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By: Dr. Joanne Z Moore, PT, DHSC, OCS

Tree BackgroundChristmas dominates December. There is no escaping the bright lights and blaring music. Even in the solitude of our homes, television specials offer unrealistic sappy stories, and mailboxes full of catalogs try to convince us that happiness comes in a box. We are definitely not in sync with the world, who proclaims this as the “hap-happiest time of the year”. Indeed, it is a most bittersweet time, tinged with all sorts of memories and dashed hopes. Even Mother Nature seems in conspiracy, with little warmth from the sun, and long, cold nights.

There is a baseline level of loneliness for us, and it is exaggerated when contrasted with the expectations of the season. Everyone else has their plans laid out, continuing in their traditions. There is a disjointedness to it – how do we function at a party – how do fit in with our friends – what is our new role in the family?

We have to rethink everything. How much do we want to try to continue, changing as little as possible, and which parts do we want to leave to history, and start a new way? Which traditions bring us comfort and peace, and which are stressful or simply impossible? Taking some time to consider these questions helps us to take control of our situations. We have the right and responsibility to structure our holiday time in such a way that we find peace within ourselves so that we can contribute to the timeless quest for peach on earth.

So we consider truly, what the holiday means to us. Is it drenched in memories, good or painful? Is it a responsibility, full of lists and chores? Is it a budget buster, leaving us with bills until the Fourth of July? Does it mean spending time with certain people – dear or devilish? Must we travel, or must we stay home? Are there people who truly depend on us, like children? Do we have a faith to celebrate, giving deeper meaning to the season?

We have our own grieving to do, either for the end of a long tradition, or for younger people, a disappointment that dreams won’t be coming true. It’s important to take some quiet time to feel those valid emotions. Being sad is certainly understandable, so don’t be surprised by the emotions. In anticipation, prepare some readings from scripture or other inspiring works. Know what music helps. Go outdoors for a walk or simply step outdoors at night to look at the stars, noticing the crunch of the snow beneath your feet. Find a venue with free concerts, get a massage, play the piano, take an art class, shovel snow, chop firewood, visit a museum, take a bath, eat cookies, or write in a journal. Trust that you will, in time, feel moved to be with the people who care about you. You need some quiet time to ground and to center yourself so that you can function in a social setting with some degree of dignity, and so that you can actually enjoy seeing people.

There are very few things that we absolutely have to do. I will put caring for children on this list. If they have lost a parent, their needs must be strongly considered. Beyond that, how we spend our holidays is up to us. We can choose whether or not to decorate or shop and whether to stay at home or travel. We can eat comfort foods, watch old movies, do volunteer work, or spend time with loved ones. We can try one strategy and see how it works. We can try a different strategy next year.

I’ve had five Christmases now without Joe. Over time, the holiday dominates me less and less. I find that I am more an observer than a participant. As I watch the holiday celebrations, I get the same feeling that I do as I pass a Little League field and hear the crack of the bat and the cheers from the crowd. I know that families are now enjoying a stage that I once enjoyed, but for me it’s just a fond memory. I can smile as I pass by, enjoying the warmth of my memories. Now I watch with contentment as my adult children develop their family traditions. And I look forward to the New Year with curiosity and hope.

As you begin this season, I offer you this blessing:

“Blessing for the Longest Night” by the artist Jan Richardson

You will know
the moment of its
arriving
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.
So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.
This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.

If the night is dark enough, you can trust that any direction you go, you will be walking toward the dawn.

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