I’ve been hoping that you wouldn’t notice my lack of posts recently. I wanted to avoid having to explain. Maybe instead share an informational post about various holidays that happen this time of year. But I’m told you expect more from me. You prefer my posts when I share me and not just knowledge. So, finally, here goes:
It’s December. The holiday season. And I’m not feeling the expected good cheer.
Tis the season of endless holiday greetings. I heard my first Merry Christmas on the first day of this month. Honestly, that bugs me. But instead of my rant about Salvation Army bell ringers, I’ll be real with you:
This time of year is tough for me.
I can’t say why exactly. But I know I’m not alone. There are lots of us who find December to be annoying, depressing, or just generally hard.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) profoundly affects an estimated 10 million Americans. Another 10-20% experience mild episodes.[i] That’s a whole lot of folks feeling less than optimal this month.
SAD always affected me when I lived in Chicago and San Francisco, so I know what that is. I know how that feels. What I’m feeling isn’t that.
Actually, the weather in Tulsa has been gorgeous – in the 70s last week and with consistently sunny blue skies. Of course, this is not normal: climate change is real. Still, I’m grateful. I hate being cold.
So what’s the problem? Honestly, it’s the holidays. It’s December.
Did you know that more people die on December 25th than on any other day of the year[ii] ? The next highest death rates are on December 26th and New Year’s Day. And 93% of these are heart-related deaths. There’s even a moniker for this phenomenon: “Merry Christmas Coronary.” Interestingly, this spike in deaths occurs in all age groups except one: children. These aren’t homicides or suicides. These are heart-related deaths. The conclusion of one study actually states: “the Christmas/New Year’s holidays are a risk factor for cardiac and noncardiac mortality.”
The holidays are the problem. The holidays are a risk factor for death. Just let that sink in. Many hearts break at this time of year.
My dear friend, Renae, lost her husband in February. They were married for more than 40 years and his death was sudden and unexpected. Last week we were discussing how annoying the holiday season can be when she said, “It’s the expectation. The expectation of others that you will be happy.” With every holiday greeting, the expectation is there: you must be happy. Happy happy joy joy merry merry be of good cheer.
Post note: This week Renae’s house flooded. I mean flooded. A pipe burst. Floors have already been pulled up. Christmas plans for her family gathering are canceled. Instead, she’ll be in a hotel or Airbnb until sometime in January.
If you read my posts regularly, you might remember that my father died on Christmas Day. Not heart-related; he died from AIDS. This was thirty-one years ago, still, I never know how that will affect me. Some years I’m fine. But there are many years when sometime around the Solstice grief will show up like an unexpected relative and I can’t ignore it. My plans are upended. Even with lights and decorations and ritual, the presence is there, demanding my attention. Then, all I can do is simply sit with it: be present to its company.
When I owned a home, I had eight tubs of holiday decorations. I would string garlands above every archway, hang ornaments from the ceilings and across the windows on ribbons. I’d battle branches and the cold as I twisted lights on my front-yard trees and risked a wobbly ladder as I twined lights around my house eaves and porch. I’d unpack and display decades of collected holiday trinkets, transforming every room. I also had lots and lots of candles and, of course, a Christmas tree.
And even then, as beautiful as all this was, as happy or as normal as I might feel, grief would often surprise me.
Now I have only one red Rubbermaid tub and this is the first time in three years that I have opened it. I made a night of hanging the ornaments with a good friend, telling stories and drinking cocktails. I thought it would help to have these decorations out and about, but it hasn’t. This month is still tough. Every day I think: only a few more weeks to endure, hang in there, it will be January soon enough.
Sometimes, no amount of holiday lights, carols, and cookies can chase away this mood. It’s not gloom or grief or depression, more like a dullness beneath my skin.
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Perhaps you, reading this, appreciate the acknowledgment of what you too have been unable to admit out loud. December is a hard month to get through.
My wish for you this season is as it always is: May it be peaceful and calm. And may the return of the light bring you hope and joy.
Blessings, my friends. May December be all you need it to be. Free of expectations. Heart-healing, reflective, and nurturing.