Guest Author - Lori Bradley
Holiday is season is here and it is often an especially trying time for childfree and childless people of all ages. This year is harder than most since I lost my father this spring, and he was my last living tie with the past generation. I’ve avoided holiday ennui in past years by immersing myself in activities and parties with friends and co-workers. This year, I think I’m just going to have to brace myself and face my feelings.
I’ve been taking some early tentative stabs at acknowledging my feelings of loss and, to my surprise, I feel better. Much better. I realize that avoiding holiday sadness through frenetic happy-activity is adding to my sense of exhaustion and disappointment. I decided to do some research to see if any eminent personalities could confirm my more balanced perception of the holiday season.
Victorian-era novelist Kate L. Bosher is quoted frequently online, and her feelings about Christmas seem to be subdued if not downright gloomy. But, they ring true, including this frequently repeated quote:
“Isn't it funny that at Christmas something in you gets so lonely for - I don't know what exactly, but it's something that you don't mind so much not having at other times.”
And, author Carol Nelson sums up the emotions of the holiday season succinctly:
“Christmas is a time when you get homesick - even when you're home.”
Finally, Charles Dickens poetically describes the feelings of nostalgia that often consume us during the holidays:
“Time was with most of us, when Christmas Day, encircling all our limited world like a magic ring, left nothing out for us to miss or seek; bound together all our home enjoyments, affections, and hopes; grouped everything and everyone round the Christmas fire, and make the little picture shining in our bright young eyes, complete.”
A sense of loss, nostalgia, and longing for an idealized version of home that never was – that sums up the feelings I’ve tried to avoid in previous holiday seasons. And like many childfree people, I’m more susceptible to criticism from parents during the holidays that I easily reject at other times of the year – the suggestion that I’m missing something essential in life because I don’t have kids.
This year, I find it empowering to reject the social pressure to put on a happy face and opt for a more realistic attitude. In taking this journey, I’ve developed a few holiday survival suggestions for anyone suffering from loss, and the insensitive remarks of parents who feel the holidays can only be appreciated through the eyes of children:
• A sense of loss is inevitable in during the holiday season. Instead of avoiding it, indulge it. You are not alone. Realize that even people with children mourn the loss of their own childhood during the holidays. It’s impossible to relive personal childhood memories through children. So, embrace the days when the holidays “encircled all our limited world like a magic ring.”
Look at old photos, remember lost loved ones fondly, and be grateful if you have pleasant memories of the holidays. Don’t be afraid to cry and accept the sadness of lost days. Everybody shares these feelings. It’s OK to be sad during the holidays. That odd mixture of mourning and celebration actually makes the holiday season important as a time of heightened emotion and self-awareness.
• After taking a sentimental journey, try to remember childhood holidays realistically. Perfect happy holidays are a myth. When I was very small, Dickens’ vision of Christmas held true. As I grew up, I became aware of the undercurrents of tension and anger between relatives during holiday gatherings. Sometimes, my greatest joy was leaving the house for a long snowy walk with my dog. Being alone during the holidays is not negative or a sign of deepening depression. In fact, a peaceful walk or drive is revitalizing and often the best antidote to holiday frenzy.
• Develop some rituals you can practice today that honor the past. When I was a kid, the search for a special Christmas tree ornament, one that best represented the past year, was the highlight of the season. In the past couple of years I’ve found that making ornaments for friends, family and to benefit our local animal shelter is a comforting activity rooted in the holidays rituals I shared with my mother.
And, I always take a long walk in the woods with my dogs on Christmas and Thanksgiving days. Instead of a desperate escape at the end of a tense holiday, my walks are now the feature of the day. I feel lucky I have freedom from frantic immersion in holiday preparations and social pressure to create a “perfect” day for others. Survive the happy-family-with-kids media blitz this year by remembering and reconnecting with the peaceful heart and spirit of this special season.