Holiday Pain

Many people love the first crisp, nip of fall in the air. To those who are grieving, it can coldly cut deep into the spirit and re-open the wound. While children are making wishes to Santa, those that are living with the pain of loss are wishing the holidays would go away. If only wishing made it so.

The moment the holiday lights come out, you may feel like you want to sit in the dark. You may not want to put out your decorations. You may not feel like lighting the candles of your faith. You may not feel like putting up a wreath. The only wreath you can see in your mind are the kind they make for funerals.

However, there are some things you can do. I lived this firsthand, and still do.

Disconnecting from the Pain

I have often said the holidays are for children. Growing up with a psychiatrist for a father, I can tell you, from a very early age, I understood the holidays can make anything bad, so much worse for so many. We had our Christmas from 4:00 am until about 6:30 AM, and then Dad was off to the hospital taking care of the wounded. We also took meals to a homeless shelter, and it was helping others that we found the real meaning. It is way past trees and lights.

You can extricate yourself from the pain. I say extricate, because it is word that implies a system to disconnect from the anguish and reconnect with your life.

In doing so, by systematically choosing something new for a tradition, you may feel anguish and anxiety at first, but later, and gratefully your feelings will catch up with your actions.

Suggestions for Survival

Below are suggestions. They are just that, suggestions. You may think of your own way to extricate and reconnect.

  1. Force yourself to do some decoration of some kind: My beloved neighbor was famous for her Santa Claus collection and her antebellum home was that talk of the town. It was in the newspaper. She had open houses. The year her husband died, her house and her heart were closed. The Santa Clauses stayed on the shelf. Yet, one day we were at the dollar store and saw this tacky fiber optic color changing tree. She bought it and we set it up and after all these years we remember that tree over all the others. It was the tree that changed colors and changed her life by not letting death win.
  2. Go away: If the holidays won’t go away, you can. When I was young, I sang at a beautiful resort. On every holiday, I noticed that the lone guests would start to talk to one another. Once, I asked a nice elderly man if he was okay. He said, “My wife just passed away and I wanted to be away from our home up north and be on the beach.” By the end of the week, he was communicating with other guests, and I saw come a bit out of his shell and smile gently. It is when we vacate our emotions, and go on vacations, we re-create. In the recreation, we slowly come back to center and can find the courage to go on. Cruises, short trips or just taking a different way home from work or a day drive will help. Our brains feel better in novel environments and anxiety and anguish make us resist change. Carl Jung said, “What you resist, persists,” so it’s okay to feel the pain, but take it on a holiday. This may be the reason the film, “Death Takes a Holiday” was such a huge success. We need a break from being broken.
  3. Be with friends who ask you over: This a tough one. You will want to say no, but don’t. Go and maybe just maybe you will find a moment, even if it is a brief one, that you can hope and heal again. I did this when my brother passed away 2 years ago. It still hurts, I won’t deny it, but I learned not to talk about his untimely death. I couldn’t because I revered the celebration of others. I did not want to become one of those people my father had to see over the holidays. It doesn’t mean I didn’t feel it, I was doing my best to override it.

Consider Giving More Than Usual

No, the holidays won’t go away. The original meaning of all holidays, no matter what your culture or belief, is to suspend real life and take a break and celebrate.  Perhaps the rhyme I use, SUSPEND and MEND will help.

The holidays are a time to remember the less fortunate, and now you may feel like that is you. It may be, but getting out and helping others, even if you just buy one toy for a charity, it is in getting away from yourself, you may find in the giving, that you get back to center.

You can add your own wishes to heal. Your holidays may never be the same, but getting back into life may transmute the suffering. You may discover the spirit of the holiday season is much deeper and not as dark as you think.

I wish the light of healing would shine in your hearts this holiday and all the holidays. May anyone who has suffered loss take a moment to suspend and mend.



Mary Joye

For the past ten years I have been a private practice Licensed Mental Health Counselor. I'm a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional and a Florida Supreme Court Family Mediator. Grief resilience and trauma resolution is a large part of my practice. I was raised on the beach in Florida. My father was a psychiatrist and I worked in his office in my youth. He wanted me to follow in his footsteps. Instead, I chose to become a theatrical design major instead and graduated from the University of Florida in 1979. My first job out of college, KISS employed me as a make-up and wardrobe assistant for three years. It was quite an experience and a good background to study communications. Later in Nashville, I began songwriting, acting and performing professionally and am a member of BMI, ASCAP and a former member of the Country Music Association, Screen Actors Guild and The American Federation of Musicians. That career grew into a 20-year music ministry. I also wrote ad copy for XM radio, Texaco, The Filmhouse and currently write for two publications in Winter Haven, Florida, where I returned to take care of my ill and now deceased parents. I earned an MA in Counseling from Trevecca Nazarene University in 2000. (Photo by Daniel DeCastro)

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