Submitted by newcomer community member Sheriann Stanton, M. Ed., Tutorial & Testing Assistant and Adjunct Faculty Member at Berkshire Community College, Pittsfield, MA. Having lost her mother and several other significant people by her mid-twenties, and dealing with the profound losses, Sheriann bought a book on the topic for guidance. She was amazed to find that her feelings were neatly outlined in the book, and that the personal accounts included in the book made her feel more in control of her feelings. This interest in human emotions prompted her to earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology.
“I am doing the best I can. It’s ok to be sad.”
These are the words I repeat in my mind (or sometimes out loud, if I am alone) three times in a row. Inspired by one of my all-time favorite movies, The Wizard of Oz: “There’s no place like home.”
Said in triplicate, the phrase “It’s ok to be sad” gives me the permission to acknowledge the feeling and not push it to the back burner because distractions are everywhere. Feelings are peculiar things, they require acknowledgement; if you ignore them, they get bigger and messier.
So, why am I telling you this? Because the holidays can bring up many feelings. Happiness, love and excitement tend to walk right beside grief and sadness, making them anxiety-producing. Our grief can be constant and eventually turn into anxiety, anger and other feelings that are all ok to feel. Repeat with me: “It’s ok to be (you fill in the blank).” This holiday season, there will be moments of sadness for many people, even if they have not suffered a recent loss.
It is ok to be happy when others are sad. It is ok to be sad when others are happy. These feelings are not mutually exclusive. In other words, you can feel both in the same day or at the same time. There is no expiration date on grief, nor is there one on happiness. All feelings are ok and should be accepted for what they represent.
Let me explain.
Since the holidays are difficult for many people as a rule, this year could prove to be especially difficult for many more people than usual because of the isolation and smaller gatherings, which might be a vast contrast to the large celebrations that are common this time of year. One loss can bring past losses to the surface, making them feel more recent.
For example, I lost my mother in 1999, but when someone else loses his or her mother, I automatically feel the loss of my mother more intensely at the time of the new loss. Losing my father and stepfather, in 2015 and 2019 respectively, magnified the feelings connected to my mother’s passing. I like to spend time thinking about the loved ones who are still here to make the sadness I feel when thinking of those I’ve lost a bit more bearable.
It makes sense to look for the good in each day. After all, experts tell us that gratitude is essential for changing our outlook. Here are a few ideas that I find helpful and want to share with you this holiday season, whether you celebrate or not.
No matter how or if you celebrate, and how you feel, I hope you find some joy in the holiday season. We all process sadness in a slightly different way and it’s important to be kind to ourselves and not place pressure on ourselves. It’s ok to feel sad. However, it is also ok to feel happy, honor folks who are not with us and be thankful.