For most of us, this is a season of joy and hope, tradition and sentiment, celebration and sharing. But for those who have suffered an emotional loss through death or divorce, this season is often filled with loneliness and pain.
"I don't think I can live through this," whispered a dear friend whose only child was killed in the crash of a small plane on Thanksgiving night.
"Kevin and I went to such great lengths to make Christmas special for both of us, maybe because his father and I divorced when he was little and we only had each other.
"He'd turn into a little kid -- up at 6 in the morning like any other 5-year-old," she added, tears streaming down her face. "He was a good son. A good man. I don't know how I'm going to get through Christmas ever again -- or the rest of my life --without him."
If you are trying to survive the death of a loved one or a divorce through this holiday season, it's a good idea to follow the advice of the experts:
Give yourself permission to talk about your feelings, talk about your loss, they advise. Reach out and share your pain and grief with people you can trust not to interrupt, judge, censure, analyze or label anything you say.
Carolyn has long been aware that sometimes the best "families" are the ones we create for ourselves, as well; this will help her to survive this first crushing Christmas.
If you have a "family" of close supportive friends, now is the time to call on them. (Would you mind if a friend in your circumstances called on you?) And if you don't have a
support group of your own, you still need not feel lonely and isolated during this holiday season.
Your local mental health center, church or synagogue, YWCA, hospital, friends, neighbors, co-workers, community college and the ads in this newspaper can steer you toward organizations, counseling groups and support groups for people who've experienced an emotional loss like yours.
Don't question or deny any of your feelings, and don't expect them to be consistent, either. While there are predictable stages in our grieving after a death, divorce or other separation from a loved one (shock, denial, bargaining, anger, grief, acceptance and healing), we do not proceed from one to the other in an orderly fashion.
What's important to remember through this holiday season -- and always -- is that your feelings aren't good or bad, sane or crazy, appropriate or inappropriate, valid or invalid. They simply are.
Do what you have to do -- at work and at home -- but don't force yourself to go anywhere or do anything else that doesn't feel good to you -- even if well-meaning friends and holiday traditions dictate that you "should."
You will smile again one day, and sing carols, and wish people a happy Christmas or Hanukkah. You will. You'll realize (with some surprise) that while the pain of your loss never disappears completely, it has at least become bearable.
In the meantime, give yourself permission to grieve your way during this most difficult season. Only you know how you feel and what you need, after all, in this -- and every -- season of your life.
Questions and comments for Niki Scott should be addressed Working Woman, Features Department, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.