Around one in eight people living in the UK were born in another country. Which probably means that there are many people no longer living in the same country as their elderly parents.

I am one of them. I came to London in 1982 for a taste of excitement and overseas experience and have lived here ever since.

But, as I wrote in a piece in The Guardian this weekend, “Now that I am middle-aged and Von is in her 88th year I feel a real sadness that my mother and I are so far apart. We speak on the phone, usually once a week, but it can’t make up for the fact that I, her only daughter, can’t drop by for a cup of tea and a discreet check that everything really is all right in her world.” 

You can read the rest of the piece here. It got a great response, particularly from people whose parents (or children) live far from them. But it was printed without its final section: suggestions for what you can do to try to make up for your absence:

For anyone else in my situation – living a long way from a beloved parent –  I have a few tips, aimed at making you feel less guilty, and your parent feeling connected, loved and involved in your life, from afar.

  • phone home. I mostly call in Mum’s evening, when I know I’ll find her having a glass of wine and watching TV; it feels convivial and we can chat for up to an hour sometimes. Lots of people use Skype or FaceTime but my mum – who was an early home computer adopter – doesn’t want any kind of device anymore
  • send letters or postcards too. I root out funny or arty cards, or ones that show places she might remember (she was awesomely well-travelled). I bought a box of 40 cards at the Vogue at 100 exhibition and she is loving receiving one every couple of weeks 
  • order flowers when you can. My mother still raves about her Christmas and birthday bouquets
  • show an interest in their daily life. Mum and I talk about movies and TV, because that’s what she spends her evenings doing 
  • tell her tales from your life and the rest of your family. They don’t have to be award-worthy. She just wants to know what everyone is doing
  • but don’t tell her absolutely everything, as your problems could cause her unnecessary worry.  As one of my brothers said a few years ago, “We need to protect Von now, not the other way round.” 
  • send photos, lots of photos. Mum’s house - once so stylish and ordered -  now has photos and children’s drawings stuck all over it. She tells me it makes her feel that everyone is around her in her house