By Gwenn Voelckers
For the first time in 64 years, I will be celebrating Thanksgiving alone.
My parents have passed on and my sister Anne, who has taken up the mantle in their absence, will be leaving town to enjoy Thanksgiving with her husband’s family down south. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to join them.
I’ll be on my own.
If you, as I am, are facing Thanksgiving alone for the first time, you may be anticipating a lonely and depressing fourth Thursday of November. But, it doesn’t have to be so.
Whether you’re divorced, widowed or simply fending for yourself on Thanksgiving, this family-centered holiday can be an opportunity for personal growth, gratitude and self-expression.
Personally, I’m taking my own best advice to heart.
Below are some tips and creative ways to manage and embrace what can be a challenging day in the life of those alone this time of year.
• Be thankful — What better time to feel and experience gratitude. Consider making a list of all the things you are thankful for this year: Your health? Your children? Those good friends who have stood by you through thick and thin? A career or volunteer job you love? A beloved pet? Or perhaps even this opportunity in your life to learn and grow?
• Take the long view — While you may be alone this year, it doesn’t mean you’ll be dining solo on leftover stuffing for the rest of your life. This one day doesn’t dictate your destiny.
Who knows what the future holds?
Over the next year, you may meet someone special or achieve a measure of inner peace and confidence that enables you to enjoy a holiday on your own or with your “family of friends.”
• Do good — Brightening the holiday for those less fortunate can be a worthwhile and satisfying way to spend the day. Shelters and food kitchens often welcome volunteers, but — truth is — many of these agencies fill up fast with regular volunteers. You may need to plan ahead and be creative.
As an alternative, you might consider participating in a local Turkey Trot, most of which benefit charities. You could burn off a few calories for a good cause or participate as a volunteer. They often need extra hands to register and cheer on runners of all ages.
Instead of serving supper at the shelter, you could be serving up smiles at the finish line.
• Throw your own little “Friendsgiving” for fellow single or separated persons — Have some fun! It doesn’t have to be elaborate or even planned far in advance. Sometimes last-minute dinner invitations can turn into the best, most memorable get-togethers.
Chances are you know others who may be alone this Thanksgiving. Extend a warm invitation and ask people to bring a holiday side-dish to pass. This gives everyone a chance to make a meaningful (and delicious!) contribution.
• Beware of “euphoric recall” — When you are feeling lonely, it can be easy to glorify the past. Did last year’s Thanksgiving live up to the Norman Rockwell ideal? Or did all the bickering, bad blood and woozy, overstuffed relatives make you want to run for the hills? Maybe, just maybe, being with your own good company is a blessing.
• Rent a movie and indulge in a tasty guilty pleasure — Oh, why not? Rent a favorite “feel good” film and make a night of it. You might check out “Tootsie” or “On Golden Pond,” two of my favorite oldies, which never fail to warm my heart. Or find a newer movie, such as “About Time,” and enjoy the novelty of seeing something for the first time. Top it off with a favorite treat. I love pumpkin pie ice cream this time of year!
• Pick up the phone — The difference between isolation and engagement can be as simple as dialing a seven or 10-digit phone number.
My experience happily tells me that most everyone welcomes a call and warm wishes on Thanksgiving. Your invitation to go for a walk or see a matinee while the turkey is in the oven may be seen as a nice diversion and chance to get out of the house.
Don’t hesitate to make a call.
• Decorate your home inside and out — Do it for you. It may help put you in the spirit of the holiday. This past weekend, I recreated my annual stacked-pumpkin display for my front porch. It gives me a warm feeling every time I pull up to the house. Create harvest accents for your home to help kindle the essence of Thanksgiving in your heart.
• Write “thank you” notes — Now here’s an idea that’s so obvious it often gets overlooked on Thanksgiving. “Build bridges the rest of the year, and cross them during the holidays,” said Craig Ellison, PhD, author of “Saying Goodbye to Loneliness and Finding Intimacy.” If you can’t be with friends or family this holiday, pick up a pen and thank them for their support and friendship.
Who wouldn’t love to receive a card on the day after Thanksgiving that begins, “I’m sitting here on Thanksgiving morning thinking of you. On this day of thanks, I can’t help but be thankful for our (fill in the blank).” In preparation for this kind gesture, purchase cards and stamps in advance.
So, there you have it: Survival tips for a single-serving Turkey Day. The good news? It will be Friday before you know it and you can be thankful you got out of bed, rose to the occasion, and enjoyed your Thanksgiving.
Gwenn Voelckers leads “Live Alone and Thrive” empowerment workshops for women in Mendon, Monroe County, and is the author of “Alone and Content: Inspiring, empowering essays to help divorced and widowed women feel whole and complete on their own.” For information about workshops, to purchase a book or invite Voelckers to speak, call 585-624-7887, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.aloneandcontent.com