As the holidays have swirled around in their usual color, carols, and consumerism, I’ve seen a drastic split in the socially expected cheerful mood and how the people around me really feel. Many of my wonderful friends and family members have been very sad. This year, a dear friend of mine is mourning a miscarriage. Another is missing a husband while he is in drug rehab, while another marks her calendar as the anniversary of her husband’s imprisonment. This is the time of year when my closest coworker’s father died, bringing him a wash of grief every December. My own family has recently experienced a tragedy, leaving us all feeling a little too shattered to be raising spirits bright.
Maybe it’s the polar opposite of the emotions the holiday season is supposed to invoke, that makes my loved ones’ sadness so noticeable, or maybe the pressure to be happy this time of year only exacerbates everyone’s grief. But the fact is, there’s a lot of sadness going around and the environment isn’t very conducive to feeling it. So, I wonder, what if we simply allowed ourselves to have a season of sadness?
Being sad is an equally valid emotion as joy, excitement, anger, desire...it’s another piece that makes us human. Without sadness we couldn’t truly appreciate happiness. It’s a strong signal to treat ourselves gently and it can strengthen bonds in our relationships. How much closer have you felt to someone after a good cry in their caring arms? On a deeper level, sadness can become grief, such as when lose a person we love. If it isn’t handled healthfully, it can lead to depression and, in the most drastic cases, death.
Yet it continues to be labeled as a bad thing –an incorrect way to feel. It’s a problem that needs to be remedied instead of fact that needs to be accepted. The trouble is, we learn this at a very early age. Think about what any one of us says when we see a child cry. We say, “Oh, sweetie, don’t cry.” We have the very best intentions, but there we are inadvertently teaching a young, impressionable human not cry, to not feel sad, to cheer up instead. It’s simply what we know to do from our own experience. So it’s no wonder we feel awful when the nature of the season tells us to be happy but we really need to feel sad. We don’t know how.
A few years ago, when I was going through my divorce, a friend invited me to an evening church service in late December. The ceremony was called The Darkest Night of the Year. There was no Handel’s Messiah or pageant. There wasn’t even a sermon. It was a small sanctuary in an old, stone church, gently lit with candles and replete with silence. Attendees huddled in the pews, some alone, others in groups, most of them crying softly. Everyone was there to mourn something. Anyone who chose could make his or her way to the front of the room where a leader would quietly give a personal, one on one blessing. It was exactly what I needed that year. I didn’t want to decorate or shop or cook. I wanted to cry. I needed to be sad. It was the first holiday event where I was allowed to.
I’m not saying let’s take down all of the pretty lights and ribbons and replace them with black sashes and dead plants. But what if, say, we simply added another element to the season? Imagine a universal understanding that, while some choose to revel in the glitzy, sparkly, holiday cheer, others just need to be sad. It would be no more drastic than someone choosing to cook turkey this year instead of ham. It’s a valid option, a good thing, a healthy decision. It’s meeting one’s own needs with a little boost of socially acceptable support. Consider this your permission slip, for any year any one of you needs it, to have a season of sadness.