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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante  

The holiday season:

a time of mixed emotions

by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante 

The snow has finally arrived! For Winnipeg, the year 2016 set a record as being the latest measurable snowfall on record. On November 22nd, the city woke up to its first blanket of snow on the ground. Throughout that day, one of the most common remarks that I heard was, “Well it finally feels like the holidays!”

But what does it really mean to have that special Christmas “feeling?” For some, it is a happy and restful time to get together with family and friends and have a feast, give presents, and take some time off from work. Some people enjoy the busyness of planning get-togethers, meals and shopping. Others look forward to attending religious events and teaching their children what this time of year is really about.

But what some of us don’t realize is that it can also mean a sad, frustrating and painful time. For those that have lost a loved one, Christmas is a time of the year that can be difficult. Memories of past holiday seasons come back and we miss their presence. We miss their laughs, their hugs, the food they used to cook, and the advice that they used to give. We even miss how they used to annoy us or say the wrong things or the messes that they would make.

People who are going to have their first Christmas without their loved one this year are preparing for the emotional struggle. Some thoughts they might have are, “How am I going to get through the holidays?” “I don’t want to have fun” or “I can’t do this without them.” Maybe they are worried about not having the energy, bursting into tears in front of people, or that having a good time would be disrespectful.

As we approach the holiday season, it might be helpful to think about:

1. Honouring your loved one in a new way

For example, you could buy a new ornament to hang on the tree, put up a new photograph, read a meaningful poem, book or bible passage, or play a special song. Some people find that posting a picture and message on social media helps. Address your loss, then leave it and move forward with whichever events you want to participate in.

2. Ask for help

If you must be part of the holiday planning, it is perfectly fine to delegate tasks. Events can be divided up into categories (e.g. invitations, securing the location, appetizers, main dishes, desserts, beverages, utensils/napkins/cups, entertainment) and different people can be in charge of different things. You can also ask a family member to take care of your gift shopping or wrapping the presents.

3. Think about changing tradition

Now is an opportunity to change family tradition if it feels right. Maybe there was a part of the holiday celebrations that you did not enjoy, for example, waking up at 5:00 a.m. to have a special breakfast on the table, or attending midnight church celebrations. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s okay to change things. For instance, go out for brunch or attend church at a different time this year.

4. Be selective. Pick some of your favourite things to do and let the rest go

Make a list of all the things that you have to do. Rank them from the most to the least meaningful for you. Make a goal to get the top three done. If you don’t get to the rest of the list, give yourself permission to leave them undone. After all, the season will continue and can still feel special, even if you do not put up your Christmas tree or do any baking.

5. Build in recovery time

Trust that your body will tell you when you’ve had enough. Know ahead of time that you might be the first guest to leave and that it’s okay. Make sure you have quiet time before the event, and that the day following will probably be more of the same.

Finally, keep in mind that Christmas is not about going to big parties, eating good food, and giving and receiving presents. It is a time of reflection and consideration of what is most important in life. Honouring your loved one and being kind to yourself certainly fits into that spirit of thinking.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.