The TV is my best friend

Helen Thorne | January 23rd 2014

Some recent research projects have made for sobering reading. Nearly half of the population of England say they feel lonely - up to a third say they have no-one to turn to in a crisis and would be reluctant to approach a voluntary body. Most severely affected are the elderly and infirm. The quote that broke my heart the most was the comment that for some, the TV is their best friend.

So, with that in mind I interviewed the frailest, most housebound old saint I know ... For the purposes of this post, we'll call her Edith, she's always liked that name.

What does an average day look like for you?
I wake about 5am when my night-time pain killers start to wear off. It takes me a while to get going in the morning and I like to have my breakfast well before my carers arrive. My washing and dressing ladies come about 9am. It's nice when I get the same carers for a few months in a row, I can get to know them then but often people's shifts get moved about and I have to get to know someone new every few weeks. Once I'm dressed I go into the living room and put on the TV. I stay there until my night time carers come about 5pm. The meals on wheels team let themselves in each lunchtime. On Tuesdays my cleaner comes round.

Do you ever see anyone else?
I have a wonderful neighbour, I've given her keys. She pops up each afternoon and brings me a newspaper - I like to do the crossword each day. She also checks in to see if I need any shopping ... And a couple of other friends pop in when they can. I am very privileged to have people who care about me but in an average week I probably only set eyes on 2 people who aren't paid to come and take care of me.

So how do you spend your day?
I read, I reminisce, I watch TV and I try to get a few jobs done - there are always bills to pay, phone calls to make and papers to sort. Often I fall asleep in my chair. I used to crotchet and keep birds but I can't take care of them any more.

Are you connected with a church?
I am but I haven't been to a service for 6 years. The leadership team arrange for home communion to be brought once a month and someone drops round the notice sheet, when they remember. There are people in the congregation who pray for me regularly. And there are others who will phone.

So, how lonely do you feel?
It depends what you mean by lonely. I know I am loved by God, I know I will have some communication with people each day and I know that there are people who will help me in a crisis but all my close friends have died. There's no-one left to whom I can say all the really personal things that you might want to share with your best pal. And I miss physical touch, the only time I get any physical contact is when a virtual stranger is putting my clothes on me, some days I want a hug from someone who cares about me deeply.

Is it the same every day?
Sundays are the worst. [Editor: She is not alone in feeling this way]. When I was growing up, Sundays were family days and church days. They are neither of those things for me now and that void hasn't been filled with anything else. At least there's Songs of Praise to look forward to. I can sing along to that - if they have proper hymns.

How do you cope with these aspects of isolation?
The article is right, your TV becomes really important. The voices and faces you see on screen become the familiar pattern of your day. They don't provide real relationship but they provide information and humour. I phone people whenever I feel up to it, getting old - well, being old - doesn't give me the right to expect the whole world to come to me, sometimes I need to call someone to ask how they are doing. Sometimes I cry for all those I have lost but the tears don't last for long, you've just got to get on with life, haven't you?

What makes a difference?
Phonecalls. It's as simple as that. I like visits too but I take so long to get to the front door that most people have left by the time I get there. Phonecalls during the day always make me smile. They don't have to be long, they don't need to discuss anything deep, I just like hearing people's news and knowing what is going on in the outside world.

And prayer?
That's a tricky one to answer! Of course, prayer is wonderful. But if all the prayer is going on without me knowing anything about it then I find it hard to be encouraged by it. I love getting cards from people telling me that they are praying and telling me what they are praying for but that doesn't happen very much.

Do you get the sermons each week?
Not any more. It's gone all new-fangled. I don't have anything more whizz-bang than a tape recorder so I can't listen to all these iPad [Editor: mp3] recordings. There's no way to get any teaching.

What else helps?
I like being given large print Bible notes, they are a good way to spend time with God each day. And I like it when people ask me to pray for them ... I have got so much time on my hands, I can do limitless praying (as long as I can stay awake) but very few people ask me to serve them in this way and most prayer letters don't come in large print in the post.

Do you know people more isolated than you?
Oh yes. And I try to call them as often as I can. Some people simply have no friends to pop in. All the people they used to socialise with are dead or as incapacitated as they are. Often in your old age you have to deal with a lot of bereavement and you have to deal with it without the support of friends. Family members often live at a distance - even overseas - and have busy lives. It's easy for elderly people to become the out of sight, out of mind generation.

What can the church do differently to support their really isolated members?
It all boils down to community. People like me are not projects who need sorting out, we're not things to cross off your to do list ("phoned Edith - tick") nor are we on the scrap-heap (yet!) - we're your brothers and sisters, your family, your friends. That's the theory, anyway. Simply treat us as a natural part of the family. Allow us to be genuinely interested in what you are doing - tell us about the cake that went wrong, the toddler tantrum that nearly turned you grey and the broken boiler. We wont be able to fix anything but we can laugh with you, cry with you, pray with you and possibly even use a spot of wisdom to help you. And be interested in our lives ... I may be confined to a chair now but I used to own three motorbikes, you know. Let me share some of my stories - not just so I can talk but so you can get to know who I really am. I know that takes time but all relationships do. There will be moments when practical help with a dripping tap will be wonderfully useful but most of the time, I need what we all need - to give and receive love and encouragement. Sometimes a hug or a gentle hand laid on mine will mean more than I can say. A large print script of a sermon (every now and then) would be a real encouragement, especially if the application is something I can actually do. And please let me serve in prayer ... all I need is a list - a big, clear list.

Suzy Andrews

3:18 PM GMT on January 23rd
Oh my goodness.
Thank you so much for posting this.


9:54 AM GMT on January 24th
The last paragraph about talking about the past and their youth is particularly poignant. My mom died a year ago today. She was an actress before she had children and had an interesting if slightly shady past, which she mentioned in passing but never in detail. Years ago she said she could write a book about it but never did. Now I am left with shoe boxes of photos and letters from strangers, but no sense of who she really was and what she did in her youth. I now wish I has sat with her more and got her to share the stories so that I could now write her story for her. I can't and that makes be sad. So go talk to Edith, and your mom. Today. My mom wasn't the frail lady dependent on oxygen and a wheelchair all her life, just in the last year. Neither was yours. Oh and write your story now, for your children.


3:27 AM GMT on February 17th
Love the elderly

I can spend my lifetime serving precious...they have such obvious easy to serve makes me very sad to see what happens in old age.

Wish I had more than two hands to reach all....but the ones around me I guess is enough

Thanks for posting is everything



11:36 AM BST on May 6th
This is really powerful. Thanks for sharing it. Thanks to Edith for sharing her thoughts--she gave insights I've not seen elsewhere.
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Helen Thorne

Helen Thorne is Director of Training and Resources at Biblical Counselling UK and an experienced counsellor. She formerly worked with London City Mission and has written Purity is Possible, Walking with Domestic Abuse Suffers and 5 Things to Pray for Your City. She attends Dundonald Church in Raynes Park, London.