Tracey McMillian

It should be the happiest time of the year. But for a lot of people, holidays are when they feel their worst.

Maybe youíve recently lost a loved one, a holiday without them can be like opening up a painful wound all over again. Holidays, which are traditional times to gather with family and friends, can be a painful reminder of someone who isnít with you anymore. I lost my mother five days after Christmas in 2003. We were fortunate enough to have enjoyed that last Christmas with her at home. Each Christmas since has been different from the others, but one thing remains the same. I miss her so much and canít get used to not being with her on Christmas Day.

Maybe you have recently gone through a divorce. There are so many permutations in families these days, itís got to get a bit confusing. For separated families, a poignant question, which parent (or grandparents) will we be with for Christmas? I vividly remember my eight-year-old son lament, ďWhy canít we just be one family again?Ē

Another common family issue is when a holiday gathering turns into a competitive arena for sibling rivalry, along with a desire for long-standing recognition and approval.

Other issues that cause Christmas to be dreaded are overeating, crowded stores, time constraints, office parties, money problems, etc.

Think about the meaning behind the day and celebrate it in a reflective manner. Get involved with a community project, find a way to celebrate with others less fortunate, include somebody who is alone at Christmas.

Individuals who are completely on their own with no partnerships, families or friends experience a heightened sense of isolation at Christmas. Encourage them to get involved in some kind of activity around Christmas.

Because Christmas is such an emotional peak in the year, people who have suffered loss will experience the anniversary reaction. Rather than avoiding, it is best to acknowledge this loss and plan ways to express grief. Some people may express their grief through prayer or worship, some through meditation and reflection, others by going through old photos, a visit to the cemetery or by talking to a close friend or relative. There is tremendous sadness in loss, but also pleasure in the memories of a loved one. I have so many treasured Christmas memories of my mother. Much strength can be gained by sharing grief with others through some sort of ritual. I get a lot of satisfaction from viewing Christmas through my childrenís eyes.

It is important for families who are juggling Christmas between more than one household to be organized and plan well ahead. Work things out so there are no surprises.

Be careful not to use Christmas as a battleground for unresolved family conflicts. Christmas is not a time to work things through, or an opportunity to stake claims. It is a time to minimize conflict and to make compromises. When emotions are high at Christmas, you will not be successful in working things through. You can work things out in the long run when emotions are not so high.

Someone long ago said, ďLove is not love until you give it away.Ē Perhaps, you will not notice your own loneliness as much if you are visiting someone else who is lonely. You donít have to stay long. You donít even have to say much or take a gift. It is just the fact that you stopped in to say hello. You were thinking of them and your presence is enough. Love is communicated by being there. And remember you canít control everybody and everything in your life. Merry Christmas!

Tracey McMillian works in editorial design at the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at 254-968-2379, ext. 239.