Sandra Dick: Help at hand if you lack festive cheer

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A chunk of the past week has been spent with a tear in my eye and battling that morbid sadness that comes with being suddenly reminded how quickly lives can change forever.

The awful loss of three young people in a car crash in East Lothian is so heartbreakingly dreadful that it hardly bears thinking about; the horrific and dramatic moment a lively Glasgow bar was crushed beneath a police helicopter still hard to believe.

And the very sad episode when a man plunged from the Scott Monument, all the more poignant as the area around was a scene of joy and festivity.

For the families and friends united in deep grief, all that matters right now is their loss. Further on, and nothing will be the same again: birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, the first shoots of spring or the warmth of the summer sun . . . every day, every wedding, every news of a birth and every funeral they go to will bring its own sad reminder of what they no longer have.

For those in despair, Christmas is often the hardest to bear, with its own perfectly wrapped set of challenges. It’s when everyone else is enjoying themselves, every television advert shows happy families, when there’s a card that says “Sister” or “Uncle” or “Dad” that remains unbought on the shop shelf, that empty seat at dinner.

According to The Samaritans, which just marked 60 years of helping support people through all sorts of personal anguish, calls spike by nearly 25 per cent at Christmas. To cope, its volunteers work throughout the season, taking calls or opening e-mails at its Torphichen Street base from people overwhelmed by grief, family woes, financial worries, work stress and loneliness, offering a listening ear for when the pervasive jolliness of the season becomes too much to bear.

For many, this Christmas will be a time of fun and festivities – and no-one would grudge anyone that. But for those for whom the season brings no Merry Christmas, the coming weeks stretch like an awful emotional assault course.

For them, finding a route through it takes a stiff upper lip, courage and, if the need be, perhaps a phone call to The Samaritans on 0131-221 9999.