Christmas is a time when memories surface and some people may feel regret, pain or suffering the loss of company, loved ones, and perhaps, are alone. Christmas brings different responses from people, be they spiritual, agnostic, culturally diverse or even, alone. Seasonal and cultural events can evoke different, perhaps regretful responses in people, for we never know their journey until we have walked in their shoes. Here we tender for your consideration some perspectives on feeling blue at Christmas, and the grief evoked by Christmas when loved ones have passed over or are simply not there.
For many people these are days of magic and wonder, a time when hope rises and peace falls and where miracles begin to feel commonplace. They are moments of joyous reunions and fierce embraces and boisterous laughter and crowded tables, all accompanied by waves of easy gratitude. Christmas is for lots of folks, a time when Goodness has the run of the house in their hearts. To them, it is sweet and possible and glittering with promise.
But you are not one of those people, and that’s what makes this season so much more difficult to endure. Your days are not merry and bright, in a time when the rest of the world’s seem to be and so the normal cavern between you and everyone around you feels wider than usual, the isolation more severe, the disconnect greater. You seem to find estrangement everywhere you look.
Christmas is here — and Christmas hurts.
Maybe it’s because of the chairs that will be empty or the calls that won’t come or the welcome you won’t receive. Maybe it’s the way the sentimental songs amplify your loneliness or the way the picture perfect images of blissful homes prick your tender insides or the way your shrinking family gatherings highlight the attrition you’ve experienced. It might be the effect the shorter, colder, darker days have on your fragile emotional equilibrium. Whatever the reason, a heavy yuletide melancholy has taken hold and you don’t know how to snap out of it.
For many of us depression, grief and sadness hover in the background on even the most ordinary of days and we get used to battling to keep them all at bay on a regular basis. But there’s nothing quite like the holiday season to ratchet up the pressure we feel, not only to have it all together, but to wrap it in lights and tinsel and broadcast it in a heavily filtered Instagram pic. We feel more compelled than ever to feel good, and more guilty than ever to admit that we don’t.
Christmas lulls us into a parade of false comparisons. We find ourselves looking at other people’s lives from afar and using them to measure our own from up close; whether the lights on our houses or the trees adorning our living rooms, or our bank accounts or marriages or bodies or careers or families. Viewing others in the soft, flattering glow that distance yields, while seeing ourselves in the raking light of close proximity means we always come up short — we always feel lacking and less than.
If you happen to be hurting this holiday season…
Let it hurt. Make peace with your pain and allow it to come fully without alteration. Life is difficult and you aren’t okay, and you shouldn’t waste precious energy and time trying to pretend this isn’t so. Let grief and sadness do the necessary, invasive work in you that they need to do. There’s no defeat in feeling defeated right now.
Don’t hide it. Give people close to you the most authentic version of yourself you are able to give. Those deserving of you will not be pushed away by your woundedness or intimidated by your honesty. Allow people who love you to bear your burdens and sit in solidarity with you. Let them see you, not some sanitized, edited version of them you think they can handle.
Don’t be fooled by the calendar. Today is in reality, just another day even though the trappings and the framing may make your feel otherwise. Release yourself from the expectation to have some magical Christmas conversion; some George Bailey, It’s A Wonderful Life Moment. If this season finds you less than alright, be that. You don’t owe the calendar anything.
Don’t be fooled by yourself. Despite how it may feel, most of the pressure on you to be happy is usually an inside job. Since you’re the only one who truly knows the depth and scope of your sadness, and the only one who’s fully walked your road, you’re probably beating yourself up the most about this blueness that others may not even see. Don’t be complicit in your own debilitating guilt trip. Go easy on yourself.
Give yourself permission to scale back or downsize or opt out. There are times and places during the holidays where the hurt is amplified, and you may see them coming; certain gatherings, parties, people, activities. Don’t feel as though you need to do and be it all and continually put yourself in harm’s way. Balance your desire to give others normalcy now, with your very valid need to protect yourself. Step away from the fray when you need to.
Embrace this Christmas as-is. You may be overwhelmed and bruised this season, but there is still goodness to be welcomed and blessing to be claimed here, even in the pain. There will be holidays in the future when you will feel stronger and lighter, and these very difficult days are part of the road to them so accept whatever gifts they have for you. You may not fully open them for years.
And above all friend, know that it's okay to be blue this Christmas. It really is. So be blue, but be greatly encouraged even still.
How to Help Someone Coping with Christmas Grief
Do you know of someone having a hard time this holiday season due to the death of a family member, friend or pet? Are you looking for a way to help but not sure what to do? Little things really do count.
Holidays and anniversaries are two of the most difficult holidays that a person grieving the death of a loved one has to deal with. Even years afterwards, these events can dredge up feelings so strong, that it can seem as if the death was very recent. What is the best way to offer support to a grieving person during the holiday celebrations?
Grief is Unique to the Individual
First, one must understand that all people grieve differently and at their own pace. Some people may want tp talk about it, while others may choose to keep things bottled up. Some may act like nothing has happened, while others may remain emotional and become upset easily. All of these responses are normal for the individual who has experienced the loss of a loved one. Recognise that they are hurting, but don’t try to push them too fast.
When extending a holiday invitation to the person who is bereaved, don’t pressure them to accept. As part of the grieving process they may have made other arrangements or just not be up for socialising. Let them know that they are still welcome to attend if they change their mind. Simply knowing that they have options can be a comfort to them.
If the individual chooses to stay at home, give them a call on the holiday and extend greetings. Ask if they need anything or offer to bring over a plate of food if the person lives alone. Make the offer, but don’t force the issue or intrude on the person’s privacy. Many people who are grieving can find comfort in being by themselves on the holidays.
If the invitation is accepted, keep the festivities light, but don’t sidestep the topic if it happens to come up. Acknowledge the loss and share a happy memory of the person who has died.
There are a number of organisations available to provide support during the holiday season.
24/7 x 365 telephone and online crisis support, information and immediate referral to specialist counselling for anyone in Australia who has experienced or been impacted by sexual assault, or domestic or family violence.
Phone: 1800 737 732
Online Counselling: www.1800respect.org.au
24/7 x 365 national telephone and online support, information and referral service for men with family and relationship concerns.
Phone: 1300 78 99 78
Online Counselling: www.mensline.org.au
Suicide Call Back Service
24/7 x 365 counselling for people 18 years and over who are suicidal, caring for someone who is suicidal or people bereaved by suicide.
Phone: 1300 659 467