The enforced gaiety known as New Year’s Eve demands hailing midnight with champagne and light-heartedness. The alcohol’s easy enough to get, but a light heart may be beyond our reach. So I find myself remembering some savvy advice from a few people who learned how to manage that challenging night.

One of the more unlikely is George, a shy Colorado widower who usually didn’t say much at all.His wife had been their “social director,” as is true of many couples. So their friends had been mainly his wife’s. After she died everyone sort of forgot about George, since he was so quiet he easy to overlook. However, a few years after his wife’s death his sister insisted he accept an invitation he’d been sent by a former colleague. He grudgingly went to the party, but it was as if he was barely there. He just sat silently in a corner devouring the hors d’oeuvres. (Like the majority of us, he finds food a comfort!)

But when midnight came George  saw all the couples embracing. “A tidal wave of loneliness hit me,” he admits. “I suddenly realized how alone I was.” Without thinking he blurted out what was on his mind: ‘I sure could use one of those hugs.”

“I shocked myself,” he says, remembering the sudden silence. Then there was a burst of laughter, and he was engulfed in hugs .

”Ever since that night I’ve practiced asking for what I want,” he told me. “As my wife used to say, ‘Don’t expect people to be mind- readers.’”

Tess, a staunch Vermont widow, wasn’t even interested in hugs. “After my husband died I refused to go to any parties,” she days.“ But my next door neighbor made such a fuss inviting me I decided I’d go to be polite and if it was too hard I’d just leave. I was okay until it got near midnight and I saw couples signaling each other. I realized they were getting ready for that midnight kiss.” When 12:00 struck, Tess was nowhere in sight. “I hid in the bathroom,” she confesses.
“What a terrible experience,” I said.
“Difficult, but not terrible,’ she snapped. “I reserve ‘terrible’ for real catastrophes like earthquakes.”

Tess then created her own New Year’s routine. “I get copies of three favorite movies, blow my budget on an expensive dish like lobster, drink a glass – or two – of wine and have a perfectly decent time.”

This type of solo celebrating is followed by many people who are alone, especially with socializing limited by Covid. A divorced friend of mine who’s usually strict about nutritious eating, has a “wicked feast” as she calls it. “I splurge on the most fattening foods I can think of and open a bottle of French champagne.”
“Just for yourself?” I asked.
“ I don’t allow any ‘just me’ thinking. I’ve discovered I’m good company for myself.”

A hopeful New Year to all!

Books: “Widow’s Walk” – available through iUniverse.com; “Turning Toward Tomorrow”-–xLibris.com; “Come and Go” – BookBaby.com; “Ten Women of Valor” and “Role Play” – Amazon and Amazon Kindle.

A CHANUKAH MEMORY Surviving Loss Series

Delete December! That was my bitter mood when I faced my first holiday season as a widow. It was a week before Chanukah, the Jewish “Festival of Lights.” It’s traditional to light a candle for eight nights in memory of the miracle that happened in ancient times. When the Israelites reclaimed their temple in Jerusalem they wanted to rededicate it, but there was only enough oil for one night. Miraculously the lamp burned for eight nights!

My family had always celebrated the joyous holiday together, with my children helping me light the candles. But this year I would be alone. Not even the children were coming. I think they couldn’t cope with their father’s absence

““I’m going to ignore Chanukah,” I told my bereavement counselor.
“How are you going to ignore your feelings about it?” he asked. Clever, these counselors.

Then I got a surprising phone call. A nun at the hospice where my husband had passed away was inviting me to a memorial service for everyone who had died there during the year. I told her I wasn’t up to a service for my husband. “It’s for you, too,” she said. “His pain is over, but yours is continuing.”

It was so rare to find anyone who understood my feelings that I agreed to come.

But when I saw that gray stone building again, I almost turned back. Walking into the familiar lounge I saw a small gathering, I guess most people couldn’t bear to come. There were more women than men, which was understandable since widows far outnumber widowers. They were mostly middle-aged and older, but even, shockingly, there were a few children. A four-year -old girl stared at me, her somber expression too old for so young a child.

Before I could escape a nun began the service with a prayer of St. Francis: ”May I never seek so much to be consoled as to console.” The words stopped me. I thought, maybe when talking to my children, I should focus more on their loss than my own, and give them the full unselfish consolation they needed. It might be better for all of us if I relied on my peers. Or myself? But I was still a long way from that.

I still have the handmade program we were each handed that night, created by one of the nuns. She said she wanted to illustrate what she knew we were feeling. The childish drawing was both a Christmas tree and a menorah (the candleabra for the Chanukah candles). But she had drawn only half of each. “Half,” the nun explained, ”because of what’s missing for you.” She pointed to the yellow color crayoned around the symbols. “That’s for the glow that comes from remembering.”

Then, in that Catholic hospital, a young man with a guitar sang  a Chanukah song! The lyrics were written by Peter Yarrow, of Peter,Paul and Mary fame. I heard a few people singing, “Light one candle for the strength we need to never become our own foe.” More voices were joining in, faces brighter. Suddenly I heard myself singing.”What is the memory we value so highly that we keep it alive in that flame?”

A week later I lit the first Chanukah candle.
.   .   .   .
I wish each of you who celebrate Christmas or Chanukah or Kwanza, the miracle of hope.

[Adapted from “Widow’s Walk”]
Website: www.annehosansky.com