When the holidays hurt…
I must admit I hesitated a bit before writing this post today. This is a time of joy and love and not a time of talking about sadness. As you well know, we experience different emotions and these are not always happy ones. This is especially true for cancer survivors. We may feel incredibly blessed beyond words. Hey, we are still here to celebrate yet another holiday with those we love! I never, ever take this for granted. However, these emotions are often paired with more scary ones. Will this be my last holiday with my family? I know you are thinking, “well, none of us know that, Patsy. We could all get run over by a truck!” Well, I can honestly say I have never known a single person (thankfully) that this has happened to; however, I have known too many people who died of cancer. ( I know I digress, but please don’t say this to your survivor friends).
It’s very easy for survivors to feel guilt during this time. Why am I here with my family when my friends have passed? I feel very, very sad for those that have lost their mothers and other family members due to cancer. I struggle with how to express adequately my sorrow to them.
I’ve always thought loneliness is one of the hardest emotions to feel. It’s so hard to get into the rhythm of the holiday festivities, church services, and so on, when you know you will be alone. I had a survivor recently say she had many invitations to join others at family dinners when she was initially diagnosed with cancer; however, when her cancer recurred, no one reached out. Folks, that is a powerful statement, isn’t it?
Not only do we feel the physical loneliness, but sometimes we can become what I call “socially lonely.” When you have a terminal disease, life changes. Some of us learn that talking about death, fear of the cancer returning, etc. helps us and we don’t avoid doing that. That’s a good thing. However, small talk doesn’t always come easy. Small talk can typically include talking about many of the things that survivors have lost and will never regain. Also, it is easy to get frustrated with well-meaning friends. How can they complain about having to do Christmas shopping for the kids when you will never be able to have children?
We often find we cannot do as much as we want to for our families and friends. This is very different from the usual “just say no” stuff for those that do not have cancer. I love the holiday season and always have. I am so pleased to host the holiday dinner for the wonderful friends of my kids (ok, maybe they are adults), to have friends over to celebrate my husband’s December 25th birthday and to have my family coming from out-of-town. I will have minimal responsibility for these exciting happenings and no one will expects me to do too much. I know it’s all about being together. So, why do I constantly have to remind myself that I really need to get back to cherishing my energy and saving it?
So, what can we do to get the most out of this wonderful season of joy? First of all, we can let our families and friends know how very much we love them and how much their support has meant to us. Let me be specific about this. In particular, let’s tell those that have been ok with talking about the issues I described above what a gift that has been. Next, we can do something that is very hard. We can let others know what we need in this stressful time. And, we can remind ourselves of that and use our energy for this purpose. To be honest, I think being with us is what we can best give to those we love. Remember, haven’t they also probably asked that hard question about how many more holidays we will have with them?
I am so thankful to all of you for the gift of knowing you and learning from you. My heart is full of gratitude and joy of being allowed to share my thoughts about the emotions I experience with you. What an honor that has been for me this year. My wish for you is that your holiday is full of the emotions of joy, happiness, and much love…