Ever walk into a store with Christmas carols blaring over the loudspeaker and throngs of people wandering the aisles to check off their holiday shopping list and feel like an outsider? Like you have been dropped into the middle of a foreign country?
That’s how I felt after the death of my sister, Maralee, 51, from ovarian cancer on Dec. 18, 2014. It seemed surreal to be preparing for a family Christmas that would be very subdued, but was still important because tradition allowed some semblance of normalcy in a world of mourning.
It has been almost three years now since my sister left this Earth. She was the youngest child and her passing upset the natural order enough to leave a gaping hole in my family structure. My aging parents will never recover.
Christmas is made more somber by this sad anniversary and remembrance events like the one planned Tuesday evening at Celilo Chapel, 202 E. Fourth St., provide an outlet for the many families who have lost someone.
People will gather at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 12 to hang ornaments with the names of their lost loved ones on the Tree of Remembrance. If you cannot make that event, the same service takes place at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14, at Anderson’s Tribute Center, 1041 Belmont Ave., in Hood River.
If you are newly in mourning or suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as winter depression, the holidays can seem bleak.
Here are some tips to cope with the blahs from Dr. Ken Duckworth, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness:
• Keep your expectations modest. Don’t get hung up on what the holidays are supposed to be like and how you’re supposed to feel. Comparing your holiday to some abstract greeting-card ideal will make it come up short. Don’t worry about holiday spirit, take things as they come.
• Do something different. If the prospect of your usual routine fills you with dread rather than holiday joy, don’t surrender to it. Instead, spend Christmas day at the movie theater, or enjoy some other unique experience.
• Lean on your support system if you are depressed. Keep in touch by phone if they live far away or visit frequently if they are closer.
• Forget the unimportant stuff. Don’t run yourself ragged just to live up to holiday tradition. So what if you don’t get the lights on the roof this year? Or you don’t get the holiday mugs from the crawl space? Give yourself a break. Worrying about such trivial stuff will not add to your holiday spirit.
• Volunteer. Considering taking time to help people who have less than you. Donate time to a soup kitchen or to helping needy families.
• Head off problems. Think about what people or situations trigger holiday stress and figure out ways to avoid them. Instead of staying in your bleak, childhood bedroom at your stepfather’s house, check into a nearby hotel. Take control of the situation.
• Make new family traditions. People often feel compelled to keep family holiday traditions alive long past the point that anyone’s actually enjoying them. Don’t keep them going if they no longer give you joy. Start something new, a tradition that is more meaningful to you personally.
• Don’t overbook. The holidays last for weeks, so pace yourself and don’t say yes to every invitation that comes your way. Pick the parties you will attend by how well you’ll fit in, and which ones you really want to be at. Once you get there, don’t stay longer than you want to: make an exit plan.
• Forget about the perfect gift. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, now is not the time to fret about finding the “best absolute gift ever” for your family and friends.
• Stick to a budget. The cost of holiday shopping mounts quickly and can make you feel anxious and out of control.
• Stay on schedule. As much as you possibly can, try to stick with your normal routine during the holidays. Don’t stay too late at parties. Don’t pull an all-nighter wrapping presents. Disrupting your schedule and losing out on sleep can make your mood deteriorate.
• Exercise. While you may not feel like you have the time to exercise, the benefits are worth it. Exercise has a strong anti-anxiety, anti-depression effect, so work physical activity into your errands.
• Don’t rely on holiday spirits. Although the season is a time of heavy drinking, alcohol is a depressant and abusing it will leave you feeling worse.
• Give yourself a break. The holidays can make people dwell on their shortcomings, but you should cut yourself come slack during what should be the season of kindness and forgiveness.
Part of dealing with grief is finding a positive way to remember that person. For instance, I toast my sister on Christmas Day. She had a droll sense of humor and I know she enjoys it when I hold up a glass of wine and say, “It is what it is,” which was her favorite saying. I picture my Shopping Queen of a sibling filling her mansion in Heaven with treasures and it makes me smile.
One day my sister will welcome me, probably by threatening to bar the gate. Until then, I carry on because the current of life always moves forward.