Most of us are familiar with the downside of the coming holidays: if there is sorrow in life it’s hard to get through these times when wherever you go people are wishing you happy holidays and almost insisting on joy for everyone.
People lose family members all year long—even during the holidays. And people with chronic illness or those who care for someone who is chronically ill do not experience a sudden cure just because it’s December. People lose jobs every day as bills pile up and the idea of buying presents creates anxiety and worry.
Our culture’s involvement in twinkling lights, carols, and endless decorations can bring smiles to many faces. After all, it is December and bitterly cold in many parts of the globe and these traditions date back to bringing warmth and solace to a dark and frozen world.
But the opposite affect can happen when people who are dealing with sorrow or anxiety struggle to put a bright face on things. Then holidays can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation and life becomes even more difficult.
But you knew this. What you might not have is solutions: how to help someone in your family, or a close friend, or even yourself approach the holidays when there is struggle in your life.
Practicing inclusion. This is a wonderful path to follow: opening yourself up to others during this time of year can make your empty and sad heart feel full. If finances are your problem, going to a shelter and helping others can make your inability to buy a sleigh-full of presents insignificant. Again: if you are feeling bad about yourself—go help someone else.
Looking at reality. Toni Bernhard’s advice for people with a chronic illness may be difficult, but it’s factual. Because they fear others won’t understand about their illness, people in this situation often let family and friends drift away. At the holidays “…the increase in activity exacerbates physical symptoms, while coping with sadness, frustration, and maybe even guilt about physical limitations gives rise to emotional pain.”
Bernard says if you don’t look sick, your family might need an email or a letter ahead of time making your condition visible. You are not complaining, but giving a quick outline of your disease to insure when you arrive at a gathering, you’re not asked to frost 30 cookies or hand out drinks.
Why is this necessary? Often people who love you want to be in denial. If you appear to feel fine, they will go with that—it’s so much easier. But your family needs to honor your situation and make allowances for the rest and quiet that you may need.
Finding comfort. Though the holidays are the time of year when presents signify gifts of love and salvation, you may have to gift yourself during a particular time of your life. Instead of buying gifts for others, you might have to gather to yourself the gift of comfort, the simple joy of another day of life. Or you may have to pull away from past patterns, creating and enjoying a new celebration, one that offers you solace in your struggle—whatever that struggle is. If a loved one dies, the traditions of past holidays will fall away. Illness might limit or rework the holiday experience. Though it may be hard, go with the changes. Life is a change artist. Financial problems will certainly recreate the holiday experience. You don’t want to go into debt trying to do what you have done in the past.
Making your own miracles. A recently divorced friend didn’t plan any experience with others on Christmas Day. She suffered greatly from this decision and now will gather friends in similar situations to celebrate and be together. She is recreating her holiday and making her own small miracle. In a time of year when many long for warm sunshine and know that snowfall will after a time lose it luster, it’s important to bring something warm and cheerful into your life in a way that suits you. Theologian Karl Rahner was once asked if he believed in miracles. “I don’t believe in them, “he answered, “I rely on them to get through each day!”
Thank you to Rev. Ron Rolheiser and to Toni Bernhard, How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers
Thank you to Ollie T Photostream