Monday, December 22, 2014


“What should I do?” Janet asks plaintively as tears stream down her cheeks. “I always hate this time of year, but this is the worst. I don’t know why they have to go visit his mother. She has two other kids who could have visited her. Me, I have no one. I’m all alone.”

Aware of many thoughts and feelings churning inside me, I opt for an empathic, but relatively neutral response. “I understand it feels awful to be alone during the holidays.”

Janet cries harder. “That doesn’t help me! What should I do?”

“What are your options?”

“I don’t have any,” she wails. “It’s all Harry’s fault. If he hadn’t left me at least I’d have him to be with.”

Remaining silent, I think: Harry left 10 years ago and you’ve said you were glad to be rid of him; you were invited to join your daughter and her family at her in-laws in Colorado; you could call some of your friends. I also think of my annual Christmas dinner, my house filled with friends and family. My husband has been dead for seven years now. His absence still weighs heavily, but unlike Janet I have acted to make sure I am not alone and miserable.  

“You’re not saying anything! Just like Kaitlyn. I keep calling her and crying and asking her what I should do while she’s having fun in Colorado and she doesn’t say anything either until she says she has to go.”

“It seems like you’re really angry at both me and Kaitlyn.”

“Angry?” Janet says, surprised.

“Angry,” I nod. “Neither of us is fixing your unhappiness and, in fact, you feel as though Kaitlyn is causing it.”

“She is.”

“Am I not remembering correctly? Weren’t you invited to join them in Colorado?” 

“They knew I’d never go. I don’t like to fly, I mean I will if I have to, but during the holidays it’s just awful and then there’s the weather and possibly getting stuck for days.”

“When was the last time you were happy, Janet, or at least content?”

“What? What does that have to do with anything?”

“It seems to me you’re almost determined to keep yourself miserable. I get that you’re angry. I also get that you feel mistreated and abandoned by others. But it’s very hard for you to take charge of your life and do what’s helpful for you.”

“So now it’s my own fault. Great!”

“I know you always say you don’t want to talk about the past, but did you feel cared for as a child, Janet?”

“Is this going help me not be alone at Christmas?”

“I don’t know about that, but it could help you to understand why you’re alone this Christmas and perhaps help you to make future Christmases different.”

“No. No one ever cared about me. There were five of us. I was smack in the middle. My father was always depressed and miserable and my mother spent all her time catering to him. And my brothers were always beating me up. Happy now?”

“No. I’m not happy for your pain. I’m sorry. And I certainly understand why you’re angry. I also understand that it’s hard for you to move beyond wanting someone to help you, to guide you, to care for you, since you never got the caring you needed and deserved as a child.” 

“So I get to talk about all that garbage and then I feel even more miserable.”

“That’s possible. For a while. And what I imagine is that in addition to your anger, we’d also find a very needy child who feels terribly sad and alone, just as you feel alone as an adult. Perhaps you even unconsciously create experiences of aloneness, hoping that this time someone will come along to make it different.”

“So you’re saying I should just live with being alone at Christmas and quit complaining.”

“I don’t think I said that, Janet. I said that we need to find you as the sad, needy child; that you need to have more empathy for her; and then hopefully at some point you’ll be able to move beyond her and be able to do what you need to do to take better care of yourself.”    

No comments: