We know that holidays are not always merry and bright. Certainly, we are acutely aware of that this year, with the tragedy of Sandy Hook still fresh in our minds as thoughts of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy had barely been absorbed. For many, the holidays will provide a distraction from the enormity of the losses that these events inflicted on families and communities. For others, the holidays will be painful reminders of what has changed and what is gone forever.
Children and families in communities struck by tragedy will be joined in mourning, rather than celebration, this holiday season. The somber mood of the community will reflect the sadness of its members. We are saddened, not only by their losses but also by the knowledge that this season now will always come with memories of the first holiday without those they loved.
Those children whose losses have been more private may find themselves unsettled by the holidays in a somewhat different way. If everything around them—music, decorations, and bright lights—seems virtually to demand that they share in the holiday cheer, how are they supposed to understand their feelings of loneliness or sadness or longing for better times? Even if the hurt is not of the magnitude caused by the death of a sibling, or parent, or the destruction of one’s home, recent losses can easily disrupt children’s participation in and enjoyment of the holiday season, especially if they feel that there is no one to share their painful feelings.
Photo courtesy of h.koppdelaney.
Parents who have recently separated in preparation for divorce may find that their efforts to maintain holiday traditions do little to calm their children’s anxieties about how they will manage to keep their favorite toys and books in two different homes. Recognizing that their parents are working hard to be cheerful, they may feel as if they have to keep their sadness and anger to themselves or that there is something wrong with them for having those feelings at all.
Children in foster care, especially if they have recently been moved into a new home, may also feel terribly alone and confused during the holiday season. Perhaps they are the only foster child in a family joined by biology, or the newest of several foster children who have been together long enough to understand the rules and workings of the family. If they are still making the psychological transition from their own biological family or a previous foster home they may simply feel too apprehensive and disorganized to join in any festivities, thereby only intensifying their sense of isolation and loneliness.
We wish that all children could share the many joys of the holiday season—the warmth that comes from being with family and friends and the pleasure that comes from giving to others. We are also sensitive to the fact that for many among us, the holidays are a time of feeling set apart from the spirit of the season. Our hearts go out to those whose holiday memories bring more sadness than joy and our earnest wish for them is that they find themselves close to caring adults who will be even more acutely aware of their special fragility during this season.
By Toni Heineman