Getting through ‘Family Holidays’

December 2018

Image: iStock

The other month I went with a friend to see a movie about a father dealing with his drug-addicted son. Knowing this should have prepared me for a depressing storyline, and yet, toward the end of the film, I was fighting back tears. To keep from crying, I told myself to think of something to make me happy.

It was a big fail.

Every person or pet I conjured made me want to weep more. It also reminds me of the difficult season ahead. At some point we lose loved ones we’re closest to or must confront a divorce, desertion or deployment we didn’t see coming. As a result, “family holidays” such as Thanksgiving can be difficult. Gratitude and gifting are challenging when you’re still consumed with grief.

Some people dodge the pain by throwing themselves into work; others cannot cope as well on the job and fall further behind. Home life is not always the happy place it once was. So how do you stay positive and productive for the next six to eight weeks?

Keep a journal

I’m ready for the eye rolls, but as a writer I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend keeping a gratitude journal in which you track all of the good surrounding you while you’re lost in a haze of hurt. It isn’t just me pushing so-called gratitude lists. A UC Davis researcher years ago asked people to keep a journal listing five things they are grateful for each week. Within two months, people who kept the journal reported being more optimistic and happier.

Do something for someone else

Volunteerism shoots up this time of year for a good reason. One way to boost your own spirits is to do something to help others. Many people make late-year donations to a favorite charity, which is great too. But physically throwing yourself into a philanthropic project brings you closer to the cause and proves a much more impactful memory.

Conduct random acts of kindness

Do something for a stranger that isn’t anticipated. And if you don’t anticipate anything back, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when they thank you. Others involved (like a cashier or coach) will think better of you too. That stroke to the ego is worth whatever time, effort or financial contribution was involved. (And be sure to reference it in that gratitude journal!)

Spread the love

More than putting thoughts to paper (or keyboard), let someone know in a card or a call how much they mean to you. These messages can be brief. They also must be sincere to work as intended. It could be a friend who helped you through a rough patch or a family member you are now ready to forgive. By the way, forgiving doesn’t mean you are forgetting; it means you no longer are going to expend any more energy reliving a past that cannot be changed. Entire nations do it following atrocities; you can too for whatever slight set off a longtime rift.

Will these work for each of you reading this? Who knows. But if what you’ve done is falling short on results, consider these actions–at least as long as we have all that holiday marketing to remind us of what we no longer have.

Thank you for reading this,

Anne Saita

A similar version of this appeared in the November e-newsletter Reword.