From the forums:
I am wondering what to do for the holidays. A couple of my friends have invited me for meals those days, which I am grateful for, but I think spending too much time around large, happy families will just make me sad and uncomfortable. I do not have any friends like myself who are single and do not have family to spend the holidays with. Should I just treat Thanksgiving (and the holidays) like any normal day? Have any of you been through something similar? — Alone for the Holidays
First, I’m so sorry for your losses. We will all hopefully expect to outlive our parents, but to lose them both at what I assume is a relatively young age, and so close together, and without the support of siblings or a partner is so sad, and I really feel for you. But I know the human spirit is resilient and I was reminded of that recently through a woman named Madonna Badger who experienced overwhelming loss and has found happiness again in spite of it.
Two years ago, on Christmas day, Badger lost both of her parents and her three young daughters in a house fire. I remember hearing about the fire while watching the news with my parents and sister, who were visiting, and my husband and my newborn son. There I was, surrounded by my closest family, experiencing the joy of my baby’s first holiday season while this woman, who surely at some point had felt the same happiness I was experiencing many times, had suddenly lost the most important people in her life. All at once. Just like that. How could she possibly go on? I wondered.
But she did go on (she’s even engaged to be married next year). And in an essay in this month’s Vogue she talks about how she survived that first holiday season without her family. She volunteered, helping kids in need (and plans to do the same this year). The first Christmas without her daughters, on the anniversary of the fire that claimed them and her parents, she volunteered at an orphanage in Thailand for girls who had lost their parents or who had been rescued from sex slavery. She writes:
The garage behind [my] house in Stamford hadn’t caught fire, and I had stored old boxes of toys there that my girls had outgrown and a bunch of things I had saved for them for when they grew up. I took a bag of it all to Thailand, and on Christmas morning I gave the girls presents, and they were so excited. Thirty or so of them came and stood in front of me and prayed for me in Thai. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them we were all crying. When I looked into the girls’ faces, I saw my children. It broke me open in a way I still can’t fully explain. But if these little girls were living their lives with joy and happiness, I realized—and if they could give their love to me after all they had been through—how could I possibly feel sorry for myself? What they showed me was that what had happened to them had just happened. It wasn’t “done” to them, just as none of this had been “done” to me. I wasn’t being punished; I had not been singled out.
I imagine that, like you, she probably had friends who extended invitations to her, but it was more healing for her to give to people in need, and in return, to receive probably more than she hoped for.
It’s never going to be easy. The pain is just so huge that sometimes it feels like a prison cell. But trying really hard to not feel sorry for myself makes me feel good. Being of service helps the pain to go away, if only for a little while, and giving and receiving love makes me feel good.
This holiday season, try being of service to others. Give graciously so that you can receive love and gratitude in abundance. It is healing. And, I think, it probably does help some of the pain and loneliness go away, as Madonna Badger says, if only for a little while.