What if I don’t feel “up to” doing Christmas (Hanukah, Thanksgiving, New Year’s, etc.) this year? This is a common question that I get around the holidays. Holidays can be stressful under the best of circumstances, when a person is grieving it can be hard to get out of bed. There are numerous reasons that the holidays can be difficult for the griever. First, many people report that they fear that it will be too hard going to a celebration without their loved one. Second, sometimes the death of a key family member (especially the mother) will change the holiday all together. If she used to host it, now it is up to someone else to carry the mantle. Once somebody volunteers a lot of questions arise about whether to continue past traditions or to create new ones. Finally, in some circumstances, people are left alone for the holidays after the death of their loved ones. The people who they normally would have celebrated with have died, and now they are alone.
Firstly, I think that if someone really does not want to celebrate the holidays they should not feel pressured into it. Some people are fine by themselves for the holidays; in fact, in some cases, they prefer it. For this group of people it would be wrong for them to go to a holiday celebration. When people do things they do not want to do negative consequences can occur. At the very least, they resent being pressured into doing something they do not want to do, at worst they become overloaded emotionally, get upset at the event, and get labeled as “unstable” or worse (when in all likelihood what they are experiencing is a “normal” grief response), by the partygoers.
When the question of whether or not to continue family traditions arises after the death of a “key” family member, families can become divided. After the death of our mother, my brother and I decided to mostly keep our Christmas traditions as a tribute to her although we did tweak them a little to fit our needs and desires. In short, we decided to keep what we enjoyed about Christmas while growing up. Anything that was no longer working for us we abandoned. For some families creating new traditions is a way of moving on after the death of a close family member. There is no right or wrong, what is most important is that everyone feels comfortable with the decisions that are made about how to celebrate the holiday.
What if, due to the death of a family member (or for any other reason), you suddenly find yourself alone for the holidays? Well, if you are comfortable being alone there is no issue. I personally feel that too much is made out of the need for togetherness because it is a holiday. For me, a holiday is whenever I see friends or family who I love. It does not really matter whether it is December 25th or the middle of the summer. Of course, this viewpoint probably arises from having grown up in a small family that I was separated from on some of the holidays (for varying reasons) over the years.
If the person really does not want to be alone there are a number of options. First, he or she could call up friends and ask if he or she could join the celebration. Often, this works, most people have a “the more the merrier” attitude towards the holidays. If this does not work (or for some reason is not desirable), getting out of town for a few days (either with an organized group or alone) is often fun or is at the very least a distraction. Some people do not feel compelled to leave town but instead create a plan to have fun by going to museums, the movies, or a spa to name a few options. Another possibility is to do some volunteer work such as serving food in a soup kitchen. Giving back to others tends to make people feel fulfilled. It also reminds people to be grateful for what they have. If none of these things sound interesting, stimulating, life-giving, then I would advise the person who is dreading being alone on a holiday, to do whatever gets you through the night. This will be different for each person. It might mean catching up on sleep, watching videos, phoning people in different parts of the country to wish them a happy holiday, or creating a work of art. Just remember that it is just one day, really a day like any other, and tomorrow it will be over.