“I SHOULD be merry!”

Recently one of my mental health clients put on a fake smile and said “I SHOULD be merry, it’s Christmas time!”  When I reassured him everybody does not feel super happy on holidays at least some of the time, he let out a sigh.  He then shared how his wife’s medical problems had become worse the last few months.  When asked about any fears he might have, he just looked sad almost tearful and changed the subject.  I could guess his fear as the couple had been married several years and seemed to still love each other very much.

I have had my own bitter sweet memory of Christmas as my fiancé died on Christmas eve, albeit many years ago.  For several years after his death I would tear up, feel sad suddenly for no apparent reason on Christmas eve, but when I closed my eyes I could imagine his deep blue eyes, red beard and large teddy bear body almost as if I had just seen him the day before!  Losing a loved one or fearing one could die soon around the holidays is especially hard for many people, and the vivid memory of a major loss can linger for many holiday seasons to come.


1.  First acknowledge and honor your feelings.  Faking it is not only stressful but may keep you from getting support from others who might be more than willing to be there for you.

2.  If decorating just makes you more sad, you may just want to go out looking at the lights in your town when you feel up to it, rather than having a possible constant reminder of happier times with a loved one, especially if some decorations really remind you of the person.

3.  Make time to be with friends/family as being alone on the holidays, even when you have not experienced a recent loss usually makes people feel more sad and lonely.

4.  Think about volunteering. For example I often deliver meals on wheels Christmas morning to shut ins then have dinner with friends since my family lives mainly in the Chicago land area.

5.  Consider possibly attending a religious service.  I especially like the Catholic children’s mass on Christmas eve even though I belong to another church, to help remind me of the true meaning of Christmas.  (This season also is around the same time as other religious holidays, so if you happen to follow another faith, etc.  going to your place of worship might be uplifting for you also).

We are just human beings after all.  Honoring our feelings, even when they don’t seem to match a “happy” holiday can help the holiday be much less stressful, as well as possibly trying some of the suggestions above.  It might also relieve the sadness some, shared one of my clients, to remember the holiday will be over soon, and remind yourself that you can make it through a brief tough time.

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