Everywhere we look right now we are being shown messages that the holiday season is the greatest time of the year. From early November until January the topic of conversation is often what you plan to do for the holidays or what you did for them. People expect that you’ll answer with the same amount of zest and merriment as what you see in the weekly Target catalogs coming in the mail.
But, that’s not how everyone feels about this time of year.
For many, this time of year brings great sadness. Maybe it’s the first holiday without a loved one or a change in the family dynamic since last year. Maybe it’s the tenth holiday without a loved one and the pressure to feel like you should be “over it”, while your heart still aches for how things were in years long gone by.
Maybe you happen to be far away from your family and the impending holidays leave you feeling incredibly alone.
When I was in my twenties my husband was in the Army and we lived far away from our home state of Minnesota. As the holidays would near, I would feel an achiness in my heart. I missed the family traditions; the food, the lights, the presents. I missed my siblings and even our constant bickering. Christmas was never the same when I couldn’t be home with my family.
When I did make it home we would try to squeeze as much in to the time we had as we could. By the end of our “vacation” we would leave feeling exhausted and guilty as I always felt like we disappointed someone by not seeing them or spending as much time with them as we would have liked.
Whether your family is near or far, still with us, or not, we are all inundated with messages from the media about how we should feel going into the holidays. Rarely are we given a message that it’s OK to feel less than merry this Christmas.
Think about what a gift that would be to someone who is sad, lonely, or mourning a loss. To lessen the pressure to embrace the holiday spirit and to give people permission to openly share their feelings would be a blessing to many.
Instead, you are often seen as a grinch if you don’t put on your brave face and pretend like you are ready to dive into the cookies and egg nog.
I realize that I’ve played my part in attempting to spread the holiday cheer. I'm sure that I have unknowingly left people feeling as if their feelings and experiences that don’t fit into the holiday mold should be kept quiet. It wasn’t my intent nor do I want people to hide their true feelings; whether they fit the prescribed mold or not.
Recognizing that many are experiencing holiday heartache, I’ve been contemplating what I can do about it. After working with and talking to many coaching clients and yoga students this past month who are grieving this season, I’ve decided I can do the following things;
Allow people to be real.
When I ask people how their holiday was, they know I’m anticipating a certain kind of response. Especially when I ask, “did you have a good holiday?”. Instead, I’m trying a new approach and am presenting my question in a way that lets them know I’m wanting an honest answer and truly want to know how they are feeling. I’m attempting to hold the space for them to be real.
2. Don’t make assumptions.
Instead of assuming that everyone has a joy-filled holiday, I’m learning to be careful about any assumptions I make. Everyone has their own family dynamics and life experiences. I’m determined to not pretend like I know their circumstances, instead I’ll take the time to ask and truly listen to their response.
3. Show respect for and help to honor someone’s loss.
I recently had a client come to meet with me right after Thanksgiving. I know this woman experienced a heartbreaking loss a few years ago. Instead of asking her how wonderful her Thanksgiving was, I asked if the holidays are hard for her. She immediately got teary and thanked me for asking. She was then able to share openly about how she was feeling and the difficulty that came for her during this time of year. By talking about their loss, my hope is that it not only shows respect but also helps to keep their memory alive.
I am sure there are a lot of other things that could be helpful to those who are experiencing heartache this holiday season. Please share your thoughts and feelings about this topic in the comments below.
If you or anyone you know is having a difficult time this season, please reach out to us at Spirit of the Lake. We are here to help and have a wonderful network of supportive resources we would be happy to share or refer you to.
Peace & Love.