Health & wellbeing

Midsummer madness: In which the little things mean a lot

24 Jun 2023 | Written by By Geraldine Durrant

Geraldine Durrant takes a moment to appreciate the small acts of kindness that can make a BIG difference…

You can find the previous instalment of Geraldine’s column here.

I have always been a big fan of kindness.

Kindness is, for the most part, as easy a response to life as any other, and the pleasure it confers on both the donor and the recipient has always seemed to me to be worth any small effort involved in terms of personal inconvenience.

So I promised myself many years ago that I would always do whatever I could to make someone else happy – if it were within my power to do so.

I have never donated a kidney, or rescued anyone from a burning building, but I have sweated the small stuff: lending a sympathetic ear to anyone needing a helping hand, or offering a kind word, particularly to older people.

I have always stopped, for example, to talk to anyone looking for a chat in the library or at the supermarket, knowing that for many old folk living on their own it might be the only conversation they have had in days.

For many years Patrick and I hosted tea parties for lonely pensioners, who were delivered to the door by volunteers and then shown a good time in the shape of perfectly-crafted meringues, delicious savouries and the sort of inconsequential natter at which I am a dab hand.

Downstairs would be transformed with small tables, pretty tableclothes and vases of flowers into a pop-up café and we would spend the ensuing two hours making endless cups of tea and ladling out sherry…

If ever a charity were designed to play to my particular strengths – the ability to cook and chat to perfect strangers – then this was it.

Indeed my ability to talk to anyone – honed by a career in journalism – is something of a family joke.

I once sat in the theatre a row away from my son and his wife, who remarked at the interval how fortunate it was that my late-purchased ticket had coincidentally landed me next to friends.

“Oh those weren’t friends,” I laughed. “We just got chatting…”

But Patrick and I increasingly found very little to chat about.

What I had once imagined to be a hearing problem was, I realised belatedly, a delay in cognition.

So there was usually a time gap between when I talked to him and when he had processed what I had said, which was all too often filled with the single word “What?”

This habit – and it had become a habit – tended to interrupt the free-exchange of high-minded discussion, and after the third or fourth effort I very often gave up.

TV programmes could spark some conversation, but if anything Patrick had become too involved in them, imagining the actors were in the sitting room: so shouty EastEnders simply frightened him.

Or he simply didn’t understand what was going on – and I realised the utter futility of trying to talk him through the plot of the past half dozen forgotten episodes while trying to follow the latest one myself.

But all too often his conversation was simply stuck in a well-worn groove about where we are going and the mechanics of getting there, even if we are home-bound for the day.

Wherever Patrick imagined home now was…

So I increasingly found myself the grateful “old person” on the receiving side of the ‘small kindnesses’ scale.

Number one son (in order of birth, not maternal preference) called every day after work to check I was still alive – and that I hadn’t yet murdered his father.

(To be honest I came close one night when, for two hours, from midnight Patrick had shouted for me to “get up and be about my chores.” So this solicitude for his father was not entirely misplaced).

While a dear friend also rang regularly to see how things were going, and then listened patiently while I told him – which was heroism indeed…

A cousin messaged out of the blue to say that she thought of us often and prayed for us daily: a pretty card and a word of encouragement were dropped through the door: and a facebook friend I have met only once told me she was undertaking a fundraiser for Alzheimer’s support since she was not near enough to do anything more practical.

And one Sunday morning, spent alone with Patrick in hospital, was buoyed by the arrival of two dear little girls from next door, bearing daffodils and chocolate to “cheer me up”…

And while I had started my blog to get my head round our new lives, the many messages I received about it were as touching as they were supportive, urging me to “keep writing, because you say what I don’t have the words for…”

“Thank you for doing this – this is my life too…”

“It has helped me so much to know I am not alone…”

It all made me realise there was an unseen army of kindness at my back – and please believe me when I say it made a difference.

A BIG difference…

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