It’s hard for me to find the words to describe loneliness. The best I can come up with is that it feels like someone has scooped out all my insides, leaving only a shell that outsiders see. They think everything is fine – normal. That’s the way I want it.
After all these years of being alone, it’s surprising that I still find it embarrassing to tell anyone that I am lonely. I feel foolish. Less than. Selfish. And I worry, especially at holidays, that my confession might make someone feel compelled to invite me to their festivities, hoping all the while that I will decline.
Thanksgiving has always been the hardest time. Besieged by TV commercials and programs, articles and stories, real and fictional, about folks gathering together, sometimes traveling great distances, to sit around tables in a virtual marathon of love and affection, makes me sick at heart. I am, of course, smart enough to know that this is not an accurate portrayal of the lives of many Americans. But knowing is not feeling. And no matter how hard I try, I fall prey to the sadness every year. And the older I get, the more sensitive I become to the depression that envelopes so many people at this time, especially the elderly.
For the last few years, I have been blessed with wonderful Thanksgivings. People have seen to it that I am not alone. Their invitations genuine. This year, as last, I will be with my friend and her family – son and girlfriend, daughter and her husband and their 3 sons – twin 13-year-olds and an 8-year-old. There will be laughter, some bickering, lots of noise and boyish mischief, and great food. I will feel truly thankful. The reason for the holiday realized.
But, as I relish the time I spend Thursday, I will be remembering the many times I was alone. Some years I would make myself a real Thanksgiving dinner, baking a turkey breast, making stuffing and sweet potatoes. I would set the table with my favorite dishes. Sitting by myself. Silent. Other years I ordered take out. And there were years when I pretended I did not notice what day it was. Those were the worst.
I believe it is important for me to remember those times. I do not want to forget all the lonely people who will struggle to get through the holiday. And there are so many. Young and old. Those, like me, without family. Those who are alone due to death, estrangement or distance. The homeless. Those too poor to have a decent dinner. Those in the military. Those who have jobs that do not allow them time off. Especially the children and the elderly who are left alone.
I do not know what time has in store for me. Three friends died this year. The world seems to be such a cruel place. I am sometimes frightened and frequently sad. And yes, lonely. But I am blessed. I have a life filled with abundance. I am safe. I still find wonder and awesomeness. My loneliness is temporary, at least for now.
So I will celebrate this Thanksgiving with a grateful heart. And remember all those lonely people in my prayers.
Carole Leskin is a retired Director of Global Human Resources. Embarking on a second career as a writer and photographer concentrating on her personal accounts of aging, her essays and poetry, frequently accompanied by her photos, are published in Jewish Sacred Aging, Jewish Women of Words, Starts At 60, Navigating Aging ( a Kaiser Health publication), Women’s Older Wisdom, Time Goes By and Next Avenue. Her poems, “Father Time” and “Carole’s Debate” were selected for inclusion in the 2019 anthologies of poetry, New Jersey Bards. Her photos have been featured in Mart R Porter Nature Forum.