As a child growing up in Michigan, the onset of chilly days with warm breath blowing frosty white puffs in the air, and changing maple leaves turning from emerald green to fiery golds, reds and oranges signaled the start of the holiday season. Indian Summer (a brief time of unseasonably warm temperatures) and Labor Day were now memories. School was in session and thoughts were turning to costumes for Halloween.
The season further commenced when grocery stores displayed pumpkins and firewood for sale. Apparel stores featured windows with fall and winter fashion. The cider mill opened to rosy-faced children eagerly awaiting powdered donuts (which I got all over myself), and icy cups of apple cider. Those delicious memories could be experienced in gallon jugs of cider and boxes of donuts brought home to enjoy, once again.
As the leaves fell and the days grew shorter, it wasn’t long before the countdown to Halloween. Our biggest concern was to find the best costume ever. We didn’t care if it was cold, as long as it didn’t rain! We always wore our costumes over our jackets. We were excited to carve our pumpkins for display on the front porch and we never worried about having them smashed on the sidewalk or thrown into the middle of the street. We never had to worry about bad people putting objects in our candy to hurt us, either.
Thanksgiving was the next holiday we eagerly anticipated. Being able to share a sumptuous meal with family, while engaging in conversation and laughter was always special. I remember sitting at the children’s table at my grandparents’ home. As I grew older, I was finally able to sit at the grown-up’s table and didn’t feel like a little kid, any more!
After Thanksgiving, children started to count their shopping days until Chanukah, Christmas or Kwanzaa. It seemed that during the holiday season, people had more smiles on their faces and donated generously to the Salvation Army. I loved to go running to the Salvation Army kettle to put in my donation. It was always accepted with a “God Bless You,” no matter how large or how small the donation, just as it is gratefully accepted today.
When I moved to Texas as an adult, I still thought of, and continue to think of the holiday season beginning with the arrival of Halloween, and ending with the close of New Year’s Day. Today, I now enjoy the holidays with fewer family members. Some of the special days are marked with remembrance of loved ones passed, as some of them passed right before the holidays. My wonderful grandfather, “Poppy” was buried on New Year’s Eve.
I have worked through my grief for their passing, but this time of year can be difficult for those who still grieve, or who have recently suffered the grief of a loved one’s passing. For these people, the holiday season can seem very sad and lonely. For many, this is the first holiday season without a cherished loved one. Their thoughts are caught up in the fear of approaching and then getting through each special day. Likewise, upcoming birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions can be intimidating as one becomes fearful of the grief triggered by these events.
Feeling sad or blue during the holiday season can also be the result of being away from family and friends, due to military and other types of service requiring deployment far from home. Distance and financial burden can prevent family members from enjoying the holidays together, as well as put a damper on the festivities when gifts cannot be purchased (especially for the children!). Reunions with family members who do not get along well with one another can be a time of consternation, as are the challenges of being a member of a dysfunctional and/or abusive family.
There are ways to get through the holiday season if you are suffering from grief or the “holiday blues.”
1. Account for the roller coaster of emotions that may occur. Journaling your thoughts and feelings or talking with others can be helpful. Don’t hesitate to develop a network of support from family and friends. Counseling from a therapist or a spiritual leader can be helpful.
2. Accept the reality of the situation and find new ways to celebrate or create new traditions. Some people hold onto cherished traditions by having another family member assume responsibility for cooking a special dish, or having the holiday dinner at his/her home.
3. Let your faith guide you through. This may be the time to do something for others, rather than sit in silence and grieve. There is no greater gift than the smiles and hugs of gratitude received from those who appreciate your time and kindness.
4. If you still need to care for yourself, then decide what you can tolerate. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries. This may not be the time to take care of others, as you need to take care of yourself. It may be best to be with family members only, or with trusted friends.
For Thanksgiving, I love to use my mother-in-law’s beautiful tablecloth and dishes. Her living room furniture is in the waiting room of my counseling practice. I think she would like how the sofa has been recovered, with cushions replaced. I have memories of my wonderful grandparents and use the pretty antique dishes my grandmother gave me. On special occasions, I wear my mother’s pearls. I still have the beautiful garnet lapel pin my cousin gave me when I turned 13 years old. And the pictures of happy events in my family always bring smiles and laughter.
During the Christmas holidays, we hang up the stockings of our four-legged children, who have died, remembering them fondly, as we add our stockings and the stockings of the rest of the Kuerbitz household, four-legged and two-legged. Even the birds get an extra treat during Christmas! We make it a point of being with family and friends who bring laughter, love and holiday cheer into our lives, and we make charitable contributions to help others.
It’s okay to experience joy or suffer the blues during the holiday season. We need to remember that we are never alone, never have to deal with the disappointmnets of life by ourselves, and if we need help, it is there for the asking! Celebrate the holidays by remembering the loved ones who have passed, but remember to celebrate the holidays with those who can still enjoy life with us, today!