“It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you ‘be of good cheer’
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
From the song It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year by Andy Williams
Such sweet words. For several people, they eagerly await this season and began excitedly counting down the days to December in June! The holiday song It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year says it all for this group of people.
You are either in this season or life, or you have friends in this season of life.
There’s another group of people who desperately want to fast forward to January 2, 2019. Many of us are either in the midst of a serious health diagnosis and/or crisis, relationship breakdown, job loss, divorce or grieving the death of a loved one. The joy that typically marks this time of year turns into a sadness and uncertainty about the future that is very lonely and painful.
Truth: You are either in a joyful place or a painful place. And your family and friends are experiencing the holidays from one of these positions.
How do you recognize and reconcile the reality of both experiences?
- When you are in a “great place” in life, how do you celebrate with both your happy friends and your sad friends?
- How do you even begin to reach out to someone in pain?
- If you are the person struggling, how do you take care of yourself?
- How do you not feel like you are bringing people around you down?
I don’t have magic answers, but I can share my life experience and what I’ve learned during the last few years. This Christmas will be my fifth without my 15 year old daughter Leah. She passed away in 2014.
This time of year brings conflicting and complicated emotions. Leah had cancer for 14 months. It was this time of year, in 2013, when she had a major setback and relapse. We knew she was in a bad place, so we tried desperately to make the month of December special for her.
It is a sweet memory … and a bitter memory.
For the first two holiday seasons without Leah, I was quite numb. I basically went through “the motions” during all the major holidays as I did my best to outwardly smile and engage with family and friends. Yet, I hurt on the inside.
When you are in a great place and all is going well in your life, it takes personal sacrifice to enter into someone’s pain or difficult situation. Yes, you risk being uncomfortable; you may have moments of empathy and compassion that bring you to a potentially melancholy place. You too may feel somber emotions as you walk alongside your friend.
You will experience life more richly by:
- Acknowledging your friend’s loss
- Not making decisions for your friend – invite him or her to events
- Being understanding and flexible if your friend changes his or her mind at the last minute
- Doing something special in memory of the person who your friend lost
- Keeping your commitments when you offer to do something with your friend
These actions from my friends and family have been true Christmas gifts to me.
Now, a word to those of us who are in the middle of a challenge or deep loss:
- Realize our grief is unpredictable and messy – Emotions around the holidays are all over the place. One day, we feel upbeat and happy and the next day, we feel depressed and lonely. Don’t feel pressured to make too many plans ahead of time. Ride the grief wave as you need to.
- Ask for what you need – If a friend is kind enough to reach out, respond and don’t ignore him or her. Communicate openly about what is most helpful to you at this time.
- Find a creative way to honor your loss – Holiday traditions are so foundational and meaningful in our lives. Create an event/tradition that honors your loved one and keeps his or her place in your heart alive.
- If you just can’t go to a public event – don’t. Give yourself permission to say no.
The holidays are a time to respect one another’s needs and celebrate our love for one another – whatever life stage we are in.
Holiday blessings all!