Myrtle Beach woman asks families to "set an extra plate" for the holidays

Joel Allen/Mary Lee Robinson is asking families to open their homes to someone who is newly alone this holiday season.

This holiday season, a Myrtle Beach woman is hoping to start a national trend.

Mary Lee Robinson wants families to set an extra plate at their holiday dinner table for someone who may be alone after losing a spouse or other family member.

Robinson's husband passed away suddenly two and a half years ago and for the first year following his death, she was surprised to find that people no longer included her in their holiday gatherings.

"Holidays are particularly poignant because you resurrect memories whether you want to or not," said Robinson, who is now a certified grief coach.

Robinson found that there were many others who had the same experience, so she wrote the book "The Widow or Widower Next Door" about dealing with grief.

Now, she has started an effort to encourage others to open their homes over the holidays to someone who's newly alone.

"Loneliness on holidays just seems to be bone penetrating, so being with other people really helps," said Robinson.

Barbara Whitley of Conway went through a difficult Thanksgiving shortly after the death of her son six years ago.

She invited Robinson to her family's Thanksgiving dinner this year, after hearing about the "set an extra plate" idea.

"I get to do something for somebody else and it just feels so good, plus I also get to do things for my own family," said Whitley.

Robinson said you don't have to be a perfect host or hostess to invite a widow or widower into your home. It's more important to just be normal.

"The biggest thing that we miss is a sense of normal, sense of normal family life, normal relations. Things are never going to be the same again, but they are more pronounced in their anguish if we feel like pariahs," Robinson said.

Robinson said her greatest hope is that her initiative will spread across the country and many families will remember to set an extra plate.

"I would encourage everybody to open their homes, open their hearts and remember that there are more ways to be hungry than just physically."

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