Monday, December 26, 2005

Alone for the Holidays - By Susan Dunn

I remember some years ago picking my child up at preschool and watching the meltdown of a friend of mine. It was approaching Thanksgiving weekend, her birthday, and also her first Thanksgiving alone, as a divorced woman. The kind teacher of our children had asked my friend, Rita, I’ll call her, what her plans were for the holidays, and that’s what initiated the meltdown. Rita’s ex would have the kids and she would be alone.

Being an old pro at this, I took Rita under my wing. “Come on,” I said, “I’ll show you how to do this.”

And that’s the thing. Yes, there’s loneliness, and pain, and sometimes anger, too, but the root of the matter is that if we’re aren’t used to being “alone” for the holidays, we don’t know how to do it.

Having been single for many years, I’ve been “alone” for many holidays. I like to call it “being on my own.” It seems a funny word to me, because being “single” does not mean being “alone,” unless you’re new to it. To rephrase it, I am not married. I have not had my children with me for many holidays. Now, in fact, I am not married and my children are grown. What have I learned over the years?

Well, that year with Rita, we ended up serving Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless. I happened to work for a shelter at the time, so had all sorts of ideas. In order to fill all the corners of the holiday, we made placemats and favors beforehand, then spent several hours at the shelter with the homeless folks.

It was a heart-warming experience for Rita and fulfilled all the needs of a holiday -- keeping yourself distracted from current pain you may be enduring (there were tables to set, dishes to arrange, people to talk to, plans to make), and giving something to others, connecting, and being involved. At the end of the day, Rita’s heart was full. She had also heard other people’s stories. I don’t like to ever say “worse than one’s own,” because one’s own situation is always tantamount, but stories which helped her feel connected.

There was also a meaningful prayer when the archbishop showed up, as he sometimes did at the shelter. Don’t forget to nourish the spiritual side during a holiday. The archbishop talked about gratitude, and found things to say even at a homeless shelter. I agree with him that there is always something to be grateful for, if you turn your face toward the sun.

Here are some of the other ways I’ve enjoyed holidays as a single person:

1. Study and learning. My first year after divorce the children were with their father and his family. I was in graduate school and finals were approaching. Not being ready yet to sit at someone else’s table, though there were invitations of course, I opted to study. This year my son and grandchildren will be elsewhere, and I have a set of opera tapes I plan to indulge in. Check out the resources from The Teaching Company ( bringing engaging professors into your home or car through DVD, CD, and tape. No homework or exams, and the best of the best teachers. How about “The Origins of Life,” or “History of the Bible?” You’d need a long weekend to hear the whole course.

2. Volunteer work, as mentioned above.

3. Take a trip. I’ve taken a cruise before for the holidays. You’ll find all kinds of people cruising for holidays, and you’re never alone on a cruise ship. There are always things to do, the sea to look at (it’s very healing), land excursions, and getting away from reminders.

4. Invite others to your home. Test your wins entertaining solo. Others are always willing to help and you can make it potluck. I’m sure you know people who would be glad to gather at your home. P.S. Think “friends,” not “singles.” People mean well, but I wearied of hearing, “I know you’ll be at a loss … why don’t you come over…” We like to hear the same sort of invitation everyone gets, “Please join us for Thanksgiving.” So form a mixed group!

5. Declare a non-holiday and distract yourself. Use the weekend to clean the garage. Put on some great music and your grubbies and tackle that chore. You’ll feel great afterwards. Sometimes it’s nice to go away from the holiday rather than into it.

6. If you choose to go it alone, treat yourself to a wonderful meal, like one of the grand buffets the hotel’s put on. Dress to the hilt and indulge. You are worthy of the best whether or not you are partnered, yes?

7. Connect with a singles group. They’ll probably have a full calendar; mine always does.

8. Connect with a coach, one who doesn’t require a contract so you can call when you feel like it. If you get discouraged, it’s good to talk it out.

9. If you’re at the peak of suffering, do get help. Therapists’ offices fill up at the holidays, for good reason, and they are trained to help. Stephens Ministry is also wonderful (google it)or getting prayer at your place of worship.

10. Start journaling, or start a blog. Share what you know and don’t know, and get ideas and community from others. 47% of US families are headed by single adults, so you’re hardly “alone.”

©Susan Dunn, MA, EQ coaching,, Individual coaching, business programs, EQ Alive! #1 rated program to increase your EQ – simple, no memorizing, it works. Email for information, and free ezine.

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