Things had been somewhat frantic. I’d recently split up with my partner and spent the last few weeks searching for a new house. In amongst the house hunting, sleeping arrangements had been haphazard. A week at my mum’s, two weeks at my dad’s, a week at my sister’s then back to my mum’s. None of them lived locally, so there was a lot of driving.

Now I’d moved into the new house and life was less frenetic, but I was still feeling pretty frazzled, not helped by having more time to think. Without the distractions, doubts and self-recrimination became prominent. The break-up had been my decision, and I didn’t feel good about it, especially because of the children. And, since I hadn’t “run off with another woman”, there was no one offering me comfort when I got home. My parents and sisters were brilliant, and I couldn’t have asked for more support from them. But I’ve always been self-sufficient, in many ways a loner – which is useful as a writer – so my circle of friends is small, and I’ve never been inclined to unburden myself on other people anyway.

The weekend after my move I went to a wedding reception. A couple I knew through my son’s football team were getting married and had invited the lads and their parents along for the evening bash. Feeling more than a little sorry for myself, I’d have happily stayed at home, but Robert was excited about going – hey, it was a night out with mates…

So we went along, and the happy, friendly mask I wore meant my feelings were hidden. Or so I thought until I got talking to Pat.

He and I had chatted in the past, the normal, mundane stuff you say when you’re watching lads playing football. Deep and meaningful had never been on the agenda, but this was different, and the jokey, laddish bloke you had a laugh with on the touchline had disappeared. I can’t recall the whole conversation – and wouldn’t bore you with it anyway – but it surprised me. He didn’t pretend to understand what had happened between me and my ex-, nor did he pry, but I realised he’d felt his own share of pain in the past and knew I must be going through a tough time.

The most important thing he did that night, though, was offer to be there for me if I ever needed to talk. It was a concept I struggled with at the time, but I was in no doubt about his conviction.

Going home that night, I felt better, reassured that I wasn’t as alone as I’d thought. The funny thing is I never spoke to Pat about it again. Not once was that conversation even alluded to. But it gave me the extra strength I needed. Just knowing there was someone I could talk to if I wanted was a great help to me over the following months.

That doesn’t mean to say everything went swimmingly. There were ups and downs just like there are for all of us at times. But it reinforced for me the benefits we all get – even hermits like me – from knowing there are people around who want to support us.

So I’m grateful to Pat for his words that night, just as I’m grateful to the neighbours who invited me to Christmas Dinner when they knew I’d be alone and my godmother who, instead of looking for my justification for breaking my family up, told me she loved me.

Sometimes we just need to know people are there for us and, when the opportunity arises, we need to let others know we’re there for them too. And, if they don’t take us up on our offer of a chat or dinner, we shouldn’t think it didn’t make a difference.

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