Happy, jolly, merry, joyous – those are the words that greet us during the holiday season.
But for some, this season brings a renewed struggle with grief, loss and sadness. The days grow short and the nights are longer, and many people feel distressed or depressed as they contemplate a Christmas celebration in the midst of grief, loss, illness, job loss or other struggles.
We remember happy holidays past that we now face without a loved one, and we feel a sense of loss rather than celebration. The bright lights, the shopping, the baking, the gathering with family may feel like chores. Our family and friends may want us to cheer up, to move on and be happy.
If you are beginning to live into the “new normal” of your life, here are some strategies that may help you cope and make this season meaningful for you.
Let go of some activities. Release the need to try to do every single thing you always used to do for the holidays. Choose the activities that are most important to you and avoid those that are merely stressors. Let go of the obligation to participate every time you are invited. Choose carefully those gatherings that are life-giving to you; politely decline those that are a drain.
Let go of assumptions. If everyone assumes that you will host a holiday dinner because you always did so in the past, work out a different plan so that everyone can have their needs met. Remember, your needs are just as important as your family’s traditions.
Let go of old plans that don’t work anymore. Make new plans well in advance of the holidays, and talk them over with other family members. Let them know that you are not being selfish, but your needs are different this year.
Let go of the way things used to be. Accept the reality that the holidays will not be the same this year, and in fact may never be the same as they were in the past. Trying to pretend that everything is the same can sometimes increase your discomfort.
As you let go, your hands and heart will be opened to take hold of new traditions. Perhaps you’ll want to remember loved ones by lighting a candle, or making a charitable donation in their memory or sharing in a time of special memories with your family and friends.
Many communities offer special Christmas observances for those who are grieving. This year in Sterling, the service of the Longest Night will be 6 p.m. Dec. 16 at First Presbyterian Church, 410 Second Ave.
There will be prayers, music, readings, Scripture and silence as we recall that God’s light, and God’s hope, will illuminate even the darkest night.