This post is a part of Nicole Carman’s mental health-related holiday post series, “Taking Care of your Mental Health during the Holiday Season.” It was written and contributed to this post series by Kyra of A Book-Bound Girl, who is a book blogger I have gotten to know on Twitter.
To see the post line-up for the previous and remaining posts in this series, please visit this page on Nicole’s blog, Navigating Darkness. If you enjoy this post, please comment and consider sharing it on social media!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Isn’t it?
Not always, and not for everyone.
For some of us, Christmas presents a whole new collection of mental health concerns – be they anxiety, depression, SAD, or grief.
I asked that my blog be posted today for a reason. Today was both of my grandmothers’ birthdays. This year marks the 9th Christmas we’ve spent without them both – they died within 3 weeks of each other the year I turned 15. That was a strange Christmas; we always stayed at my Mum’s parents over the holiday and all our traditions were intricately linked to that place, but that year none of us could face Christmas without my grandmother – she had always been such a focal point of the season; making Christmas dinner, baking mince pies, wrapping presents, full of joy at our happiness – so we spent it at our house instead. A new tradition. It didn’t last long. The following Christmas we were back at their house. But that first Christmas there was a tinge of sadness over the holiday, a remembrance of the people who were no longer there to share the season with us.
Life continues despite grief. In the years since they passed away I’ve moved to another country; my fiancé and I are making our own traditions which include both of our families, but every second year we still go back to my grandparents’ and spend Christmas there as I did when I was a child.
Until this year.
This summer both of my grandfathers passed away. This Christmas will be the first I have ever spent without a single grandparent; the first Christmas my Mum has ever spent without her parents. It’s going to be hard – so, so hard – for all of us to smile, and laugh, and make new traditions this year, when every part of the day will remind us of what we’ve lost. When the wound is so recent, when the pain is so fresh, it can seem impossible to remember the people you love with anything but grief.
So what do we do?
How do we deal with grief when the whole world around us is determined we should be happy because it’s *Christmas*?
As with everything to do with mental health, it is intensely personal.
For me, we have rearranged our Christmas to spend the day with my parents instead of with my fiance’s family – even though it’s their year. If we didn’t go, it would just be my Mum, Dad, and sister for Christmas, and to someone whose holidays have always been full of people, I couldn’t bear the thought of not being there to help lighten the load. I will make mince pies, and help my mum make Christmas dinner, and we will all try and remember Christmases past without crying, because our grief is still raw; it has not yet mellowed into that gentle sadness where you can look back on memories of the person and smile, as long as you don’t poke the wound too hard. Luckily, my partner’s family understand, and we will simply have a second Christmas up here with them and our nieces and nephews when we get back.
For my parents, a new start. They’re selling their house, and my grandparents’, and moving much closer to me next year. This is the last Christmas they plan to spend in my childhood home; they’re ready for a new start in a new place that they’ve chosen for themselves, rather than a place dictated by their jobs.
For others, avoidance. I firstly want to state that this is not always a bad thing – some issues need to be tackled head on, but some are simply too painful to deal with immediately. If you know something is going to be too much to deal with, there is no shame in putting it off until you are more able to cope with it. For example, a friend of mine lost her Mum this year, and instead of staying home in an empty house and facing Christmas without her, she’s choosing to take a holiday with some friends to allow herself the space to grieve. She knows that this year, so close to her mother’s passing, she simply could not cope with putting on a brave face and pretending to be okay. She is not okay. Not yet.
It’s okay to not be okay.
This year I will be sad at Christmas. I will remember those I have lost who were here last year; I will remember the last Christmas I ever got to spend with them, and I will have to hold back tears.
But this year, I will also be happy at Christmas, because even though some things will be hard, and will bring painful memories, I am still lucky enough to have my friends and family around me, and things to look forward to.
There are big things: My best friend is due to have her first baby next week; this is the last Christmas before we get married; hopefully by next year we will be able to spend Christmas day with both of our families, rather than having to see one after the fact.
And there are also little things: I love seeing Christmas lights twinkling everywhere I go; our Christmas tree is covered in an assortment of geeky ornaments and memories; we got a wreath for our living room door which smells of spiced orange and makes me smile every time I walk into the room; I will bake mince pies – and probably burn my mouth on them, because I am always too impatient to wait for that first taste.
I cherish those happy things – both big and small – because they are what makes me smile when I feel like hiding under my duvet until the warmth of Summer returns.
For me, the best thing to do is focus on the positives, while still acknowledging the sadness that is inevitable. There is no point in pretending I will be completely happy this year; there is no advantage to pretending I am not still grieving; my family are grieving too, and the best way we can weather this holiday is together. Will there be tears? Maybe. But there will also be laughter, and joy, and the happiness of seeing friends and loved ones who live far away.
This year, that will have to be enough. This year we may smile through our tears, but we will find reasons to smile.
Perhaps next year we will be able to face the holiday with only joy in our hearts.