice tailed off, diluted in the buzz of conversations around us.

Loneliness?  Empty coat hangers in the wardrobe.  The end of endless love.  We’ve been there.  Hollow days after the Dutches died in my arms.  That was me.

People with lives crammed full of travel and people and meetings and emails and messages and everything that steals our time, distorts our priorities and make us think we are ok… we’re all vulnerable.

Keep in touch.  I’ll give you a ring.  Ping me a mail.  Let’s have a coffee, don’t be a stranger.

Our bright kids driven inwards by the unsocial edges of social media.  How old do you have to be, to be lonely?

The working lonely; days measured in week and weekends measured in months.  The weightlessness of white wine.

Loneliness is the cousin of depression.  

Depression, an invitation to step into a world that is curiously comfortable.  Quiet.  Undemanding.  But at the same time sharp, cold and full of noises you can’t hear well enough to understand.

A place where ultimate peace is a better alternative to the knocks on the door from a new stranger, different carer, another social worker, a cheery nurse who gets your name wrong.  The effort of living a life, hollowed out by time and troubles.

A place where you don’t have to smile forgiving-smiles to people who tell you they meant to give you a ring ‘… but we’ve been so busy, you know how it is….’

A minister for loneliness… good luck with that.

Have a good weekend.


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