Follow Jason Manford; don’t leave it to late to reach out to friends – Jayne Dowle

WE should all take heed of comedian Jason Manford’s advice. And no, this is not a joke.

Comedian Jason Manford has spoken of the importance of keeping in touch with friends following the death of Sean Lock.

Devastated at the death of his friend, fellow comedian Sean Lock, from cancer at the age of 58, Manford told his Twitter followers that was so glad he had texted him in the few weeks before he died.

“If you’ve a friend who’ve you not spoken to for a while, drop them a message and check in. It could be the last time,” he posted.

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Inevitably, there’s been something of a backlash. Social media critics, complaining from the comfort of the moral high ground, have accused Manford of somehow cashing in on the death of his friend who appeared in a number of television comedy shows.

Tributes have been paid to comedian Sean Lock who has died from cancer.

For goodness sake, can we just get a bit of perspective here? How many of those self-righteous critics have ever done the same?

How many could say, hand on heart, that they had taken their attention away from their precious social media for just five minutes to check in on a friend who might be ill or alone?

Not many, I’d say.

After the privations of the pandemic, we’re rapidly escalating back into a self-obsessed world where too many people seek public approbation and too few bother to think about anyone else except themselves.

The importance of letter-writing should never be under-estimated, says Jayne Dowle.

Manford is right. It can be too late. I know this myself.

I once made a friend, a lively, engaging woman who had recently recovered from breast cancer. We lived in the same town, but our paths didn’t cross very often; she was single and lived alone, I was busy with two young children.

Sadly, after five or six years, her illness returned. She became frailer and frailer, until eventually, she entered a hospice where she died.

At first we had kept in touch through Facebook messages, but eventually she became too weak and sick to use her phone.

So I wrote a heartfelt card and found the address where she was. I intended to post that card, I really did.

For more than a week however, it sat on my desk. Every day I chided myself to find the time to buy a stamp and go to the post office, but I’m ashamed to say that I never got around to it.

She died, and still the card sat there. Its presence was a reminder of my failure as a friend.

At her funeral, I felt ashamed. She didn’t die alone, her family were all with her, but still I felt mean and selfish.

Ever since, I’ve tried to make an extra effort to keep in touch with people who I know are ill or alone.

I can’t say I always get it right or whether my brief texts, messages or the odd card – including at Christmas, a tradition I staunchly uphold – make a difference. However, if I was in a similar situation, it would gladden my heart to know that people did remember me.

The pandemic highlighted the need to keep that connective flame alive. It’s already beginning to feel like ancient history, but the first few months following the first lockdown in March 2020 brought about a swell of community spirit as surprising as it was heartening.

Neighbour helped neighbour, often speaking to each other for the very first time. Teenagers furloughed from school or college fetched food and medicines for strangers. Volunteers set up telephone befriending services and chatted to people they had never met.

That very British reserve, which can so often display itself as aloofness, disappeared. It would be such a shame if the collaborative spirt of early lockdown was just allowed to simply ebb away as the world grinds its gears slowly back to normality and front doors are slammed firmly shut.

Especially as the pandemic has highlighted a crisis in UK mental health which recognises loneliness and isolation as major factors.

In November 2020, the Office for National Statistics released findings that showed acute loneliness had climbed to record levels, with eight per cent of adults (around 4.2 million people) feeling “always or often lonely”.

One in four (24 per cent) adults in the UK said they had feelings of loneliness in the “previous two weeks”.

Loneliness levels were found to be higher in 18 to 25-year-olds, the unemployed, full-time students and single parents in each wave of the survey.

That’s a lot of people to be left feeling out of the loop. A lot of people who would welcome a friend, a kind word or thoughtful gesture from a friend, a relative or a neighbour prepared to spare just a moment or two.

None of us are alone, really. It’s just that, sometimes, we all need reminding of this.

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