For some people, the colorful lights decorating many homes and offices, and illuminating public street lamps and town squares do not brighten their days and nights.  As they have experienced the darkness of a painful loss during the past year, this holiday season does not bring good cheer to their sorrowing hearts.

Every day can be overshadowed by emotional storm clouds for those who are bereaved.  Even more so at the holidays, missing someone is deeply felt.  Often times the wound of loneliness remains open and the person continues to mourn.  The festive spirit all around us may not lighten the heaviness of their grief.  In fact, the calendar may be a stark reminder of the suffering they feel in contrast to the annual celebrations during this month. 

The end of one year and the beginning of another is a good time to take stock of our lives.  Even if we are encouraged to count our blessings, for those of us who endure the harsh challenges of a recent death, or one of more distant years, it is so very difficult to be joyful when we may more likely want to shed tears.

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Many mourners have the sense of being especially alone with their feelings in December.  After all, who can really understand another person’s suffering, particularly at the holidays when everybody’s spirits are high?  Most people mean well, but they go on with their happiness as you may not be ready to be jolly.  How, therefore, can you find your place among others who do not share your place?

What if you just don’t feel like celebrating?  When family and friends or neighbors and colleagues invite you to a party at their home or church/synagogue or office, do you have to attend?  No!  You decide!!

You can decline, graciously, by saying “I’m not up to coming, but I greatly appreciate the invitation.”  No apology or explanation is necessary.  People who truly care about you will accept your regrets.  Even if they push, you need not worry about hurting their feelings.  You are the mourner, and your feelings come first.  Never mind their encouraging advice, “You’ll be happier with other people around you rather than staying by yourself at home!”   You deserve to be the judge of what makes you happy.

Of course, you may choose to attend and see how it goes.  If you feel comfortable mingling, fine, it may serve as a healthy distraction and social opportunity.  When you believe it’s time to leave, then say goodbye and depart.  No need to feel guilty or self-conscious.  It’s wonderful that you came at all.     

If you find all the festive hoopla overwhelming, try not to judge yourself as a “Scrooge” but rather as someone experiencing the grieving process which requires time, patience and healing.  Like a fractured limb that needs rehabilitation, so too, a broken heart must be nurtured back with loving care through memory, support, and healthy mourning.

Perhaps hosting other people in your residence may comfort you in the shelter of your own home, surrounded by uplifting associations with your departed loved one.  Prepare foods that you enjoyed smelling and tasting together.  Display photos of memorable, shared occasions that bring fond recollections.  Show old movies or videos that bring the person back to life.  Relate stories that evoke laughter and smiles, together with tears to your face.  It is therapeutic to talk about the deceased.  Memory is truly the ultimate immortality for our family and friends that each of us possesses in our hearts and minds.

So if it seems that everybody is upbeat on TV and radio, in the newspapers and magazines, with all the bright decorations and festive displays, spreading the message of “world peace” and “good will to all” is not what you want to see and hear, rather than close your eyes and shut out the noise, try to embrace your loss and accept your pain.  You have every right to say, “I can’t stand the holiday cheer!  I don’t feel happy!!”  Though others may not be as understanding, give yourself the necessary gift of self-care.

The absence of a loved one is always present wherever we are and throughout the year.  This season, however, can be most difficult to endure.  Hopefully the New Year will enable each of us to renew life.

Dr. Ron Kaplan is a psychotherapist and pastoral counselor with offices in New Providence and Warren. He also visits people in their home or hospital for therapy. For more information call 973-650-5256 or ronaldwkaplan@gmail.com.