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The Holidays For Older Folk: A Challenging Time
by Marjorie Dorfman

Why are there more suicides during the holiday season than any other time of year? How can the loneliness of those without friends or relations be alleviated? Read on for some tips for lonely hearts and souls of all ages. Follow them and perhaps the whole situation will change. Read on, if you dare.

Despite the obvious festivities of the season, more suicides occur during the Christmas holidays than any other time of year. A closer look at the symbolism involved with the holidays makes things very clear. The family, even if it is dysfunctional, is the core of our essence, and when people are alone, it’s missing and often magnified out of proportion. No one has a family like that depicted on that old television show, "Father Knows Best," and yet the ideal seems to substitute for the reality when the holidays draw near.

Sharing and being happy are no small tasks when grown children and relatives are far way in another state or land. (Unless you are a part of Ray Barone’s family on "Everybody Loves Raymond." In that case, your alone time is not only appreciated but also coveted.) But our lives don’t end when our children grow up to lead their own lives or even when spouses die or go their separate ways after years of being together. As difficult and painful as some of these situations are, in the end they make us stronger as survivors. The advent of "upper middle age" is a crossroads not meant for wimps, with new tools to help us cope with life’s sometimes very cruel challenges.

For the older among us, the holidays can be a terrible time, bringing forth like a rushing tide feelings of loneliness, loss and despair. Here are some suggestions to get through them, not barely, but triumphantly. Consider these helpful tips this holiday season before going to battle with yourself, and remember the words of Eleanor Roosevelt who once said: "Do something every day that scares you". Be reasonable. Don’t take a nap on the railroad tracks just to see what will happen.

Reconnect:
Reach out to the people you know and used to know except if you owe them money. (Only kidding.) Just "reaching out and touching someone" like that old television commercial will make you feel better because it will force you to realize that you are not the only lonely person in the world.

Adopt a Pet:
If you like animals and don’t have one, get one. Now. There’s nothing more comforting than the unconditional love and companionship a pet can offer. Our animals do so much more for us than we do for them and the love they radiate cannot help but warm the chilliest corners of your soul. (Do not pick a pet that weighs more than you. If you do, then proceed at your own risk.)

Seize Opportunities for Socializing:
This does not mean to seize some unsuspecting, hapless passerby and bring him or her kicking and screaming to your house. It does mean, however, that you should look for ways to get more involved with other people as you go about the routine of your daily life. Invite a co-worker to lunch, call an old friend or make a new one.

Put Yourself in New Situations:
Join a club and don’t worry about what Groucho Marx once said about any club that would have him as a member. Join anyway or take a class. Taking part in activities that interest you not only helps to pass the time, it also provides an avenue for possibly finding other people who like the same things you do.

Help Others:
Helping others will get you out of yourself and is an easy way to meet new people and build new friendships. It can also build self-esteem.

Learn to Take Risks:
This is not a call to run and join the circus to work as an acrobat or lion-tamer. Some risks require less energy but are even harder to take; namely smiling a little bit more to people you meet or introducing yourself when you are in the company of strangers. (If you are at a black tie dinner honoring hit men with high performance records, keep your cool and DON’T smile. Everywhere else, consider it.) Let down your guard unless you are being fired upon. Let people in and they will come despite your heavy entrance fee.

Adopt an Accepting Attitude:
When dealing with new acquaintances, try not to be judgmental. Everyone comes from someplace and has their own baggage and their own reason for carrying it onboard the airplane of life. It’s not your place to tell someone they are wrong if you have not walked a mile in their moccasins as the Indians used to say when they were still talking to the people who stole their land from under their walking shoes. Learn to accept people for who they are and not for what they should be in your eyes. Give new relationships a chance to bud and they will blossom.

Consider Seeking Help:
Maybe you are too overwhelmed to deal with your feelings of loneliness or despair at this time of year by yourself. This is nothing to be ashamed of and if that is the case, seek the aid of a counselor to help you cope. Maybe even talk to your new pet. You would be surprised what they have to say about the human condition, that is, if you take the time to learn their language.

Most of all, remember that help is out there. All you have to do is stretch out your hand and ask for it. Don’t suffer now or at any other time of the year for that matter. Get up and out of yourself; live, laugh and…boogie!

Happy serene holidays to all and to all a good night.

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Copyright 2006