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Self-pity won't help the holidays

Dear Carolyn: My husband left the day before Thanksgiving to attend a funeral. My brother, who lives nearby and who I haven't seen since last Thanksgiving, was supposed to join us, but has been ill himself and canceled at the last moment. My son, home from college after a difficult adolescence, has not spoken to me in nearly a year. He chose to stay in his room for the entire four-day weekend and ignore me and his sibling.

So it was my daughter and me: alone for four days of the worst Thanksgiving ever, but clearly not our last worst holiday. Even with my husband there, with no other family it would have been pretty dismal. I have no other family. My husband's family lives abroad. I have no close friends with whom I could have shared the holiday, especially at the last moment.

Please don't suggest the cliche of opening our home to others. We did this in the past through our house of worship. It results in odd people who show up at your house once, eat, thank you and leave. There are no connections made, nothing in common except we're all losers in the family/friends department.

We've also volunteered in the past, which was also a bust. There were so many volunteers that we just ended up redistributing pie that had already been turned down. We tried inviting families of children's friends (far in advance), but they all have places to go with their own families/friends.

I don't know how to let my daughter know that it's always going to be miserable like this, that she'll be alone/lonely for holidays for most of her life, since her brother, too, has chosen not to speak to her (yes, he was in counseling, but stopped going). She, like me, seems to have difficulty bonding and making friends. (And, yes, she is in counseling.)

I'm not sure if I can provide any help for her. It seems we're simply a group of losers with no family or friends.

-- D.

A: There are things you can do to help. First among them is to get off that self-pity train, now.

Yes, you have real and serious reasons to feel distressed, especially your son's estrangement, followed closely by your brother's. Living losses are often harder to process than deaths, because estrangement involves a choice.

But the rest of your poor-me litany just sounds like piling on to justify your gloom -- and your child's! In perpetuity! Yes, you don't have other relatives, your husband's are overseas, your kids' friends have other plans, your volunteering was a bust. These aren't calamities, they're just life introducing itself. What happens matters less than how you respond.

So, remind yourself as needed that everyone has disappointments, not just you. That's help for your daughter (and son, and you) that never expires.

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