The volunteer co-ordinator at Riverine Senior’s Home asked what day I wanted to come in to tell stories in December.
“Yes I find Christmas hard.”
Despite many fabulous Christmas experiences, I have to work to stay positive at this time of year.
I learned early on in my life at this time of year to call a HALT when I get overwhelmed.
I am careful not to get too Hungry. Angry. Lonely. Or Tired.
Lets start with hunger. Well I never get hungry. Is there a way even to be hungry this time of year? I always eat. If there is a cheese tray nearby, I will devour it.
And anger I do well, too. Or I used to. It seemed when I was younger I used to get angry at everything.
And then there was tired— I was always tired! Likely because I wore myself out from being mad so much.
But loneliness wasn’t my issue. Maybe, because I came from a big family. Or I had lots of friends. Or I was moving so fast, loneliness couldn’t keep up with me.
That was until ten years ago when Loneliness with a capital L hit big-time.
Divorce. Kids gone. Aging.
When I say loneliness it wasn’t just sitting around feeling no one loved me. No, it wasn’t like I wanted more social activities. Or that I didn’t have enough people to hang out with me.
It was the kind of loneliness that you get when life has changed quickly and radically. I was 50, divorced, empty-nester. My identity as a mom and a wife changed. It was the loneliness of major life passages.
Now matter how hard I tried to stay optimistic my mind yelled out, “Things are so much different than they used to be.”
So what do you do if you are lonely?
Go somewhere where people are lonelier than you.
That’s why I began telling stories at the Riverine Senior’s Home.
It was selfish really. I needed to stop thinking about myself. Every month I shared stories. We dealt with themes about childhood, and family. In all its forms. And not only did it put salve on my loneliness, it connected me to such, amazing people. Behind every wrinkled face is someone with a richly textured and complicated life.
That’s why I jumped on the idea of reading stories on Christmas Day!!
If you think you’re lonely try going to a seniors centre around 3 pm on Christmas Day.
The staff have left early. All activities are on hold. Its a strange quiet.
There are at least 2 or 3 people who have been left behind. They have a cover story that they are waiting to be picked up by some recalcitrant family member. But the truth is most of the time no one is coming.
That first Christmas, our motley crew consisted of 3 people. But within minutes of some stories ( and my daughter played ukulele) boy we laughed and cried remembering holidays feasting on Christmas cake and warm apple cider left for us by the staff.
That first Christmas as I left I went to hug each one goodbye a sweet but rather cranky sounding lady named, Rita, said,
” Now why the hell would you come and do this on Christmas Day?
I couldn’t create a noble reason so I told the truth.
“I get lonely.”
To which she said,
” Well what the hell do you have to be lonely about?”
” I don’t know. The human condition, I guess.” She looked confused so I added, ” I need a hug.”
And so she gave me a big bear hug that took my breath away.
The second Christmas, Rita brought another friend. After our stories and songs were done I went to hug her friend and she pointed at me and yelled over at Rita, ” What the hell is she doing, now?
Rita barked in a loud voice.
” She’s lonely so she needs to hug people.”
” All right. What does she have to be lonely about?
That year I got two bear hugs.
The 3rd year: I had a divorced friend come with me. She sat in the corner and cried through all the stories. I was worried that she was depressing everyone, until Rita’s friend walked over and hugged her.
My friend had no choice but to exit her tomb of grief and hug her back.
So if you are feeling lonely this season, reach out and touch someone with a smile, a story, a hug.
A small gesture will help them…and you!
Since I can’t tell you a story in person, I am sending this one along that I told to the seniors in Riverine. I created podcast called Eileen in the Soup Cupboard. Listen below. Or read about Eileen by clicking here