There’s something that happens during this most wonderful time of the year.
To the same degree that it is wonderful, it can feel terrible.
Emotion is magnified in December. The highs are higher. The same hot cocoa you drink in February feels warmer and more magical and soothing during the month of December in a Christmas tree mug while you’re wearing an ugly Christmas sweater.
There’s something about the connection with family, traditions, and the environment of warmth created by lights and music and all things lovely. It allows us to experience and connect with out emotions like no other time of the year.
Now this is the part where things get ugly. Because the emotional magnifying glass doesn’t just enlarge the happy emotions. The lows are lower. All the feelings of pain and heartache and grief are that much deeper as well.
If you’ve lost someone recently, you know this well. You know that your heart aches more this time of year. But even if you’ve lost someone years ago, and even if the loss wasn’t near Christmas, you’ll probably find that your heart aches a bit more in this season of the year.
Perhaps it’s because we see so much that looks like happiness and joy and love and contentment. Because when you are observing glimpses of others experiencing the highest of highs, your lows seem especially significant in contrast.
Beyond those who miss someone, there are those suffering in physical pain or with health issues. There are those in limbo who don’t know what the outcome of an illness will be. This year I’m dealing with some lingering physical pain, so I am able to understand this just a little bit. Ongoing physical pain is such a strong reminder of this broken world and our mortal bodies. There is nothing you can do to take away this reminder. And yet, we expect people to just be happy because we want to be happy.
There’s a place I go in December that’s not by my own choosing. Sometimes a Christmas carol will remind me of my grandmother and how much I miss her. Some yearly traditions become connected in my mind with particular people that are no longer here. And often, when I see others around me hurting and dealing with their own hard-to-face emotional magnification, my heart breaks with them. I can’t help it. I go there and feel heavy and brokenhearted.
When I land there, it’s hard to come back from. And then the sadness turns to guilt as I beat myself up for feeling dark feelings during the most wonderful time of the year.
I would imagine that almost all of you have some type of grief or experience that pulls at you in a strong way and can make you heavyhearted this time of year. Maybe you miss a family member that you spent most Christmases with. Maybe you are longing for a child that was never born into this world and thinking about what age they would have been this Christmas. Or maybe like me, you take on the pain of those around you in this season in a way that makes it feel like your own.
I don’t have lots of answers to this emotional magnification except to recognize it. Give yourself and the people in your life permission to feel hard things in deep spaces in this season. Quit trying to make everything wonderful and merry all the time. Don’t try to sugar-sprinkle-coat their pain or fix it with extra Christmas presents.
But at the same time, don’t stay there. And don’t allow yourself or the people you love to live permanently in the heaviness of grief during December. Don’t think that those around you who are hurting would rather be left alone. Make sure there are glimpses of joy and light and happiness. Sure, give them space, but not all the time.
Be attentive and in tune to the people around you.
Whether you’re making cookies and happy memories or just sitting with them in the pain as they stare at the Christmas tree. Keep people from suffering alone, and share in whatever joyful moments and “high highs” there are to experience.