By Carl Hendrickson
I still remember Nov. 24, 1955, my first Thanksgiving without family.
I was 18 years old and finishing Army basic training at Fort Ord, California. Although surrounded by more than 30 other young men in my platoon, I was lonely. In the future I would spend other Thanksgivings without family, but this was the first.
We are conditioned to think of Thanksgiving as the time of year when families come together. It is the most inclusive and unifying holiday on the calendar. So it has the ability to generate the most loneliness. Unlike Halloween or New Year’s – holidays we feel fine spending with friends or acquaintances – the absence of family is truly felt on Thanksgiving.
This Thanksgiving, Saralou and I again will be surrounded by family. Our son in Arnold and his wife and two daughters will spend the day with us. Another son and family will be coming in from Chicago to spend the weekend with us. It will be a noisy, lively time with the grandchildren, but one that we look forward to.
When I attend church on Thanksgiving Day, however, many will be there spending the time alone, including the widows and widowers whose children and grandchildren cannot make it to the St. Louis area to visit them.
How can we be alone and not be lonely? These suggestions may help me in the future. They may help others who are alone today.
Long ago we could write letters to family and loved ones on Thanksgiving. It’s not the same as being with them physically, but emotionally we could feel in touch. Today we have instantaneous messaging with texting, emailing and Facetime.
Volunteering on Thanksgiving to assist those less fortunate could make you feel good and help to minimize feelings of being alone.
If you can’t do that, perhaps you can assist others who are alone.
Plan to spend time with a co-worker, a fellow parishioner, a neighbor who also is alone on Thanksgiving. Consider it a new Thanksgiving tradition to create lasting friendships, which can be as strong as family ties.
If the above do not help, remember this is one day out of the year. I am sure many of us have survived a Thanksgiving without family. I did so when I was in the Army, at college and in law school. Simply try to make it through the day. Count your blessings whether with family or not.