You Do You This Holiday Season

commentary editorial opinion

Did you have a nice Thanksgiving? Notice I didn’t say happy.
Though we have many reasons to be thankful, if we think hard enough, holidays aren’t always happy. Even if you have a roof over your head and plenty of food.
My Mom had health issues for the last several years of her life. One Easter season, she had been in the hospital for most of Lent. We were all pretty low. I wrote a freelance story about a longtime store’s anniversary, and my editor asked me if I could please lighten it up a bit.
For Easter, we all got together at my cousin’s house. We had all the Italian goodies before dinner, which meant there was gonna be a lot of ham left over. We were sad without Mom, but we toasted her and stopped by the hospital to see her on the way home.
We toasted her again as we all got together at my brother Gordon’s house for Christmas Eve 1988, continuing a tradition that began likely before I was born … on Christmas Day.
The toast was in her memory, as she had passed away at 61 suddenly a week before. She had made us one last pizza the night before. Mom got the chance to see her first granddaughter, Emily, my niece, but not our kids, Jillian and Andy. How she would have adored all of them.
One funny: Before she passed, Mom bought Emily a baby doll for Christmas. We watched silently as Emily opened the wrapped gift, finally chuckling when we wondered why we were so quiet. Did we expect the doll to talk?
The obituary pages seem to get pretty full around the holidays. I’m betting part of that is due to the heavy weight the holidays can carry for young and old.
You have commercials and songs wishing you to be happy, so you think, “If I’m not happy, there must be something wrong with me.” Or, “I don’t feel like being happy, dammit!”
First of all, there is nothing wrong with you that isn’t also affecting millions of people. Maybe it’s your first holiday season without a loved one; maybe it’s the 50th.
Or, sometimes, life is just tough, and you don’t feel like getting out of bed, let alone sitting with a bunch of people around a table, as turkey and the various accoutrements pass by. Then, sitting around watching TV, trying not to crawl out of your skin, while others try to stay awake.
Here’s the thing: You don’t have to. Maybe it’s time to do something different to break up the routine and get you out of the depths. Or maybe it’s routine you need, like a cozy blanket.
Everyone’s different. Your gut will tell you. But don’t let anyone else tell you if your gut is telling you otherwise. If you’re going to be more unhappy by avoiding the usual events, you might want to reconsider.
Here are some tips you might find helpful I got from a past story:
♦ Take an active role in planning your participation in the holiday activities; taking control in planning what you want to do or not do.
♦ Realize that the dread or anticipation is probably much worse than the actual day(s).
♦ You have a right to change your mind about how you celebrate the holidays each year. Just do what you feel is right for you this year, and plan next year.
♦ Understand that your pain and distress are normal feelings (including your anticipatory anxiety).
♦ Negotiate with your loves ones in deciding how to make the holidays bearable for you and them. Being a martyr or mind reader may not be helpful for you right now.
♦ Do something symbolic in memory of your loved one. For example, plant a tree on the holiday, hang a special bulb on the Christmas tree. Rituals like these can be done each year, becoming important functions of the holiday celebration.
♦ Try not to become caught up in the unrealistic expectation that these times are to be filled with joy, relaxation, and intimacy for everyone.
♦ Limit or delete alcohol consumption since it is a depressant and you may already be depressed.
♦ Do not be afraid to change family traditions. This is a good time to reevaluate those traditions with your loved ones. Sometimes those traditions can be altered just a little so as not to emphasize your loved one’s absence.
♦ Recognize that no matter what you do, you will still love and miss your loved one.
♦ It’s OK to cry and feel sad during the holiday activities. Facing family holidays is part of mourning and healing process. Let your tears come and go during the activities, as necessary.
♦ Remember that it is normal to want to reminisce about other holidays you shared with your loved one. Let the memories come. Talk about them when they do.
♦ Give yourself permission to have joy when you can — having fun does not mean that you do not miss your loved one. It is not betrayal.
♦ Do not be forced in doing things you do not want or feel up to just to keep others happy. Let your limits be known to concerned others.
♦ Re-assess your participation in the holiday tasks and responsibilities, and consider whether they should be continued, reassigned, shared or eliminated. These might include shopping, cooking, or decorating. Remember, holidays are stressful for everyone.
♦ Do something for someone else. Donate to you or your loved one’s favorite charity or church in his or her name. This simple act can be fulfilling even though you are feeling deprived yourself.
♦ Allow others to reach out to you — even though you may feel lonely and empty. You are not alone, and too much isolation will not be helpful in the healing process.
♦ Be tolerant and compassionate with yourself. Recognize the emotions of anger, guilt, sadness, feeling powerless and out of control, as well as all the other painful emotions you may be experiencing are normal. Being gentle with yourself will help you heal.
♦ Talk about your grief. Find friends who will listen without judgment or join a support group.
♦ Find a place and take special time for yourself.
♦ Embrace your memories and share them with your family and friends during this time. Accept that your memories will be bittersweet- sad and happy.
♦ Do not let anyone take your grief away. It comes as a result of giving and receiving love.

And by all means, if you are feeling overwhelmed and are considering hurting yourself and/or others, call 988 from anywhere in the U.S. 24/7, non-judgmental support is there for you. Please use it if you need to.


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