A widower has revealed how he overcame the loneliness of losing his wife of 55 years.
Dick, 92, met his late spouse Joan on the bus in 1950, when he was just 23.
Instantly “smitten”, the pair married a few years later and enjoyed more than five decades of “perfect” wedded bliss.
Dick, from Wirral in Merseyside, even cared for Joan during her 20-year battle with Alzheimer’s, before she collapsed suddenly in 2008.
Left alone, he decided loneliness “wasn’t going to happen” and is on a “crusade” to ensure others decide the same.
Dick and Joan first locked eyes while commuting to Unilever in Wirral, where they both worked.
“As they say in the novels I was smitten,” he told Yahoo UK. “It was like being hit with a baseball bat.”
The pair wed two-and-a-half years later.
“We had 55 years of perfect marriage,” Dick said. “I was just happy with her.”
Dick retired in 1987, the same year Joan first showed signs of Alzheimer’s.
With Joan never having left the country, the pair travelled the world as much as they could over the next decade, before her dementia “got a bit much”.
Dick became her full-time carer, “doing everything from 2000 onwards”.
In 2008, Joan was rushed to hospital after she collapsed at home. She died the day she was discharged.
Despite her Alzheimer’s, Joan never forget her beloved Dick. “She remembered me right up to the last minute,” he said.
While he works hard to stay positive, Dick struggled with the loss of his wife.
“I was talking to her for at least six months after she went,” he said. “I was so used to being with her for 55 years. They never go away.”
Dick counts himself lucky that his two children and grandson visit often, but feels for those whose loved ones live further away.
“These days families get scattered,” he said. “They used to live on the same street. There’s a great danger you’ll end up entirely on your own.”
Refusing to become isolated, Dick “made the effort” to meet new people.
“This is where Age UK has been so helpful; they let me mix with people,” he said.
“They run activities like singing and dancing, or flower arranging if you’re that way inclined.
“I’ve got over being lonely because I decided it wasn’t going to happen. I got up, made the effort to get out and joined in things.”
Until recently, Dick taught English country dancing, only giving it up when he became “a bit doddery on his legs”.
Once a week, he meets up with other ex-servicemen, who he now counts as friends. Dick also finds ways to keep himself busy the rest of the time.
“I go to the library and have a chat with the staff,” he said. “I’m a guide at the local church. Whatever comes up.”
Despite his age, Dick refuses to abide by the “stiff upper lip” mentality.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of to say, ‘I’m on my own and I like to have a conversation with people’,” he said.
While it may be difficult initially, Dick’s advice to others is to join activities in their community.
“The most impossible thing to do is to lock yourself away,” he said.
Combating loneliness could even be as simple as stopping people for a chat.
“Throw your mobile phone down the bottom of the garden and talk to people,” he said.
“I want a crusade to start street conversations again. All the dogs we talk to wag their tails at you.”
Now in a good place, Dick still carries the memory of his wife.
Speaking while looking at her photograph, he added: “Remember the good times - and that was 99% of the time.”
The loneliness crisis
Over nine million people in the UK, more than the population of London, are “always or often” lonely, according to the Campaign to End Loneliness.
Old people are among the worst affected, with two-fifths (around 3.9 million) having just a TV for company.
Christmas can be particularly tough, with more than 750,000 widowed people feeling isolated over the festive season, a study by Age UK found.
More than three million older people dread the big day, with nearly a quarter (23%) saying it brings back painful memories of loved ones they have lost.
Find out more about how Age UK is combating loneliness as part of its “No one should have no one to turn to” campaign here.