May 30, 2024
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Feeling Down During the Holidays

People often identify Chanukah as their favorite holiday of the year because it’s festive and fun. It is a holiday enjoyed by friends and family that is made even more special by delicious food, dreidel games and getting cozy with people you love during the cold winter months. It is the “Festival of Lights” for us, but for people grieving the loss of loved one, it can often be among the hardest holidays. In my work as a therapist, I have noticed significantly more reports of depression and anxiety among people who have lost family members as the holiday season approaches. Even those whose relatives died many years ago may struggle during this time of year. Of course, each holiday without a loved one brings back memories of times when they were here, and it seems that the happier the holiday, the greater is the grief we might feel for their absence. It makes sense to have these feelings, but for some people it becomes overwhelming to the point that they actually give up the joy of the holidays. When such grief gets in the way of daily living, and of enjoying that which we are meant to celebrate, some interventions may be helpful.

The Harvard Medical School published an article written by Dr. Anthony Komaroff in which he quotes a colleague, Dr. Michael Miller, who recommends some ways to help people in this situation cope with the holidays. The two suggestions that are the most effective, according to my own experience as a clinician, are to start a new tradition or adapt old ones; in other words, create a change from the painful past while retaining the holiday, and to actively help someone else in need. The act of helping someone else can also be a remarkable remedy.

Chanukah is one of those holidays to which we have attached a variety of family traditions that make it very special. We light candles together as a family, or a community, spending the rest of the evening relaxing at home enjoying an old family recipe of potato latkes; we all look forward to those traditions each and every year. Finding new ways to enjoy these same traditions while keeping in mind our loss can be a challenge. For example, using a menorah painted by a relative who has passed away can be a way of both honoring their memory while still keeping the joy of the holiday. They are still present and part of the tradition. Sharing a few words about the grandmother whose sufganiyot recipe everyone at the party is enjoying can help reframe the loss so that the holiday remains joyful. It may also be appropriate to change the family traditions altogether, by enjoying an intimate meal out at a restaurant instead of hosting for a large crowd if that’s what makes you feel good.

As noted, a very meaningful way to cope with sadness during the holiday season is to help someone else. Try volunteering at a local community center or making a donation of clothes or money to a charity that was important to the person who has passed away. By turning your grief into something positive and productive, we can cast the experience in a new light, making it easier to enjoy this time of year.

As a community, we must all remember to be sensitive to those around us and to remain mindful of the impact that this time of year can have on the people in our lives. Despite our joy and excitement during the preparations for Chanukah, let’s try to remember to reach out to a friend or community member who has experienced a recent loss and who might be feeling isolated at this time of year. These small gestures can help turn a lonely experience into something more positive and enjoyable to those suffering around us.

Kira Wigod is a licensed clinical social worker practicing in New York City. She works at Montefiore Medical Group where she does clinical therapy with clients from all walks of life. Kira also sees private clients in her office in NYC, where she hopes to make an impact on even more lives. Contact Kira by e-mail at [email protected].

 By Kira Batist-Wigod, LCSW, MPS-H

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