We all write it, a simple phrase that echoes a desire to remain connected to people who are personally or professionally important to us. Throughout most of our lives it may not mean much, but as people get older and potentially their number of contacts diminishes, keeping in touch takes on a whole new meaning.
Many people are too proud to admit they are lonely. The British way is to have a stiff upper lip and just carry on. But if you are unwell, isolated through immobility or just simply can't do the things you used to enjoy, a life of being surrounded by the same four walls can seem an achingly sad existence.
Individuals with families who are rarely in touch might make excuses, telling themselves that their younger relatives are busy with jobs and children and they don't have time to keep in touch much. Even people who are living in care homes, surrounded by others, can feel a real sense of loss and sadness if family and friends rarely visit or write.
It's easy to forget the needs of older loved ones when our own lives are a hectic whirl. Days roll into weeks, weeks into months, months into years, with perhaps only the occasional card for a birthday or Christmas and rarer still a visit. With the plethora of technology that helps us keep in touch with our peers, the idea of writing a letter can seem very old fashioned and time-consuming.
Those occasional cards to mark milestones in the year are also now coming under threat. Many people I know are turning away from buying and sending Christmas cards due to the cost, deciding instead to donate money directly to their favourite charity. While it's fantastic that charities benefit, there may just be some older, more isolated people on those deleted Christmas lists for whom a Christmas card dropping through the door could be the highlight of their day.
Cards aren't just for Christmases and birthdays though. I recently read about a really simple but invaluable idea that one lady devised to keep in touch with an older relative in a residential home who she couldn't visit as often as she'd like to. She began sending him a weekly postcard, with a few 'highlights' of the things that were happening with her and her family.
She put up a noticeboard in his room and gradually over the weeks those postcards became an ever-changing picture, with the next instalment much anticipated by the gentleman and the staff at his residential home. Soon she started to intersperse the postcards with photos she'd taken - everything from waving family members to cuddles with her neighbour's cat, her son washing the car and even her husband asleep in front of the TV (complete with lopsided glasses). Normal everyday events that might seem pretty unremarkable to most people, but every single one was a treasured addition to the noticeboard.
She never got stuck for words by keeping things short and simple, often with details of a domestic task she was going to start after she'd written the postcard or taken the photo - saying she was just writing first to say hello and to "cheer herself up". With those words she enabled a subtle role reversal that made her relative feel important by being there to write to and to bring support and happiness to her even though they were apart. For the days when time was short, she devised a little cartoon character to sum up her mood.
Of course her relative initially told her off for 'wasting' money on stamps, but she just told him he was worth it. Admittedly it's not an idea for everyone, especially with escalating postage costs, and for some people email or skype could replace the traditional items sent in the mail, but for many older people without internet access, the postal service is a lifeline to feeling loved, wanted and thought about. Items sent in the mail can also become keepsakes in the way that phone conversations can't.
So at this time of year, as you potentially contemplate writing Christmas cards or visiting long-lost relatives, make sure your promise to keep in touch really counts - after all the people we care about are for life, not just for Christmas.