Joshua Coleman, Ph.D., writes: “The holidays elicit strong feelings about family -- hopeful, regretful or homicidal. And Thanksgiving is one of the Big Boys -- a nondenominational, bipartisan, school-excused, frequent-flyer, triglyceride-grabbing holiday that can act as a gaping black hole for family feelings and memories.”
Yes, indeed, The Holiday Season went full throttle as soon as the last political message was aired. There is a big difference this year. Businesses are in as much financial distress as their clientele, AIG CEOs aside. A look at last weekend’s grocery ads showed items in particular demand for holidays being sold practically at cost. Stores are honoring other stores’ coupons, even doubling their value. The race for commercial survival is on.
Not all that long ago, we were shocked when gas prices hit $1.50 a gallon. As we near that price again, we rejoice. We’re also a bit smug at our national nose thumbing at oil companies.
People lining up at food banks wear three piece suits, or uniforms, or clothes from second hand stores. Panic and poverty are great equalizers.
But one thing has not changed. Holidays are particularly difficult for a lot of people.
It’s easy to recognize, and safe to assume, that a family that has experienced a recent loss will have trouble through the holidays. Our hearts go out to them, and we hold them in prayer.
This article will address some folks not so obviously suffering.
As Dr. Coleman noted, the holiday emphasis is on family. Herein lies the pain unseen.
Families separated by distance may make calls, have internet face time. This is uplifting and makes for some happy moments. After the high of that visit, though, emotions can swiftly change timbre. The low, or sad, feelings that follow can be overwhelming. If you weren’t expecting the crash, it hits doubly hard.
War time is extremely painful on so many levels. The stress factor in the families waiting anxiously at home is off the charts. While techno visits are deeply appreciated, trying to keep a brave face through it all ain’t easy. When the connection is ended, the walls holding back emotion give way. Even as they do, the sad person feels bad, not wanting to dampen the spirits of those gathered. Those gathered want to be brave for the sad person.
This may be the first holiday your children go off to celebrate somewhere else. While we are glad to see our offspring maturing, we miss them like crazy. This is especially true after a recent marriage. Some folks just don’t acclimate well to sharing holidays with the other side of the family. It may take years before peaceable arrangements are developed.
If you are the recently married, and this is not your first round of double meals, trying to keep everybody happy, you’re just about done with the whole holiday scene. The perceived obligations outweigh any joy.
Kids in foster care may be a tad difficult this time of year. They are bombarded by talk of family, images of family, and are poignantly aware that they are “only” visitors with a family at this time, subject to change at a moment’s notice. No matter how wonderful the foster parents, feelings of not belonging are extremely sharp. Talking about this is usually beyond their abilities, so acting out their hurt, anger and frustration is a common course.
A person estranged from family members also has a difficult time, whether they want to face it or not. And usually, not. The hurt, guilt, anger and loneliness bubble to the surface this time of year. Since they feel no one can relate to this, and don’t want to explore it, these feelings are turned inward, stuffed away. This is called depression in most circles. They may decline all invitations and spend the day alone with their misery. They may attend gatherings and pretend nothing is bothering them. Dangerous either way. They may volunteer to work the holiday, or travel out of the country, glad for the supposed escape.
Families in chaos cling to the holidays as an island of sanity amidst the madness. Losing your home? Pending divorce? Job loss? Illness? The extremely high expectations usually can’t be met, giving way to the harsh realities before the day is over.
People here from other cultures may feel left out. So much of what they see and hear is geared towards U.S. tradition, anyone outside the loop can feel ostracized, shunned.
What to do? Here are some suggestions.
Include a favorite dish or tradition of the person you are missing. Mention it, and toast the person not present.
Write a letter to the estranged person. File it in My Docs, or put it in the back of a drawer.
If children are involved, talk, talk, talk. Short conversations, validate their feelings, ask what might help them. Wait a few days for an answer. Talk again.
Volunteer at a soup kitchen or food pantry.
Face the fact that chaos will reign for a while. Make a short list of realistic expectations, with notes on how you can meet them. Do not rely on anyone else meeting them for you.
Leave a chair empty and waiting for the missing person.
Don’t spend time with a toxic person out of some misguided sense of obligation.
Cry. Just let ‘er rip. There is no shame in it. It’s honest, and you’ll feel better after. Maybe avoid posing for pictures after the crying jag, though.
Laugh. It has healing power. Put on a silly movie if you need help getting started. Be with someone who can help lighten things up.
Create a “family” for the occasion, letting others bring celebrational foods to add to yours.
Be honest with yourself about your feelings. Write them down somewhere, to be dealt with when emotions aren’t so high.
Bare in mind, this too shall pass. But not until you are honest with yourself and others. With some counseling, and good, hard work, you can eventually regain