Thought for the Day: This holiday season is challenging for everyone. This week, like many psychologists nationwide, I have been doing critical incident work with people in Connecticut impacted by the tragedy in Newtown CT. Whether people knew someone who lost a friend or family member or not, people are struggling with how to speak with their children, cope with & accept that they are grieving. Many people are not feeling like celebrating the holidays this year, which led to this post. Although I called these ways to give new meaning to a "Blue Christmas" they apply to whatever holiday you celebrate. Here are a few ways to find new meaning during this blue holiday season.
|One of many memorials in Newtown CT|
Yesterday, I counseled a woman in Danbury CT who had decided not to celebrate Christmas this year. She did not know anyone who was directly impacted by the tragedy but was visibly shaken fighting back tears since she was at work. Like many of the people I have met with this week, she felt a form of "survivor's guilt." In light of the anguish that we can only imagine that the families who lost a loved one are experiencing, people feel that they should not be feeling the grief they are experiencing. What I have been telling people is that their feelings, tears, anger, numbness, sorrow are normal reactions to the trauma. Feelings are not right or wrong, they just are. They act like the safety valve on a pressure cooker to let off steam & keep the pressure cooker from exploding. Your emotions are a sign that you are a caring human being struggling with an inhumane event.
2) Create a memorial ceremony as you begin your family's event
There are multiple ways to take some time before celebrations begin to acknowledge those lost in this tragedy. A moment of silence, a candle lighting, a prayer, a walk by the beach, or writing & sending condolence cards together with your family and friends can help you acknowledge that this holiday is different from the past. There is a digital card that is being sent which has over 2 million signatures worldwide. If you wish to send an original paper condolence card or drawing prepared with your family, here is the address:
Messages of Condolence for Newtown
P.O. Box 3700
Newtown, CT 06470
3) Start working to prevent future tragedies
Although we cannot promise our children that there will never be other tragedies, there are natural tragedies & bad things do happen in life. What we can do is get involved in projects that will address the loopholes that compromise our safety. There are a multitude of ways to get involved in finding the solutions to a number of challenges facing our nation. You can write to your senators & congressmen about these & other issues: 1) reforming gun control laws; 2) advocate for increased mental health resources for children & adults with serious mental illness; 3) investigate ways to reduce violence on TV, movies & video games, especially those aimed at children; and 4) advocate for comprehensive year round educational programs that work towards tolerance & a reduction of bullying in our schools & society. In addition to writing campaigns, get involved in your community's efforts to develop programs that will increase safety in our schools & neighborhoods. Depending on the ages of your children, get them involved in the discussion & activities as well.
4) Volunteer with people less fortunate than you
Start a new family tradition and consider volunteering. You could sign up to serve food at a homeless shelter or visit an old folks home or hospital. Bring gifts to brighten the holiday for someone who is struggling. In addition to giving gifts to your family, have all the members of your family bring something to donate to a charity. With your children go through their toys & clothes to find things that they no longer use that is in good condition & take it to a donation center before the holiday. (Take a look at some of the nonprofits benefiting from my book for ideas of organizations that could use your help.)
5) As hard as it is to rejoice, carrying on is reaffirming life & not allowing terror or madness to destroy what is good in the world
It is important to bring routines and structure back into our lives, especially for children to regain a sense of safety & trust in human beings. In the Diary of Anne Frank we learned of how a family in hiding from the Nazi terrorist regime tried to keep a semblance of normalcy, including celebrations of holidays. Although her life was cut short, she lives on in the hearts of millions who have read her diary or seen the play based on her diary. Her message has been heard around the world. Her words have bearing today as we struggle with finding the strength to rejoice following such an unthinkable tragedy. We must help our children regain trust in mankind as Anne Frank did:
Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.