It will be lonely this Christmas
A gentle, softly spoken man, he lived in a terraced house in a street of what had once been a mill town, but it was now the late 1980s and the town had become a dormitory for Belfast. The old community had been diluted by the arrival of thousands of new people living in the numerous housing developments that encompassed the town.
The streets in the town centre, streets of houses where the front door opened on to the pavement and where there was no more than a small yard at the back, did not attract young families. They were mostly inhabited by older people who had lived there for decades. Most of the houses were single person households.
The man’s house was in a particularly difficult spot. The road that passed it carried traffic around the edge of the town centre and parking was not easy. The double yellow lines that passed his front door only added to the isolation of the cluster of brown stone houses.
The man suffered from a severe chest condition, requiring oxygen in the house, and did not venture out.
Christmas was approaching and sitting in the small room in which he passed his days, he reflected on a local doctor who had just retired, a man who had been his doctor for decades. “I will miss him when Christmas comes”.
It seemed an odd comment. “Why Christmas in particular?”
“Because he always brought me my Christmas dinner”, he replied.
Perhaps there are still general practitioners who take people their Christmas dinner, but at no time were such things ever part of any National Health Service contract.
I wondered how many other elderly people the doctor visited on Christmas Day in his undemonstrative round and how many neighbours ever realized that the house calls were not due to any sudden illness.
“Don’t worry about Christmas dinner, we’ll make sure you get something”.
The kind-hearted lady of a nearby house raised no objection to putting out an extra serving, nor to her husband slipping away for a while to visit the man.
Each Christmas until the illness finally got the better of him, someone brought him his Christmas dinner, and visited him not only at Christmas, but at other times through the year as well.
An ageing population means there are probably many more people like the man, and this year they will be not only alone, but cold as well.
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