The 12 Days of Christmas: Surviving and Thriving (Day One)

12 days of ChristmasIn case you hadn’t noticed, the holidays are upon us. For some of you, this may be good news as you crank up the Christmas music and bring out the tinsel. For others, it maybe a painful time. For many of us, there’s an extra helping of stress as we try to add decorating, shopping, card sending, parties and family visits to an already full calendar.

So between now and Christmas my gift to you is a guide to not only surviving the holidays but perhaps even thriving in them. For each post, we’ll focus on a strategy to help you through what may be some of the hardest aspects of the holidays for you.

Day One: I don’t feel like celebrating (grief version)

For whatever reason, you’re out of step with the holiday season. It may be the first Christmas without someone who was very special in your life, whether a family member or friend. Or your loved one may still be here, but you’re well aware that it’s probably the last Christmas that you’ll celebrate together. Or it may not be the first Christmas but the second, which in a weird way feels even harder because the reality sets in. They’re not just gone on a trip. They’ll never be here for Christmas again.

It may be the first Christmas since the separation or divorce, and for the first time since your children were born you won’t see their faces on Christmas morning. The prospect feels unbearable.

The first strategy is to give yourself a pass. If you feel like you’ll weep your way through the neighborhood caroling, take a pass this year. Missing one year doesn’t mean you’ll never do it again. Listen to what will bring you comfort. There may be comfort for you in keeping some of your traditions or it may be too heart-breaking. No one else can be an expert on what is right for you. You do what you need to do.

And that’s the second strategy: Do what you need to do to get through this year. If you need to drink hot chocolate and cry your way through “It’s a Wonderful Life,” then do it. If you need to go on a Bahamas cruise and skip over Christmas this year, then do it.  Some people find meaning and comfort in doing something for someone else at this time; for example, helping to serve a holiday meal to those in need.

There are provisions to this rule: First provision: Doing what you think you need to do does not apply if what you think you need to do is drink large quantities of alcohol or partake in recreational drugs. It may be tempting to numb out the feelings but the feelings don’t go away. Better to allow them and deal with them. If you need to see a therapist or attend a support group to help you get through it, then do it. Your local hospice may have a group or workshop for those facing grief and the holidays.

The second provision is if you have small children in the house, respect their need for continuity and tradition. You may not feel like putting up a tree or doing stockings, but it’s important for them. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to pretend like nothing has happened. You and your children can talk about what’s different and how you feel about it. Give them permission to be both happy and sad.

This Christmas is simply this Christmas. If it is less than joyful for you, it doesn’t mean you’ll never have a good Christmas again. Give yourself permission not to do everything if it seems too heartbreaking for you. Do the things that bring comfort. And allow yourself to get support and help as you need it.

Next Time: Day Two: There’s no time! Handling the stress of too much to do and too little time


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