1 Million Minutes is Good Morning Britain’s award-winning campaign to encourage all of us to give as little as 30 minutes of our time to help someone who is lonely. It could be your neighbour, your friend or someone in your community. It could even be someone you have never met. In this blog, Barry Ward talks about how difficult Christmas can be for him, and what we can all do to make a difference to people experiencing loneliness. 

Grief opens the door to loneliness

Once the best of times, Christmas became the worst of times. On Christmas day 2015, my beloved wife Christine was rushed into intensive care. Three weeks later, she died. We had been married for 43 years.

Christmas was no longer a time of joy. Instead, overwhelming grief became my daily reality.

Grief opens the door to loneliness. Loneliness has all the same symptoms. It can rob you of all motivation, to the point where life has little meaning.

Loneliness is most punishing for older people like myself: it threatens the will to live. In time, food is irrelevant; washing and dressing occur only when necessary; television is a fleeting antidote to the misery.  The dark winter evenings are purgatory.

The antidote to loneliness

But there is an antidote to loneliness. It need not be permanent, as I discovered. I learned to defy loneliness by being with others much as I could.

Golf was my path to being around other people. The game has been a passion for many years but in the aftermath of my loss I couldn’t face playing it. But two of my golfing chums would visit me at home for coffee and a chat. Some months later, they encouraged me back to play golf again.

These men are kindness personified. Their generosity of spirit is the answer to loneliness. It was these friends, spending time with me, that saved me from my loneliness.

But many older people are not as lucky as me. Apart from a brief chat at the supermarket (or none at all if it’s an automated checkout) they may have no conversation for days on end. Over half a million older people can go five or six days without seeing or speaking to anyone. Loneliness can be a life-long sentence, and one they can never easily talk about. All they have to anticipate is the end – and for many this can’t arrive too soon.

“We all need connections that matter”

So, as the 1 Million Minutes campaign launches, I urge you to sign up. Older people need friendship and support as much as anyone else. Whether you are 24 or 84 years-old, we all need connections that matter.

A few moments of kindness can make all the difference. I know your older neighbour would appreciate the occasional hour of your time. Perhaps to help make a doctor’s appointment, or visit the library, or simply for a chat over a cup of tea. Do you have a grandparent who lives alone? Phone them. Do you have a few hours a month to give? Volunteer with older people. We have so much to offer.

It’s the season of giving, so give your time. Just a little of it could change a lonely life for good.

The Campaign to End Loneliness is supporting Good Morning Britain’s 1 Million Minutes campaign.