There is a difference between being alone and loneliness. I look forward to some “alone” time every week. It is therapeutic for me and gives me time to consolidate my thoughts and resolve problems and to make plans. However, there was one time in my life when loneliness was almost more than I could bear.
It was November of 1966. I had just been “invited” to join the U.S. Army a few months before and was at my first duty assignment with the 298th MP Company at Fort Ord, California. Pam was five hundred miles away and pregnant with our first daughter, Tiffany. It was a hard time to be separated for both of us. I quickly learned that life with twenty-four guys in a single room Army barracks could be very lonely indeed. I kept busy and got used to it, but I was not prepared for the loneliness that was to come.
My first inclination that something was very wrong was when half the guys in my barracks left to go home. Even though I didn’t especially like all of these guys, it was weird when they were gone. All of the joking and banter suddenly stopped between those of us that were left. Most conversation ceased and we didn’t look at each other much because of the sadness. I was twenty-two at the time, but most of these guys were only eighteen. Babies compared to me, but we were all homesick just the same. On Thanksgiving Day, it was worse. I waited in line an hour for a three-minute phone call to Pam, I was so happy to hear her voice, and then I cried like a baby when we hung up. (I had to pull my cap down so the other guys in line wouldn’t see.) There was a feast that day in the mess hall, but I couldn’t eat. I would have traded that feast for a bag of old bones just to be home that day. That was when I learned that loneliness comes and goes, but loneliness during the holiday season is magnified tenfold. That day I began to understand the value of family togetherness. That was 50 years ago.
By 1976 we moved to Phoenix to be closer to Pam’s family (the Dennys). In that year, Pam and I (and Tiffany) hosted the First Annual Means/Denny Family Thanksgiving Dinner. As I recall, we had about a dozen, or so present that day. It seemed like a lot of people back then. But two weeks ago, Pam and I were blessed to host the 40th Annual Means/Denny Family Thanksgiving Dinner. We had seventy-one brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, in-laws, outlaws, and friends present and accounted for. It was a relatively modest gathering this year. Two years ago, we had about eighty-five. Pam and I love every one that comes and we love that they want to spend Thanksgiving Day in our home. In fifty years, there has never been another lonely Thanksgiving Day for our family and I pray there never will be.
However, I know that for many, the holiday period can be a reminder of loved ones that have passed away. I think of my mom who has been gone now these three years. I remember how she loved to decorate her house and have all of her family together at the same time. We would always fly there for a few days before Christmas to be with her and my sister. I wish she were still here, with all my heart. Sadness comes when I think of her. So, I think it is normal to feel more sadness during times when we are always supposed to be “happy”. It helps to have a good cry, but it is not good to be isolated and alone.
If you, or someone you know, will be alone or facing depression this holiday season, there are some really positive things you can do. First, there is no better time than at Christmas to forgive old perceived wrongs from a family member or friend. If you have been the offender, then it’s a good time to ask for forgiveness. Invite them to join you, or even ask if you can join them for Christmas this year. You might be surprised at the response. Nevertheless, if you find yourself alone and you have no one to turn to and there is no one you can be with this holiday season, I encourage you to go volunteer at a hospital, a rest home or a food kitchen and become a friend to those that are less fortunate than you. If you do not drive, get a ride or take a cab. There so are many that would welcome your friendship and you would be blessed more than they.
May God bless all of you this Christmas as we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.