It’s almost the holiday season once again. How you perceive the season depends much upon your history with it. Were your childhood holidays joyous and fun-filled? Or are they a reminder of family dysfunction and strife? Do you associate the holidays with loved ones around a pleasant, delicious table? Or is the season a reminder of grief for lost loved ones or a broken family? Whatever your personal response is to the holidays, it’s likely to be emotional for better, or worse.
How can you navigate through this emotional minefield? If you have family nearby you might have a discussion with them regarding your feelings, what you dread and how you wish to experience the days and weeks ahead with greater joy. But it’s your responsibility to take charge of your feelings, and share your past experience and desires for holidays going forward. Without direct communication you can’t expect others to read your mind! Failure to share will lead to undesired outcomes. It’s okay to ask. You may not get exactly the outcome you want but at least everyone will know your wishes. And it’s more likely that you’ll get much closer to the holiday you want than if you didn’t talk things through.
If you’re alone, the same criteria for creating a better season applies. You must take responsibility for yourself and ask friends and neighbors to join you, or to join them in celebrating the holidays as would be appropriate. You may not want to inject yourself into the middle of a family if you don’t know them well. As an alternative you might arrange for a meal or an evening with close friends in a similar situation.
As the holidays approach, feelings of grief for a lost spouse, friend, or family member often arise. This is only natural. With deep grief, or long-term loneliness, it’s difficult to alleviate pain on your own. Talking to other loved ones or close friends may help. Seeking support from a therapist may be the right strategy for some. For others, asking for guidance from clergy or spiritual leaders can be a helpful step.
Another good avenue is offered through both Hospice of Petaluma and Memorial Hospice in Santa Rosa. They host drop-in support groups to help with emotional issues and “the holiday blues.” Hospice can offer a venue for sharing grief and sorrow during this time of year. The groups meet at community offices weekly for an hour and a half. I have personally led a group for many years and I can attest to the comfort and support that the meetings create for those who attend. It’s amazing to witness how each member of the group shares something with the same sense of loss as others. The commonality and oneness of the participants is often transformative. Most attendees feel relief in simply not being alone with their feelings of dread, anxiety, or grief.
However you’ve looked at the holidays in the past, this year is an opportunity to set a new precedent. It may be time to make changes for the better. Create the season you dream about and have the best holiday season you can imagine.
Kelsey Maddox, MA holds a masters degree in counseling psychology. His 40 years experience in nonprofit administration, the management of retirement communities, and as a hospice volunteer have prepared him for his work in elder and family issues regarding aging.