This is not your typical holiday blog post. This commentary—based NOT on research from the experts but on the personal observation and experience of its author—is for those of us facing the holiday season with some measure of grief, hardship, discouragement, confusion, isolation, disappointment, futility or fear. Given current events and the complexity of life in general, that might include many of us. (Disclaimer: I am not a therapist. Please seek prompt medical attention for treatment if you believe your situation warrants it.)
I have never fully understood why pain seems more poignant during the holidays. However, I do know, generally speaking, that we have some choice about how we respond to our own dark thoughts. I’ve also learned that there are techniques I benefit from when attempting to combat—for example—sorrow. I find the following to be quite helpful:
- Remember the ridiculous. In a generation reared on “I Love Lucy” and enjoying the gift of humor, I make a concerted effort to think about countless situations in my former holiday celebrations that still make me laugh hard. For example, I once worked for three days to produce an elaborate cake for a Christmas party in New York. The cake was finally ready; I went to the closet to put my coat on and returned to the dining room seconds later to see that the Doberman had consumed a third of my masterpiece. You don’t need to know the rest of that story, except that I walked into the party with a smaller cake and did not explain why I was two hours late.
- Twist the traditions. I am reminded of the scene in the movie “A Christmas Story” when Ralphie’s family unexpectedly ends up in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas day because the neighbors’ dogs have eaten the traditional holiday bird. In reality, I’ve found that intentional changes in tradition can be a welcome diversion and adventure!
- Savor the sweet. In her own words, my mother was “woefully shy” for years. Even while in assisted living, she had to work hard at socializing with other residents. I arrived one evening to visit, and as her peers were enjoying a guest band and crowded holiday party, Mother was sitting alone in her room. I talked her into letting me move her piano bench outside her door so we could sit and watch the party together. Suddenly, this sweet, soft-spoken mom of mine stood up, took my hands, pulled me to my feet, and we danced the box-step to a banjo and fiddle choir playing “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” Did I mention that we were the only ones dancing? It was the sweetest thing ever. It was also her last holiday season with us.
- Focus on faith. My faith is, without question, the essential strong thread that holds everything together, keeping me grounded and joyful, giving me a reason to celebrate—not just during the holidays, but every single day.
Whatever your resources for holiday “survival” may be, may you find hope, peace and light in every day—this season and throughout the new year.