Twas the night before New Year’s Eve and all through the house,
not a creature was stirring except New Year’s Day Louse.
Since I’ll be alone without even a kitty,
he told me that what I should feel is pity.
Choosing a new year that is healthy and hearty,
I decided to throw a pity party.
Writing bad poetry is not my only skill.
I think like Martha Stewart when I am ill.
This will never show up on my resume,
But it gets me through every holiday.
Many people are alone on the holidays for a variety of reasons from a lack of cash to a lack of transportation to a lack of friends or family nearby after a relocation. Then there are people like me, bookworms and workaholics who just don’t stop to look at the calendar or plan well. Those in this group who rarely watch TV are startled to learn that thousands of people will once again be standing out in freezing weather to watch a ball drop or some equally mindless event. Thousands and thousands of people. Happy people. Oh, groan. Oh, moan. Oh, oh, oh.
I was introduced to my first pity party, the one that set the bar back in the 1950s and 1960s when I watched a movie, Magnificent Obsession. It was so romantic that I just had to read the book that was written by Lloyd C. Douglas. I never forgot the book and seem to be one of the few people who remember him because, due to a number of coincidences that he is often criticized for having in his books, I was asked to write the article about him for The Dictionary of Midwestern Literature.
When I was diagnosed with a potentially blinding eye disease, I was immediately reminded of Helen Hudson, one of the main characters in this magnificent book. Mrs. Hudson, a young widow, loses her sight because of a brain injury. The young rogue that causes the accident turns his life around, becomes a brain surgeon, and restores her sight. I just happened to move to Ann Arbor, Michigan, the city where I had my five eye operations, when I received a phone call asking me to write the dictionary article. I just happened to start my research in a University of Michigan library right across the street from the First Congregational Church where Lloyd C. Douglas was a minister for several years, the site of the Douglas Chapel. I also attended a low vision support group where the facilitator told me that while Douglas’ book was fiction, it was based on a true story. His father, a doctor, and his mother, a social worker, were best friends with the couple Douglas wrote about. Coincidences seem to thrive not just in Douglas’ books but also in Ann Arbor.
What did I learn from Helen Hudson? I learned the old way of looking at people with disabilities and the old way people with disabilities looked at themselves. This is a tradition that needs to be broken. First, I will show you the bad pity party recipe demonstrated in Douglas’ book:
1. Think of yourself as a burden on everyone who knows you and the entire universe.
2. Feel sorry for yourself.
3. Isolate yourself from society by running away to a place where no one can find you even if that is behind a locked door with the phone turned off. Invite just one person to your pity party, preferably a registered nurse who is an outstanding comforter, coddler, and hand holder.
4. Think about how much better the world would be without you since flight is so much easier than fight.
5. Wait to be rescued by a millionaire.
I am not rejecting this recipe entirely. It is a good indicator, like high blood pressure and anxiety attacks, that you need to pay attention and start taking care of yourself. After they totally exhaust you and you ask the all important question, “Now what do I do?” you can turn to the following instructions:
1. Choose a place where you can find real solitude.
2. Do not invite anyone else.
3. Shop for your favorite food that will last 1-3 days.
4. Choose four or five books to keep by your bed.
5. Select four or five CDs.
6. Eat when you are hungry. Sleep when you are tired. Listen to your inner voice.
7. Conclude your pity party with a refreshing shower or soothing bath. You earned it—and really need it.
8. Clean up your mess.
Hints: The books you choose should include parts of The Bible where you will find words like, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” You can then advance to self help titles and topics such as how to start controlling the people who are trying to control you. You will know that you are recovering from your momentary bout of depression when you can pick up a silly romance about a librarian who is tempted by a variety of men who want to thaw her until she falls for the one with the motorcycle, marries him, and lives happily ever after. Your CDs should include The Blind Boys of Alabama singing “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” a selection of Broadway tunes such as “Climb Every Mountain,” and good rock and roll for your grand finale. When you start singing like Elvis, “One for the money. Two for the show. Three to get ready. Now go cat go, but don’t you step on my blue suede shoes. You can do anything, but stay off of my blue suede shoes,” you are ready to unlock the door and turn the phone back on.
A pro like me can plan, enjoy, and complete a speed pity party in time to find the address book, locate a friend who also just turned her phone back on, call a cab, and join the crowd or just curl up and watch the ball drop on our own TVs and chat while munching on chees and crackers and mini sausages and reminding each other how next year is going to be better than this one. Even when next year is filled with uncertainty, more medical appointments, and some lonely times, we can choose to face it with hope, humor, and gratitude and, of course, love what is left.