The reality is that the arrival of the holidays with all their bundled expectations of good cheer and celebration may be arriving at an inconvenient time for many. The holidays are supposed to be a time of celebration, relaxation, gathering with friends and family, giving, and being joyful. This ideal does not always match the reality. Holidays are not necessarily relaxing and can be filled with pressure, anxiety, and depression, particularly for those who have endured recent loss and heartbreaking events. Yet, even if one’s spirit is not at a high point, there is comfort derived from the forward movement of time and having to rise to a new day.
Sometimes, dressing up even when you don’t feel up to it may be exactly what’s needed.
In fact even though they may be arriving too fast, the spirit embodied in the holidays can become a healing force for those suffering from emotional, financial, and physical wounding. Likewise the meanings associated with the holidays can also be just what is needed in sad times. After all, Christmas celebrates the birth of a savior and Hanukkah celebrates the triumph of faith and courage over military forces, while Kwanzaa is a celebration of family, community, and culture. They represent the elements of a classic underdog story, celebrating the overcoming of adversity.
Unfortunately there may be those who are just not able to embrace the holiday spirit during their particular dark time and who may feel left out, or may want to opt out, because they are so overwhelmed with grief. The fact is that for some, the pain of losing someone can be unpredictably enduring, tenacious, and can feel unbearable. While some seem to go on more easily and can attempt cheerful events, others have great difficulty returning to everyday life following a tragic death. If it was a sudden and unexpected death of a family member or loved one, the severe loss can be incapacitating for significant periods of time. In such instances it is especially important to care for oneself with kindness and accept that this holiday will be different. This may mean forgoing certain events or gatherings and simply enduring to get through the holidays. Even in just-trying-to-get-by mode, a simple gesture, such as lighting a candle or reaching out to someone, may bring a flicker of illumination to one’s being.
Contrary to the popular metaphor that has to do with the idea of “letting go” when facing a loss, experience has confirmed over and over that when a person dies, the relationship does not die and neither does the love one has for that person. More often than not, people find ways to incorporate and remain connected with their lost loved one in new ways. It seems far better to find ways to include lost loved ones into our lives than to feel that we have to let go. This may be done in any number of ways from the simple telling of stories about the person to honoring them in more formal ways such as establishing scholarships or promoting causes that represent and carry on their values.
Remembering a loved one in stories and keeping alive the memories that are dear and precious can be a very good way of bringing brightness to a dark time. Now that they are gone, our memories are free to claim them in a new, more expansive way, perhaps fanciful yet true. To this day I still love to tell stories about my grandmother even though it has been some time since she died. One particular memory has to do with how she responded when, as a child, I had foolishly fallen into some very icy water one winter morning just before the school bell rang. This story reminds me of the care she generously gave to me and the ways she provided warmth when it was needed. Telling this story helps to keep her near to me and in my heart. It can also brighten my dark days with joy.
Regardless of where we are in our journey beyond what has occurred over the past few months, it has truly been uplifting and inspiring to witness the response that has taken place.
Throughout our valley towns, as the many hardships presented themselves, neighbors, friends and even strangers have responded in amazing ways. From large benefits to simple kindnesses exchanged from one person to another, our valley has been truly blessed by the actions of many good and caring people.
By creating a little brightness for someone else it also creates brightness within us. This is also a reminder that the darkness of the night enables us to see the stars shine even more brightly in the sky.
Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.
Editor’s note: Dario Lussardi is a licensed psychologist-master, providing consultation and therapeutic services at the Community Counseling Center in Wilmington.