Want to have a great Christmas? Visit an elderly relative living on their own.

Dec 21, 2017   //   by Nicholas Milton   //   Blog  //  No Comments

FullSizeRender-2My aunty is the bravest person I know. Now 85 and in declining health, her world has been reduced to shuffling between two rooms holding on to her zimmer frame. Bent double with osteoporosis, she has not been out of her tiny house for the last three years. A widow for over a decade since my uncle died, she has no children and is now completely reliant on carers to change her clothes and toilet her. Over Christmas apart from my visit the only people she will see are her carers.

My aunt lives over an hour away which makes ‘popping in’ to visit her difficult. Like so many other busy people I have too many calls on my time. So I have to make a really special effort to visit her and too often I find excuses not to bother. But when I do finally make the effort I’m always surprised how much I get out of our encounter. When I visit my head is crammed with all the things I need to do at home or at work. Yet by the time I leave many of these things will have been forgotten.

Entering her house is a humbling experience. Although I have a key she always insists on coming to the door to meet you. That means waiting patiently while she struggles out of her chair and shuffles slowly to the door. When you go in she can’t look you in the eye because she cannot stand up straight. So I give her a kiss and put my arm around her saying it’s nice to see her. Through her cardigan you can feel her brittle bones jutting out of her paper thin skin.

We always sit down in the same chairs. I remember her house vividly from my childhood. Then it seemed huge and it was always an adventure to come here. Now there are holes in the carpet and her bed takes up most of the space in the tiny living room, moved down 5 years ago when the stairs became too much for her. But it’s still an adventure to come here.

I talk about my childhood and she listens. I talk about my family and she listens. I talk about my work and she listens. And that’s the great beauty of my aunt. She listens. While her body may be failing her, her mind is still sharp. And while many of us in her position would be tempted to feel sorry for ourselves, I have never heard her complain.


Like other people who have had difficulties in their life I’ve had some counselling. But nothing compares to my aunt. Like all good counsellors she encourages you to talk by asking the right questions but she rarely offers an opinion. So you come to your own conclusions. Sometimes we laugh out loud and sometimes we have a little cry. And unlike a professional counsellor who watches the clock she is free and listens because she loves you.

When talking to her I try never to forget that the old lady with white hair bent double before me was not always like that. Evacuated in the Second World War, she had a long career as a comptometrist working for Ultra Electronics on everything from televisions to Harrier Jump Jets. She never had much but then never wanted much either.

Once she was beautiful and carefree, enjoying a great social life with her three elder sisters. Like so many of her generation she never went far, only going abroad once. Today she still lives in the same house that she bought with my uncle when they first got married over 50 years ago. But unlike most of us she is genuinely happy with her lot.

After visiting I never fail to be moved by her plight but I also stand in awe at her courage. Whatever problems I have got in life are put in context. And whenever I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself I remember her.

If there is one thing that I would encourage everyone to do this Christmas it is to visit an elderly relative living on their own. Rather than being a chore it could genuinely change your life. It has certainly transformed mine.

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Nicholas Milton

I am a marketing and communication expert with over 20 years experience. Over this time I have campaigned on issues I feel passionately about - conservation, climate change, racial equality, land reform, rural poverty and most recently international development. I am also a successful freelance journalist and have been published in the Guardian, Times, Daily Telegraph and the Independent.

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Email: nicholasmilton@hotmail.com Telephone: 0044 7880 622059

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