I know I’m not the only one who has ever tried to be merry when it felt the world was crashing down around me.
My dad died in mid-December many years ago, but I remember that time as though it was yesterday.
To put this in context, it would be useful to think of me as The Christmas Kid, Mrs. Claus in Training or The One Who Can’t Seem to Quit. I love the holidays and while I refuse to put up one decoration before Thanksgiving, the day after, all bets are off! I have a rather small house and by the time I put Christmas everywhere, I’m often quite sure it is far too over the top and I should have quit long before. And I’m always glad I didn’t!
But then Dad died. It wasn’t unexpected. I just didn’t think it would happen before Christmas. Phone calls. Funeral arrangements. Just trying to get my brain around what it would be like to have no parents at all.
I had already scheduled a Christmas party for several days after the funeral. I toyed with cancelling. Everyone would understand.
But I needed those people. I needed to be busy making snacks and cleaning the house. I needed the energy of those who loved me surrounding me with good cheer. And smiles. Because smiles were pretty tough to come by that Christmas. I could — and would — cry later.
I am grateful to have a strong friendship network. Several of those friends knew Dad too, visiting him in the hospital or nursing home, giving me a badly needed night off. All, at one time or another, had joined Dad and me for Christmas dinner.
Christmas dinner. My favorite meal of the year. The Spode dishes, mom’s silver, lots of lights. How could I do dinner without dad?
And I didn’t. One of that friendship trio, Bonnie, invited us all to her home for dinner. It was warm and friendly and a safe place to simply “be” and a gesture I will never forget.
Facing down the holidays during sad times can be a challenge for any of us. That “sadness” may not just be the death of a beloved family member. It can be a divorce or separation that sends a family into divided loyalties and deep grief. It can be the loss of a job or a tragedy, like a house fire. Perhaps a dear family member is in the hospital or has recently faced a catastrophic diagnosis. It may even be despair about the state of the world. We all have our triggers, our life occurrences.
Every one of these situations — and many others — can send that happy holiday heart into the dumps.
If there was a set combination of solutions that would work for everyone, I would patent it and be a wealthy woman. The fact is the glorious differences that make us unique mean that no one set of rules can ever make us, if not happy, at least at peace with the situation and be able to recognize and engage in celebration.
Here are some ideas that have helped me and others I know during these times. Perhaps they’ll resonate with you. If you have other suggestions, feel free to enter them in the comment section.
- Try to surround yourself with people who are aware of your fragile state and will let you be you. That means that if you want help with the heavy lifting they’ll be there with that casserole or help with the dishes. But they will also recognize that sometimes it might help you to be busy and “have a job.” (Those of you with grieving friends, take note!) They will also recognize that if you aren’t your usual life of the party, it’s OK. They won’t try to jolly you out of a quiet moment.
- Try something new. That Christmas dinner at Bonnie’s helped save my holiday, putting me with good friends in a spot that wasn’t quite so raw with memories. The support, the new surroundings that year, all made it an easier holiday.
- Do unto others. Maybe this is the year you find a cause, volunteer at a soup kitchen or take cookies to a senior center. Wrap presents for needy children or volunteer at the food bank. Practice random acts of kindness. It’s amazing how giving back can help fill a hole in the heart.
- Try to remember the good things. Light a candle each evening in memory or revisit memories in photo albums. Honor that experience by remembering the best of times. If your house is burning or your love is in ICU, that’s not easy and maybe not possible. But we often have the opportunity to reframe how we think of an experience.
- Try a little “creative therapy.” If you write, scribble your thoughts, coming any way they like. Let your heart purge its pain. If you draw or paint, try to put your feelings on paper using a visual medium. Grab your camera and photograph something that offers a reflection of your feelings or your hopes for the future.
- Live in hope. It’s can be difficult to see the light of hope at the end of a dark tunnel, but have faith that it is there. Recognize that these intense moments are the “now” and not the “always.” Find a talisman to carry in your pocket — a stone or bead, piece of jewelry or cat toy — something you can touch reminds you that person is with you and that peace and healing will come. You simply have to open your heart and let it find its way in.
There is a Native American saying, “The soul would have no rainbow if they eyes had no tears.” It’s hard to remember that at the holidays — but hold fast to the hope that the rainbow will appear. It may not be in the bright, shiny lights on the tree or the dangling baubles. And it may take awhile. But the rainbow will return, bringing that spectrum of life from black and white back into color.
About the Author: Jeanie Croope
After a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.