By Ken DeBarth, PA-C
During the dark days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we will all be bombarded with advertisements, songs and carols, and movies and TV shows about this wondrous time of the year.
We will see images of horses pulling sleighs up to the front of brightly lit mansions bedecked with wreaths and lights. We will see large family groups gathering in big kitchens, happily getting along and smiling together. There will pictures of generations of well adjusted, prosperous families gathered around a dining room table decorated by Martha Stewart, loaded down with more food than any one family could eat at one sitting.
We will see ads showing clean-cut men sipping a beer while watching a football game. There will be examples of beautiful and rich people sipping champagne from crystal flutes. There will banquet tables with stylish people sniffing wine in matching goblets.
There will be songs EVERYWHERE from just after Halloween until Christmas advising us “to have ourselves a merry little Christmas”, to take the sleigh “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house”, and to roast “chestnuts by an open fire.”
But for many people this is not a time of joy in the world. While the assault of sounds and images of what a proper holiday should look like goes on, many people find themselves caught in a different reality.
Not everyone sips fine wines and champagnes during the holidays. Some drink too much. Some act badly after drinking too much. Many suffer and remember the consequences of this during this time of year. In Pennsylvania, where I grew up, all liquor and wine are sold in state owned and operated stores, appropriately named “State Stores”. The busiest single day of the year, the day when more alcohol is sold than any other, is Christmas Eve.
Popular culture tells us that it is a time for family gatherings, that everyone should be happy. But not all families get together or get along. Not all of those who do get together do so happily.
For some there is the painful separation from loved ones by death. Grief is a constant companion of those who have had loved ones die. It can be especially strong during the holidays when the fading memories and the lost expectations are brought to the surface by the barrage of holiday “good cheer”. Mourning is a continuous process and can be intensified by images of family groups in commercials and movies.
The friction between what we are told we should have and the reality of our lives is never greater than the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The pain that this creates leads to sadness, depression, and worse. Ask anyone who has worked in an emergency room—the worst shift of the year is Christmas Eve.
You see there really aren’t any families out there like the ones you see on the TV. Not everyone has big kitchens, happy families, and lots of gifts and food. Some don’t have gifts. Or kitchens. Or families. Or food.
While it is carefully ignored by TV advertisers, script-writers and song writers, for many, this is a sad time. It is a time of loneliness. It is a time to grieve those not present through death or distance. For an awful lot of people, this is not “the hap, hap, happiest time of the year”.
If you find yourself among the many for whom the holiday season is lonely or painful, reach out. When we are in emotional pain, we tend to isolate from others. We tell ourselves that we shouldn’t bother people, we should be strong or that we aren’t worthy of help and support. The best advice is don’t feel your feelings alone. If you are in emotional pain, talk to someone—a clergy person, a trusted friend or relative, or a medical provider. Share your unhappiness and pain. You are not alone.