We’re in the full swing of the holiday season now… menorahs are lit, Christmas trees are up, “season’s greetings” bombard us from every to-go coffee cup, and we’re starting to plan our New Year’s festivities. It’s the “most wonderful time of the year,” amiright?
For many people, and for much of the season, that’s very true. Especially for parents, the holiday season can be really gratifying, as we get to experience the joy of the season through the eyes of our manic, present-seeking, and sugar-crazed children.
But at the same time, the holidays can leave us parents really, really, really drained. We’re planning festivities, putting up special decorations, creating and sending cards, hosting guests, traveling, cooking feasts, going out to shows, attending parties, and finding the perfect gifts. Oh, and working, cleaning, cooking, shopping, teaching, nurturing, listening, soothing, and everything else that we normally do as parents on a daily basis. Did I mention that the holidays leave us drained?
This time of the year can also be extra hard for people struggling with any kind of sadness or conflict in their lives. Especially for those of us who are dealing with estranged family members or the loss of a loved one, the holidays are going to be tinged with an unshakeable sense of longing.
My mom died in 2016, and I recently lost my sister to suicide this fall. For the most part, I’ve been doing OK! (Having two small kids will force you to live in the moment, no matter what else is happening in your life.) However, since mid-November I’ve felt like there’s a little cloud following me around; a little tug at my heart, a frequent nudge in my mind that reminds me that the upcoming family gatherings won’t include some of my most special loved ones, ever again. I’m usually pretty unflappable but I’ll be honest: it’s been a thucking bummer.
A couple things have helped. I make an effort to keep present in my mind how grateful I am for my kids, husband, family, and friends. I try to engage in healthy self-care, and in addition to generally scaling back the stressors in my life (and embracing things like mid-day movies), I have already planned a getaway for early in the new year. And – maybe best of all – I am lucky to have lovely and considerate people in my life, who have made sure to check in on me.
One night, following a tough rainy day where I stared out the window and cried about missing my mom and sister, I got a short email with a friendly hello and little note of encouragement from a far-away friend who had also lost a family member a few years back. It lifted my spirits, gave me a little window to vent, and put me in a better mood that has lasted for weeks.
Another day – one where I was feeling just fine – a friend I hadn’t heard from in a while sent a quick text just to say hi and that she was thinking of me. It made me smile at the same time that it brought a little mist to my eyes; I felt cared for.
My close friends, who I talk with on a regular basis, frequently (and genuinely) ask how I’m doing… and they listen to my answers. And the other night before bed, my very intuitive five-year-old daughter reminisced about seeing me sad about my mom after she died two years ago, and asked if love disappears when people die. It gave me a chance to talk about my feelings, and my thoughts about death, and to express how much I love and appreciate her every day. She didn’t even know she was “checking in,” but it made me feel better to talk with her all the same.
What I’m saying is that you surely have people in your life who could use a little extra care this holiday season. Send a quick text, draft a friendly email, pick up the phone, or make a date to get together. Ask the hard question of how they’re dealing with XYZ difficult thing in their life. Be a shoulder to lean on or an ear to bend. It doesn’t have to be a huge gesture to make a huge difference. Just being there, just showing that you care, can help turn around the day (or more) for someone who is feeling the added strain that can accompany all the joy of this time of the year.
And to everyone reading this, please know that even if you aren’t surrounded by frequent reminders, you are loved. You are needed. You make a difference in the life of your parents, spouse, friends, colleagues, and children. Someone, somewhere, is grateful that you are who you are, and that you do all you do. Consider this me checking in, and reminding you to look in the mirror, take a breath, and know that it’ll be OK. Big hugs.