We’ve lived in our Suffolk village for 26 years.  When we first came here in 1991 our sons still lived at home and I was busy being a mum and trying to find work.

One evening soon after moving here I ventured down to the village hall to see whether or not the Women’s Institute was on my wavelength.  Within an hour I had decided it wasn’t,  and instead spent the rest of the evening looking around at the unfamiliar faces and trying to imagine their life stories.

One lady in particular, I’ll call her Iris, sat a few rows in front.  Solidly built and with ruddy cheeks and big capable hands, she looked the typical farmer’s wife.  In the days when I could sing and wanted to join the church choir, I found that Iris was already a member.  In fact as time went on, I noticed that it was Iris who unlocked the church in the mornings, closed it up at night, organised the church fete every year, ran all the jumble sales, and in fact had a hand in most of the village activities.

Iris is not easy to get to know. She is a very private person, comes across as a little bit aloof, and she rarely smiles.  I discovered some time afterwards that she wasn’t a farmer’s wife at all, although she does live on a farm handed down to her by her now deceased parents, which she pays a team to manage.   She is now in her seventies, has never married or had children, and has no relatives apart from a niece that doesn’t visit often (her brother died some years ago).

In all the 26 years we’ve lived here, Iris has looked after the church and has attended every single service.  She recently was awarded an MBE for her services to the community.  However, last week as I walked through the churchyard, I noticed that the main door to the church was still locked.  Hurrying towards me was another stalwart of the village, Betty, brandishing a key.

“Where’s Iris?”  I asked Betty.

“She’s in bed.”  Betty shook her head. “She won’t be getting up today.”

This is so out of character for Iris, who I’ve been told in the past usually gets up about 04:30.  I asked Betty what was wrong with Iris, who told me that she suffers with severe depression which is worsening with age, and that particular day was having a ‘bad attack’.

I had no idea that poor Iris suffered from depression at all.  Granted, she never smiles much, but that’s just Iris.  Betty sighed.

“She’s got nobody to love.”

This is unfortunately true.  Apart from her God, Iris has always been alone in the world.  Sometimes this fact must hit home, causing the black dog of depression to engulf her.  Because of her prickly nature, she has many acquaintances but few firm friends.  I always thought that Iris was a loner, didn’t like people much and preferred her own company, but it just goes to show how wrong I was.

Without the love and comfort of a family, life must indeed seem pretty bleak, especially if you’re no longer young.  I must make more of an effort to talk to Iris.  She’s obviously not the kind of person I thought she was.

Have you ever mis-judged anybody?  I always thought I was a good judge of character, but I totally blew it with Iris.

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