This will be my second “post-cancer-diagnosis holiday season.” Recently when I looked at family photos from the Christmas of two years ago, before my diagnosis, I searched and searched for some kind of clue in the photos that said you have cancer. Of course there were none. I looked the same, sitting there posed in front of the tree smiling away, totally unaware about what was soon to
That was the last Christmas before “the shit hit the fan” to put it bluntly, for me personally, but it was four years ago this holiday season when we received the devastating news about my mother’s cancer prognosis. In fact, we received this news on Christmas Eve no less, as my family and I were preparing to kick back, open a few gifts and enjoy the evening in the best way we could, considering my mother’s recent rapid decline. I literally do have a cancer/gift connection and it is not a positive one. Hence, another reason I cannot entertain the idea of calling cancer a gift.
Instead, I received a phone call from my brother. He relayed the news we knew was coming; my mother’s cancer was spreading and it was spreading rapidly, as if it was in some sort of race to close out the year and our hope for her improvement simultaneously.
When I hung up the phone, I was in tears, but I carried on. That’s what mother’s do. That’s what my mother wanted, especially on Christmas Eve. I also found myself asking, who makes doctor appointments on Christmas Eve? Who does that? Well, I guess my family did. In addition, I felt misplaced resentment for a few moments toward my brother for delivering such news on Christmas Eve. Who on earth does that?
But of course, I wanted him to call me. I would have been way more upset if he had chosen to not tell me the news right away. Like they say, you can’t blame the messenger…
So the point of this post is that even during the holiday season, bad things happen. Of course we all know this. We all listen to news, read newspapers or just hear things. Sometimes the bad things happen in your own family and sometimes they even happen to you.
For many people the holiday season is especially difficult if they have lost a loved one recently, or even if it hasn’t been recently. Holidays, or any special (or not so special) day can trigger moments of unexpected and intense grief. These feelings can really catch you by surprise.
In addition, we often have unrealistic expectations for the holidays. We (especially we women) work diligently to shop for the perfect gifts, bake the perfect goodies, display the perfect décor, present a
perfectly reasonably clean house and work tirelessly attempting to make everyone else perfectly happy; all this while often also trying to maintain a rigorous work schedule as well as our own “perfectly lovely” dispositions. It’s a full plate, impossible under even the best of circumstances!
When you add grief, a cancer diagnosis, cancer treatment or any stressful component into the holiday mix, it’s no wonder the holidays can at times be quite difficult to manage.
And this brings me to my main message for this post:
Whatever you do this holiday season, it will be enough.
Perfection is over-rated anyway. Pick and choose things that matter most to you and just do those. Ask for help. Cut down the number of items on all your lists. Enjoy the simple things. (Here’s a link for a few more specific suggestions: Twelve Tips for Getting Through the Holidays After Loss)
And perhaps most importantly, if you’re grieving, it’s alright to feel the sadness. It’s alright to grieve during the holidays too. Every moment does not have to be cheery and festive and maybe even shouldn’t be.
Allow yourself the freedom to experience all your feelings whatever they are.
Remember your lost loved one(s). Miss them. Talk about them. Feel their presence, even if it makes you sad. Sometimes sadness is entirely appropriate.
And if it’s cancer/cancer treatment you’re dealing with, or some other significant anger-causing stress, go ahead and acknowledge that anger; admit how you’re really feeling. This doesn’t mean give in, give up or act out inappropriately.
No, it simply means acknowledging your true feelings whatever they are; even during the holidays.
Perhaps then you will be able to let in the joy as well.
How do you remember your loved ones who’ve died?
Do you find the holidays to be extra stressful or extra difficult?