Christmas loneliness: ways to encourage others
by Jenny Schweyer
No matter what the underlying circumstances, Christmas can evoke a deeper loneliness in people who are already feeling lonely. It can also produce a feeling of emptiness in people who might not be lonely at other times of year, but don’t really fit into the “typical” family that is the focal point of the holiday season. Although it’s a myth that suicides spike during the Christmas season, nevertheless many wish they could just skip the holidays.
Alissa, a mom of an 18 and a 21 year old is a hit with her co-workers at the group home for adults with disabilities. She volunteers to work on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, but not for altruistic reasons. Ever since her husband left her three years ago, the holidays are just too painful. “There’s a sadness that lingers when decorating the tree and wrapping gifts that are just from ‘me’ instead of ‘us’,” she says. And when she’s at work on Christmas and her girls are spending the day with their Dad, she can’t help but wonder if the gifts that she gave her kids measure up to his.
And when she’s at work on Christmas and her girls are spending the day with their Dad, she can’t help but wonder if the gifts that she gave her kids measure up to his.
When Mom of two, Wanda, went through a divorce, money was tight, and she felt it the most acutely at Christmas. She couldn’t afford to buy gifts, and she wasn’t feeling at all merry. To add insult to injury, someone she trusted told her that she needed to “just get over it.”
Jo, a single woman in her forties who has never been married, reveals that singleness can be awkward at Christmas. With three siblings who are married and have children and grandchildren, Jo doesn’t always feel like there’s a place for her. After her Dad passed away several years ago, it made the holidays even more difficult. “I carve out pieces I still enjoy,” Jo conveys, “but the whole season – not really my favourite time of year.”
Whether it’s by virtue of being single, divorced, having a loved one die, or simply living far away from family, Christmas is a painful a reminder that there’s an empty chair, or two or three, at the dinner table. For others, the problem is chronic isolation, such as for elderly people living in care homes.
There are surprising statistics that tell us the loneliest demographic is actually the Millennials (those aged around 20 – 36). For this group, it’s less about the loss of someone and more about an endemic social isolation that psychologists believe may be connected to addiction to smartphones and social media. Although they may keep tabs on hundreds of people at a time via technology, they lack the deeper emotional connections necessary to maintain good mental health.
People who have been there have this advice to give for those wanting to reach out to someone who might be lonely at Christmas:
Acknowledge that for those who’ve lost someone, this time of year is difficult. You may not understand this, or even agree with them, but the fact is that feelings are feelings, and when you acknowledge them, you validate, and therefore communicate value to, the person.
Jo recalls a pastor talking about all the people Jesus was born to save, ”the moms and the dads, the grandmas and the grandpas, the husbands and the wives, the little girls and the little boys, the teenagers”. Jo responded, “He did not list a single group I fit into at that stage of my life.” She was left with the sense that the he simply did not even consider her and her people group. While she understands that the pastor did not mean to offend, it showed a lack of inclusive thinking.
Family means different things
Of course family celebrations are a big deal at Christmas. But not everyone has family, or even the same concept of family as the stereotypical Christian nuclear family. For some, family hurts and estrangements mean that the very word ‘family’ carries pain. Jo likes the idea of celebrating a community-focused Christmas, with activities designed to bring together people from all different backgrounds and which does not single out a particular demographic or make them feel less valuable.
For some family hurts and
estrangements mean that
the very word ‘family’ carries pain.
Try to not be alone
Perhaps connect with another single or a friend and craft a unique Christmas day feast together. Tracey notes that last year a good friend invited her to spend Christmas with her family. Paul, a divorcee feels it best to avoid being with a family as it brings up what he no longer has. But solitary is not good.
Understand it’s an emotionally complicated time, be gracious and allow those for whom Christmas is difficult to opt out of an invitation. For some, an invite to Christmas dinner might make them feel like a “charity case” or may only feel like it sheds a spotlight on their own differing situation.