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Communities rally together to ensure that one elderly man wasn’t alone at Christmas for the first time in two decades.

For many, the holidays are a wonderful time of cheer and merriment. But for others, Christmas can be a challenging period full of loneliness and isolation. For 20 years, Terrence Brian found himself in that latter group, because the U.K. native had nobody to spend the season with.

Alone on Christmas

In 2019, Brian shared his story with BBC Breakfast. For the past two decades, the then-78-year-old had spent Christmas day by himself. Terrence grew up with a traveling father, and he lost his younger brother when he was 26 years old. Because of his situation, he had had to drop out of school when he was 14, and when he was 20, he finally decided to get into nursing. That meant he spent most of his time taking care of other people.

He and his mother were close, and he spent a lot of time with her, especially after she was diagnosed with cancer. Terrence looked after her, and they spent Christmases together when he’d bring her presents and a hot meal. But that tradition ended when she passed away in 2000, making every future holiday especially hard for the man.

“I was very sad after my mother died. I was very close to her and I’d lost my best friend,” Terrence later explained to the Oldham Chronicle. “Nobody ever explains how hard grief hits you until it happens to you. I used to think to myself that I needed to go and cook mum’s tea, even after she’d gone, but then had to remind myself that she wasn’t here anymore.”

Terrence later suffered a heart attack and developed diabetes. Then, his partner of four-and-a-half years broke up with him while he was being treated at the hospital.

I just fell into the worst depression I’ve ever known.

Terrence Brian

But then Brian learned about Age UK, an organization that helps the elderly find care and support. He began attending and before long, the managers selected him as one of the volunteers for an advertisement they were doing. It was through that bit that BBC’s Dan Walker first learned about Terrence’s story and got in touch.

Inspiring a nation

After the interview, Walker promised he would help change Terrence’s situation. Sure enough, a few days later students from Oldham College came to the door with a Christmas tree, which they decorated for him. The festivities didn’t stop there though: a student choir was at the ready outside, where they serenaded him with his favorite song, “Silent Night.”

Cue the tears, as Terrence was overcome with emotion.

I welled up and emotion got to me. I just thought, what had I done to deserve all this? As I was just thinking, that I was just being myself.

Terrence Brian

When BBC shared a follow-up story online, Terrence immediately became a viral sensation. Many reached out in hopes of making his holidays less lonely, including singer John Barrowman. The performer reached out to Terrence and even invited him to one of his shows, where Barrowman introduced Terrence to the audience and asked them to light up their phones for his next performance, “Silent Night.”

Changing his future

Although the pandemic changed things for everyone last Christmas, Terrence revealed that he was still in touch with many of those who stepped in to help him in his time of need and that he truly considers them to be friends now.

“Please, please, if you have a neighbour, give them a knock, say, ‘Are you okay? Is there anything you want?’ Because a lot of people, when they’re on their own, they give up,” Terrence told BBC Breakfast last year. “I nearly did that myself so things can be done, but sometimes you need a helping hand from somebody.”

Spreading the cheer

If you’re lucky enough to have people near and dear to spend the holidays with, why not draw some inspiration from Terrence’s story and spread some cheer to the people in your life who may be alone come the holiday season. Invite them to dinner, drop off a small gift, send them a hot meal, offer to help them wrap presents or to decorate their tree.

Even a shared cup of tea or hot chocolate over the holiday season with someone who doesn’t have people to share their spirit with can make a world of difference in someone else’s life. And if you don’t know anyone who is spending Christmas alone, you can still help spread the Christmas spirit by volunteering at a shelter or a retirement centre.

At the end of the day Christmas is all about giving and spending time with loved ones, so what better gift to give than that of your time and kindness?

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