An acquaintance made a point recently of sharing with me how wonderful her grown son is. “Every holiday,” she said, “he calls to make sure I’m not spending it alone.”
It took me a while to process why I was still stewing over this several days later. For openers, it brought up the wounds of being childless forever, of knowing there will be no grown children or grandchildren to check in on me in my later years, to include me in holiday gatherings. It also bugged me that she was choosing to share this with me, someone she knows has been through the wringer with the whole trying-to-make-peace-with-being-childless journey (i.e., know your audience, lady).
But then it struck me: This woman has been married for decades, has several extended family members nearby, is part of a close community of friends, and she really has no experience of the depths of loneliness I’ve experienced as a long-time single woman and now childless woman. She has never spent a holiday alone—not one—and she never will.
Yet…yet…she still feels lonely.
Loneliness isn’t the domain of single people. You can feel alone in a marriage or in a room full of strangers. You can feel alone when you’re surrounded by gobs of other people who have no idea about your life experience or who don’t make any effort to care. Anyone been at a ladies’ lunch that turned into a mommies’ lunch? Yup, me too.
I think it is very sweet her son is reaching out and trying to help her feel less alone, but I think she would be in better shape if she made the effort to reach out herself. I’ve done this in my own life. When I’ve felt especially sad (and I can throw a world-class self-pity party), I’ve thought about who in my life is in worse shape and I’ve picked up the phone and called. Or sent a text message or email or postcard or handwritten note. Sometimes all I say is “Thinking of you”, and sometimes that’s the extent of the exchange. But other times that friend answers the call and says, “Your timing is perfect. I needed to hear a friendly voice today,” and by the end of the conversation, we’re both lifted up a bit.
I know how hard this journey is, and I know how triggering the holidays are. If you’re in a dark place, take the time you need to grieve and please be gentle with yourself. But, if you feel like you have even an ounce to give, pick up the phone. Tell someone else you’re thinking about them, and maybe they’ll tell you they’ve been thinking about you too. It might be just the message you need to hear to get you through today.