Yet to find the ever-elusive holiday spirit? Has it not yet taken hold and draped you in a festive glow – a shimmer, even! – and filled you with wonder while listening to Christmas songs on the radio, seeing decorations up in the store, and elbowing through the Target checkout line? Join the club. Sometimes the holidays are not so jolly at all – they're flat-out sad. We're stressed. We're broke. We're lonely. We're preoccupied with the fact that (insert family member of your choice) won't be around this year…or any year for that matter. These are sometimes the realities, while everyone around us seems to be selling a magical fantasy, urging us to be cheerful and merry and other adjectives that make sense for a Hallmark card, but not for you. Additionally, people are unbelievably insensitive. They post upbeat positive pictures and quotes on their Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts with a cluelessness that flat-out ignores any type of human suffering around them. They are triggering and painful and a reminder that not everyone understands what it means to struggle during the holidays (or ever).
In case you’re wondering what happened to my blog, this week I want to take a pause from my usual posts about writing and reading to discuss the difficult and emotionally laden topic of Thanksgiving which happens to be the first holiday in a long slog of misery until we can finally breathe a sigh of relief on January 2nd. For a lot of people, this time of year brings more sadness than cheer – thinking about the kinds of relationships you wish you could have had with family or friends or thinking about loved ones that aren’t there. We shouldn’t ask grieving people or people in emotional pain to plaster on a smile to make the rest of us feel better. Even if it’s the holidays. You don’t have to be happy just because everyone around you looks like a smiling moron (chances are they are covering up something themselves). There is a picture-postcard myth that we all see everywhere we look – that everyone is going to be sitting down at the dining room table with the traditional family dinner. That’s not going to be the case for many families. The reality of Thanksgiving for some Americans is rife with family tension, arguments, sorrow and loss. Others face the stress of hosting, or the dread of being asked questions about their lives that they are not ready to answer.
While you’re all busy seasoning your butterball, let’s not forget the fact that this Thanksgiving some people will sit down to dinner wearing T-shirts that honor a slain loved one. Others will serve turkey and pie to a congregation devastated by gunfire. They will eat at friends’ tables because their own kitchens and homes were charred to ash. For many families — too many, really — across an America battered by wildfires, hurricanes and mass shootings, Thanksgiving is going to hurt…a lot. There will be familiar meals and rituals. And a haunting question will linger heavy in the air: How does one give thanks after losing so much?
Let me tell you this loud and clear. Don’t ever let anyone tell you how you’re supposed to feel. Just because everyone else is “happy” doesn’t mean you have to be. Take the pressure off and let yourself become immersed in your feelings for a little while. Throw a pity party with a time limit. Give yourself 10 minutes, an hour, or a day to feel angry, sad, jealous, or frustrated. It’s not good to suppress your feelings or to try to fake feeling cheerful just because the calendar dictates it. It’s okay to have your feelings and it’s okay to be sad. I want to tell you that you are not alone. I see you and I hear you.
I know that when we suffer pain, loss, trauma, depression, or loneliness we question if we will ever emerge from its paralysis. We think we won’t survive and we doubt we can ever feel happy again. Even poor Charlie Brown had doubts, “I think I’m losing control of the whole world,” he once sighed. Giving thanks seems counterintuitive, too, when we only feel like crying. But, like every other day, it will pass and you will go on. You will go on because you are strong. You will go on because you are a fighter and a survivor.
So, today and everyday between now and January be kind to yourself. Show yourself compassion and take care of your spirit. Make yourself a priority and look for the little things that make each day worth living. Take time to focus on the things you are grateful for. For example, the love of a special person in your life, your health, your home, a beloved pet, or the beauty of a sunset. I can’t promise it’s going to be easy or that it will take all the pain away because I know that sometimes no amount of positivity in the world can heal certain wounds but, it will be worth it. To everyone out there hurting, grieving, or alone this holiday season I wish you peace and comfort. And, to a world ravaged by famine, poverty, hate, disasters, and disease I wish it healing. Here’s to all of us getting through this season in one piece.