Sandra Dick: Make the most of the family time you have

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My great aunt is fading, eyes cloudy and wet, hands like ice, she’s slowing shrinking away.

There’s not much to be done about it, she’s an old lady now and old ladies have a habit of eventually grinding to a halt.

I’ve always adored her. Not that I showed it much. Too busy, you see. Too many other things were far more important.

It wasn’t always the case. Aged ten I jumped on my bike and, without telling anyone, cycled alone along a busy road to her house, a good ten miles which if my ten-year-old attempted it today would have me freaking out.

She was home – she rarely went out. She welcomed me in, fed me cakes from her enormous stock of treats and let me play with her grown-up daughter’s collection of special dolls.

She got old, I grew up. Work, house, husband, children, all more important to me. Widowed, she sat in her small lounge stuffed with trinkets, with her biscuit cupboard, a fabulously devoted daughter to look after her and later an army of carers to give her breakfast, lunch and dinner, kind-hearted souls but on a whirlwind mission to get on to the next person just like her.

And where was I? Sorry, bit too busy this weekend, I’ll get over soon. Like Christmas, or maybe New Year.

At the weekend I realised I’d left it too late. Roles reversed, I fed her a chocolate finger biscuit which she ate painfully slowly and helped her drink tepid milky tea from a toddler’s cup.

She managed a smile. We said goodbye. I kissed her cold, soft cheek and said I’d see her soon and left heavy hearted, guilty for the times I’d said those precise words but never actually keeping my promise.

As the seasons change, charities will soon set about reminding us to check on elderly relatives and neighbours, a once-a-year kick up the backside. Job done. I, for one, was guilty of trotting off, forgetting about the other 11 lonely months.

If we’re not careful, precious time with loved ones slides through our fingers and disappears for good. Another bitterly harsh lesson definitely learned.