Who Are You Inviting to Dinner?

Most holidays I would just prefer to spend the day alone doing what I like to do: read, paint, sleep. This year will be different for me. I am joining a friend and her family for Christmas Day dinner. It may be one of the few meals I will be able to enjoy for a long time. But, it brings to mind all those people who have no one to spend the holidays with.

From Thanksgiving to Christmas many charitable organizations make certain the homeless and those having financial problems have a holiday meal. But what about those who do have a home but no one else in it?

A very sad fact is there are more elderly who pass on around holidays than any other single time. Every January I start getting notices from Medicare that patients for whom I bill their insurance are deceased. Holidays are stressful for all of us, but for those with no family it can be even more so. There is no one around to share the memories of growing up and to pass on traditions.

I want you to look around at the people you know. Is there someone you know who is in a nursing home with no family close by? a neighbor whose spouse has passed away and children are a long way off? a single friend with no children? Now that you have identified that person, invite them to join you. Pride and a desire not to intrude may make them decline. Don’t let that stop you. If they refuse your invitation, bring them that special meal. It doesn’t take you much time to fill a pretty plate and deliver it. It doesn’t take much effort when you are taking cookies to all your friends to make one more tray and drop it off. You don’t know how much that little effort will mean to even the crotchety old lady down the street. We all have someone like that who lives on our block.

But don’t let it stop with the holidays. Many years ago my mother made me go with her to visit the “mean old lady” who lived on the corner. All of us children on the block avoided her house like the plague. We never knocked on her door at Halloween and we never strayed into her yard for a lost baseball. On the day my mother made me go with her I remember trying to hide behind Mom in order not to be seen. I tried to make myself as small as I could. I hated her ratty Pomeranian, Judy, who barked whenever any one of us even came near the property line. I was afraid to enter her claustrophobic living room that was filled with too much overstuffed furniture and bric-a-brack. But it was a day that opened a whole new world for me.

Old Lady Ryan had been a debutante in San Francisco before the 1906 earthquake along with her deceased sister. She had mementos of that life all over her house. She would talk about what it was like in San Francisco before automobiles were common. She told stories of dances and theatre in San Francisco. I liked to listen to her stories. Even at 8 years old I was in love with San Francisco and I liked to know what it was life a half century before I was born.

She also had books. She had a whole library in that huge house on the corner. And she let me borrow them. I could have one book at a time and had to return it before I could get another one. And from time to time she would give me a trinket that had a story of her life attached to it. As had happened with her own children, I grew up and moved away to a life different from that on our street. One trip home for the holidays I learned she had been moved to live with her daughter because she was too ill to care for herself. Not long after I found out she had passed away.

My point? By being forced to visit this “mean old lady” I developed some memories I keep more than half a century after her passing. By my mother befriending this lonely person, I learned a lot about her life and it helped feed my love of history. By choosing to take time to befriend a widow on your block or single person in your circle, you will be giving yourself the gift of memory. In return, that person will know there is one who will treasure the moments you take to spend time with them.

So, who is coming to dinner?

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