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Putting Meaning to the Holidays When Your Family Changes Over Time

It is that time of year again. The holidays. People often think that they should be a happy time of year, what with the music and the lights and the gatherings. But, actually, they can be a difficult time of the year for many people, and I don’t just mean people who have a mental health disorder.  

As we get older, people we know and love pass away. If these were people with whom we celebrated the holidays then the holidays remind us that they are no longer with us so the holidays are a time when we grieve our losses. This also sometimes means that we are no longer able to follow our traditional way of celebrating the holidays, which leaves us at a loss of how to celebrate them this year. One thing we did in our family, as our family changed over the years, was to purposefully change how we celebrated the holidays. We created new traditions. 

Sometimes we are away from our friends and family during the holidays. And, while people are only a phone call away, phone calls are not the most satisfying of conversations. This Christmas my youngest daughter who lives next door to me will leave after lunch to go visit her oldest sister in another state. I will be alone for most of the day. What will I do? Christmas Eve I will go to a Christmas Eve service at my church and get lots of hugs. On Christmas, I’ll see my youngest daughter in the morning and hopefully get to eat lunch with her, her fiancé and his daughter. Then I will call my other daughters in the afternoon to see how their day is going. I plan to go out for Christmas dinner with some friends and come home, watch a movie and go to bed early. It will not be what I want most for Christmas, but I will be able to enjoy the day. 

I wish I had more money so I could buy better presents. My resources have been limited the last few years because I have not been working so I haven’t been able to buy presents like I would like to be able to buy.  I remind myself that my loved ones do not need presents to know that I love them and care about them. I get them something small and remember that Christmas is about more than giving gifts. 

I happen to be a Christian so I will be celebrating Christmas. The thing I began doing several years ago which helps me get through the holiday is focus on the blessings I have in my life and the wonder of God coming to live among us.  One year when my children were all out of town, I visited people in a mental health respite facility. I’ll have to think about what I can do this year to help someone else this holiday. I wonder what I will do. It will help me remember and be thankful for the many ways I am blessed. 

I think I am looking forward to this holiday now that I have thought about it a little and reminded myself of what I need to do. What will you be doing for your special holiday? I hope it is something that will give you joy and meaning. 

Rev. Mary Alice Do, who has bipolar disorder, is a retired Disciples of Christ minister and has worked 16 years in the mental health community providing recovery information and advocacy. Read the rest of her posts for IBPF here, or watch her webinar on How Churches Can Promote Recovery. She also has a blog of her life story called Journey Towards Wellness. 

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