Holidays can be wonderful, rich times overflowing with family, food, fun, laughter, meaningful celebrations, traditions and lasting memories. But for some of us, the holidays can be times of emotional upheaval filled with grief and/or loneliness. Whether feeling the loss of a loved one or the emptiness of not having a family to share the festivities with, or struggling with an illness or disability or financial distress, the holiday season can be almost unbearable for some people.
For those who are grieving the loss of a spouse, parent, child or others who are deeply missed, the holidays can intensify those already intense emotions and physical manifestations of grief. The loss of someone who is loved is felt so much more in the times where they were a part of the celebrations and family joy. The grief can overtake us during these days, especially if others all around us are joyful and happy and seem oblivious to our anguish and sadness.
As a mom whose son passed away at age 3 1/2, there are days and seasons that are particularly difficult to navigate, even years after our son Benjamin died. Those days are his birthdays, the anniversary of his death and the holidays. We feel the void of not having Benjamin with us every day, but on these special days, those feelings are magnified by the thousands. It is a tough challenge on these days to share in the festive celebrations along with everyone else, when feeling the loss of Benjamin so profoundly.
For those without family, holidays can be a very lonely, isolated time. A military family whose member is not with them at the holidays, a single man or woman, or a young or older person or even a couple or a young family without their nearby family can all feel very isolated and alone especially during the holidays. When my husband and I were just married and moved to a new town, we had no family where we were and all the groups, churches and gathering places shut down so families could be together. While we certainly did not want anyone to give up the wonderful family time they so deserve, for those alone, it can be rough. There are people in our midst, co-workers, neighbors, in our houses of worship, who are alone with no family or even close friends.
For those struggling with illness or disability, the holidays can increase anxiety and even worsen our condition as we feel we need to perform and push ourselves into exhaustion decorating, baking, hosting, running here and there to attend this function or that gathering. Sometimes we are expected to do (and we try to do) much more than we can physically can handle, OR we simply cannot perform physically and feel a deep sense of embarrassment and yes, grief, for not being able to do all the things we once did, or what we feel is expected of us.
For those who are experiencing financial challenges from loss of employment or the result of our unstable economy, the holidays present difficult decisions and choices regarding gifts, decorating, hosting or even attending functions. This is especially difficult if our financial challenges are different from previous holidays and family and friends may not be aware of our situation, and still expect us to do what we’ve done in previous years. This also can cause anxiety, sadness, grief and even feelings of not wanting to a part of anything, to shut ourselves away and create our own isolation so we don’t have to reveal our situation and the shame it may cause.
There are some important things we need to know and let others know.
First, you are not alone!
You may feel as if you are totally alone in your feelings or situation. If you are dreading the holidays facing loss, grief, loneliness, physical or financial hardship, let me assure you that you are not alone. You may not be aware of others in similar situations, but there are others. It seems as if EVERYONE else in the world is happy and content when we’re grieving or struggling, but that’s not the truth. Just knowing there are others also hurting may not change what we are experiencing so acutely, but it may help the isolation that many of us feel in these situations and times.
Most of all, remember that you are intensely loved and cared for by the One who made you. He knows the pain you feel, the struggles you are enduring and He will comfort you as no one else can.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Allow yourself what you need
Do you need some space to grieve or just to think about your loved one without so much activity and whirlwinds and demands on you? Allow yourself down time, quiet time, prayer and Bible time, one-on-one conversations with loved ones, even Biblical counseling. We may benefit from stepping back and removing ourselves from the busyness of the holidays to cope with what we are going through and receive the help we need. It may feel self-serving to focus on what we need, but it is simply allowing ourselves to do what is needed to survive.
Let someone know what you need
It may be embarrassing or difficult and our instincts may be to keep it in, not let anyone know how we are feeling, or what we are faced with, and certainly not bring anyone else down, but sharing the burden with someone who is trustworthy can actually lighten the load. Perhaps a friend or family member might be able to pray with you, give counsel or even run interference with other family members who might insist on your time or efforts or finances. Having someone you can share your situation and feelings with can help share the load and protect you from expectations that you are unable to fulfill.
On the other hand, if you are experiencing isolation and loneliness, what you may need is to be included! Let someone know that you don’t already have plans and that you’d like to be included. If you can, offer to host gatherings in your home and invite others!
If you must attend or host or give gifts, do not feel that you must do it all. Choose those that are the most meaningful to you and the ones who matter the most in your life. Don’t let the pressure or demands make you exhaust yourself or spend money that you cannot, or put you in situations where you are uncomfortable and in physical or emotional pain. Choose some, and choose the ones that bring the most joy and peace to you and mean the most to those closest to you.
Too much of the focus is on gifts and this in itself can cause stress and emotional upheaval. We may feel as if we need to give expensive gifts (especially if others have gifted us in this way) or give to everyone we know (especially if they have gifted us), but in truth, we don’t. The meaning of the holiday celebrations is not gifts and we can, and should, gift those people closest to us with simple, meaningful and heartfelt gifts. Instead of gifts to others, you can write a note of appreciation for what they mean in your life.
If you gift, consider homemade
Unless this causes additional stress and work for you, some of the best, most appreciated gifts are gifts from your home or kitchen. These can be made quite simply, easily and inexpensively, ranging from gifts in canning jars to homemade crafts, cards, photo collages or whatever you can do.
Find the joy
When we are overcome with sadness, it can be difficult to see the joy in the holidays. However, if we take the time and make the effort to look outside of the pain and past the “dos” of the holidays to see the pure meanings behind them, we may see the joy in them.
Make a thankful list
In the midst of the pain and emotion, we can lose sight of the things we are blessed with. Sitting down with pencil and paper and writing out those things can help us regain the thankfulness for what we do have and see not only what we’ve lost.
Ride it out
If the situation is such that the holidays are unbearable and doing anything is simply beyond your capabilities emotionally or physically, please remember, “this too shall pass.” Once the holiday season has gone and with it, the stress, busyness, expectation and intensity of emotions, life can return to a somewhat normal (what is normal anyway?) status quo where it might be a bit easier to cope.
If you think someone you know might be dealing with intense feeling of loss, grief or loneliness, or struggling with illness or disabilities,what can you do?
Pray for them
Pray WITH them
Let them know God loves them
Don’t tell them to get over it, or get with the program
Reach out to them
Be a friend
Offer to help them do what they need to do for the holidays
Most of all, love and try understand them
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© 2013 All Rights Reserved Vickilynn Haycraft and Real Food Living