For most folks, the holidays are a happy time when families get together and special memories are made. We honor cherished traditions and build new ones.

Like the familiar carol says, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

But for some, the holiday season is anything but happy. In fact, the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day can be very difficult.

Four friends of mine lost a parent this year, and another lost her sister to cancer. Other loves ones are experiencing illness or loss of jobs. Their circumstances and struggles are as individual as they are, but they are all finding the holidays to be a challenge.

Thanksgiving, they said, just wasn’t the same. And, frankly, they would rather just skip Christmas all together.

“We’re having to redefine what the holidays mean,” said the friend who lost her sister. “We can’t pretend it will ever be the way it was.”

A friend whose mother passed away this summer is taking a different approach to Christmas season.

“We’re keeping all our rituals because a change would just make the absence even more noticeable,” she said.

Yet another close friend who lost her mother-in-law said she can’t shake the shadow of sadness.

I understand. As I’ve written before, my dad died unexpectedly in December, 2014.

I don’t recall a lot about Christmas that year except stumbling around the house in disbelief and sorting the mail into two piles: Christmas cards and sympathy cards.

A moment which sticks out in my mind is going to Meijer’s with my husband on a last-minute holiday errand. I held his hand and followed him through the parking lot because I wasn’t sure I could face going into the store.

“I feel broken,” I said.

“Definitely bruised,” he offered, “but not broken.”

It was a relief when January rolled around and the routines of work and school started again.

We all experience suffering, whether it is the loss of loved one, a relationship or even a material possession. It doesn’t matter who (or what) it is when the sense of separation is profound. Years later, even when we think are mostly healed, holidays can reopen the wound.

Just last week, I was shopping with my husband for flameless candles (can’t have too many as far as I’m concerned) when a certain Christmas carol came over the speakers. It triggered a melancholy in me and I burst into tears. It only lasted a minute, but there it was.

My husband, hoping to help the moment pass, said, “Don’t be sad, honey. I know they’re out of the tapers, but maybe we can find them online.”

(I bought the pillars instead.)

Silliness aside, here’s what I have learned about grief and sadness: A balm to soothe our hurts, large or small, is spending time with people we cherish. Connecting with people we care about recharges us and can bring moments of relief — even happiness!

I have a wonderful friend who is wise, funny, optimistic and always supportive. Her name is Harriet and she is in her 90s. I think of her all the time, yet I let too much time pass between visits.

Susan, I thought, your priorities are getting mixed up. So, I picked up the phone and called. As soon as I heard Harriet’s voice and her laugh, I instantly smiled. Talking with her was the highlight of my day. We made a lunch date and invited another friend to join us.

For those who are grieving, the idea of being with others right now may seem impossible. But sharing an unexpected laugh or smile with a friend may shine a little light to help the healing begin. Likewise, for those of us who have not suffered a recent loss, it is a wonderful act of kindness to reach out to friends in need and let them know we care.

I wish all of you, dear readers, moments of peace this holiday season.

Contact Susan Hazlett at susanrhazlett@yahoo.com or write to her in care of The Pantagraph, 301 W. Washington St., Bloomington, IL 61702-2907.


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