Gatherings are Healthy

Friends Can Be Your Family
Credit: author

A Sense of Belonging

Creating Your Own "Family"

It is a well known reality that even in the midst of the frantic pace of life from Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, some people suffer from an intense loneliness.  Loneliness can hover over us like a thick fog, and impact our ability to enjoy what should be a time of celebration with family and friends. 

These feelings are often intensified when a family member has been lost through sickness, cancer or divorce over the past year.  It is also a time when those who are happily entrenched in numerous family gatherings and friendly invitations have an opportunity to include such folks.

I remember a time about 17 years ago, when I was one of the marked lonely hearts.  It was post moving from Los Angeles to Denver.  I had the opportunity to join my sister and her family for the holidays.  They probably didn't realize it at the time, but I was in the depths of despair. 

My daughter lived in Mississippi at the time.  I love to spend the holidays, either Thanksgiving or Christmas with them and was always welcome anytime I could afford the trip.  This year was different, for all the right reasons.  They were going to see her husband's family in Wisconsin and visit other family in Chicago.  It was necessary for me to adjust to that change, but it wasn't easy at the time.

My sister invited me for Thanksgiving, which was a regular event for her and her husband and children.  Over the years, out of my sister's incredible gift of hospitality, the gathering had grown to include their closest friends, and sometimes her husband's family.  Our extended family, who lived in Chicago, didn't make a habit of travelling in the cold weather to another cold destination.

Thanksgiving was enjoyable, and the difference made it interesting, but after it was over, I still went home to an empty house and reminders that I was all alone.  Of course I looked forward to Christmas, and got all my gifts mailed off in time, as usual. 

That year Christmas fell on a Monday.  I wasn't looking forward to long weekend.  I remember sleeping most of Saturday away,  and then going to church twice on Sunday just to pass the time.  I thought maybe I would receive and invitation for some gather, but that didn't happen.  

The second service I attended was the one with my sister and her family, at midnight on Sunday.  Then I went home and waited for the morning.  I remember putting on music and finally falling asleep.   When I woke up, I was so grateful to have somewhere to go.  I set out for her house, which has always given me a sense of home over the years.

When I arrived, the aroma of all the delightful food she had prepared, coupled with the greetings of her children, who have always been precious to me, helped the loneliness subside.  We put together our Christmas puzzle, one of my favorite traditions, during which we caught up with life events over the year that we shared.  

Before we knew it it was time to eat, and I am sure when we prayed, I was the most grateful of all, just for the company.  I stayed as long as I could and then reluctantly began the trek home to an empty house.  I had a whole day following to reflect on what made me survive that Christmas of loneliness, and I vowed that the following year would be different.

When Christmas of the next year came, I was involved in Angel Tree, the gift-for-prisoners-children program.  I delivered gifts to 20 families, visited and prayed with them for themselves and their loved ones.  I helped serve Thanksgiving Dinner to the homeless at Church in the City and never felt a twinge of any preoccupation with myself during that time.  I visited Children at Children's Hospital, and realized how much I had to be thankful for. 

I found that the real meaning of holidays was not how I felt, but in what I could give to others.  That year, as I was fortunate enough to spend time with my daughter and her family again, I vowed to remember that I had the opportunity and ability to change my holiday season.  I don't forget to include someone who may need a friend or encouragement during the holidays in my own plans.

Blessing others is the antidote to loneliness.  I found it the hard way, but I found it, and you can too.  There are always reasons to rejoice, because every season eventually evolves into another.  So be encouraged, even if you are alone, someone cares.  Keep looking and you will find them, and they might need you even more than you need them.  Be that person, will you?