I have always been the biggest holiday freak you could ever meet. I didn’t understand people who hated listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving, or why people would get so grumpy and retreat during this time of year.
It’s always been the time of year I’ve looked forward to most. The days are better with Christmas to look forward to. The music and lights filled me with enough giddiness to ignore the stresses of everyday life.
After my divorce, the holidays are harder for me.
The first year my kids and I decorated our Christmas tree without my ex-husband, my daughter went in her room and cried. My oldest son retreated to the sofa holding one ornament in his hand watching it twirl in front of his face. My youngest was sad that no one was acting the same.
And I almost fell apart.
It was devastating to me and made me want to shut the holidays down. It was clearly a sad reminder for my children about the memories we’d made, the fact our family had changed, and how things were never going to be the same.
Even if we celebrated harder or I bought them more gifts, I couldn’t take those truths away. All I wanted was to make it through the holidays and for the first time in my life, I was glad they were over. Taking down the tree and not looking at holiday commercials felt like freedom. After it was over I thought, okay, I have a whole year to heal before I have to go through that again.
What used to be a time of year which symbolized joy and togetherness, felt like suffering.
That feeling didn’t stop behind our closed doors either. Going out in public to do shopping, getting together with friends, and attending Christmas parties made me shut down. There were times I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath and days when I’d wake up feeling strong only to have ten setbacks by noon.
I traded in my homemade desserts for store-bought varieties because it was too painful to smell certain smells. Conversations at gatherings were painful. Instead of working the room in a sparkly top with some bubbly wine, I didn’t care what I wore and it took all of me just to get through a conversation without tears welling in my eyes.
People didn’t want to be around me after a while, and I didn’t want to be around them.
The truth is, I’d been counting on the holidays to mask some of the pain my children and I were going through. Instead, it brought up all my uneasiness, all my anxiety, and all of the hurt surrounding our new life.
Instead of covering up sadness, the holidays can peel back protective layers for those who are in pain.
That was the year I started to understand why this time of year is tough for so many. The holidays have a way of reminding us of things we used to have that we no longer do. We miss people who used to be in our lives. The task of celebrating the season after you’ve lost a loved one, your job, or are battling depression feels like we are stabbing at a sore spot over and over and over again.
Pain cannot be fixed by twinkle lights or sugar cookies. Well, not in the long run anyway.
Be gentle and compassionate with people, especially this time of year.
People are expected to be so happy and thankful this time of year but that may be hard for someone who is struggling. This time of year is really hard on some people and showing some gentleness and compassion can go a really long way.
If someone is quiet this time of year, reach out and let them know you are there.
If someone is grumpy at the checkout ahead of you, remember they are probably fighting a fight you know nothing about. Then, be extra nice to the cashier.
If someone is tearing up at a holiday party but doesn’t want to talk about it, don’t give up on them. Keep the light on instead.
Remember there are people who are just trying to make it through to the New Year and they are literally doing their best. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with an internal battle going on in their head.
And then, buy them a coffee, give them or hug, or shoot a smile their way. It literally could make all the difference to them.
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