Set An Extra Plate

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Set an Extra Plate…For Who? and Why? I’m always puzzled at why families are so insular on holidays, choosing to mingle only with one another. That’s not the tradition that I grew up with. My folks gathered up widows and widowers, singles and divorced, all kinds of people who found themselves alone on holidays. They “set an extra plate”. Because they did, I have wonderful happy memories of those gatherings. We had doctors, lawyers, and Indian Chiefs….policemen, teachers, church members and co-workers at our holiday (and non-holiday) table. There was even a shepherd! Yup, we were blessed with the friendship of fella who was a Scottish shepherd. One of the doctors was an Egyptian intern at the hospital where Mom worked. Some other close friendships were formed that way as well.

My husband and I continued that tradition, enveloping neighbors and elderly singles for dinners and parties. Our reward was hearing some fascinating life stories and witnessing broad smiles and sharing authentic laughter. I have some really warm memories of those gatherings. I was astonished and wounded when no one did that for me. Truly,  I really believed it was common practice. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s not a lot of trouble to include one more. It even spurred the title for my first book, The Widow or Widower Next Door, found here:

Solos of all kinds, and especially widows, have a tough time at mealtimes. The holidays are especially difficult. We get shunned, and no, I don’t think that’s to harsh a word. The New York Times ran an article about it recently…“I have been demoted to lunch,” Laurie Burrows Grad, 75, the author of “The Joke’s Over, You Can Come Back Now,” wrote about adjusting to life without her husband. Before, she said, her friends would have had them over for dinner, a couple among couples.” Read it in it’s entirety here:


Laurie Burrows Grad, 75, sits down to a roasted chicken dinner in her Los Angeles home. A cookbook author, she included nine recipes with advice on cooking for one in the book she wrote after her husband, Peter Grad, died four years ago.Credit…Sally Ryan for The New York Times


One neighbor, in a misguided effort to be kind, brought me her holiday meal leftovers. Seriously???  I had food, I needed companionship.  An invitation to her holiday table would have been much more welcome. In an ironic twist, that same woman was widowed herself several years later. She’s not adjusting well at all, and I never wanted her to know how it felt, but she probably does.


Now, when I bring up that idea to families?  I sometimes hear that people are afraid that their families may not behave well for the occasion. That may be why my neighbor didn’t include me at their table.  They don’t want to risk it. Are they kidding??  Widows and widowers, singles of all kinds come from imperfect families too. Not much will surprise us. Odds are that families behave better with a guest in their midst. I swear upon my mother’s china, my best holiday memories were the ones where we had guests. And doesn’t that make for a more enjoyable holiday for everybody??


Set an Extra Plate Include Grievers

Nationwide Initiative to Include Grievers in Celebrations


Go ahead, take a risk, include some guests, surround some lonely folks with love. Set an Extra Plate. Especially if you are on you own yourself. You’ll be so glad you did!


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