It is a hard time of year. The darkness seems to gather momentum as the solstice looms. These shorter, colder days amplify challenges for those who are suffering – the mentally ill, the homeless, the unemployed, the grieving, the addicted, the poor, the recovering – in other words, all of us in some way or another.
The night presses in from both sides. It enshrouds us and forces us to face life’s tribulations and uncertainties without the benefit of sunshine and warmth or even daylight. It can feel ominous at times, even scary in a primal sort of way.
We are endlessly bombarded with advertising which aims to convince us that our happiness will be found outside of us somewhere in the form of a diamond ring, a fancy car, the right clothes, or a dinner at the Olive Garden. We know this is the wrong idea and do our best to cope with these messages, but they can get under our skin regardless.
My own anxiety at this time of year is both heightened and alleviated by talking with patients in the clinic. I see how things are harder for people, but I also enjoy my time with them and the privilege of playing a small role in their healing and comfort. In turn, I feel comforted and healed by my short encounters with them.
My wise mother gave me a solid piece of advice years ago at a tough time in my life when things I counted on were falling apart: people were dying, my marriage was unraveling, and money was a problem. She said “Just remember, while all this hard stuff is going on, your children are growing up, and they will never be little again, so even though it seems hard, keep enjoying your life and your time with them in the middle of it all.”
She gave me permission to have fun in the middle of a dark time, and I needed that permission. And so, while I felt my feelings about how hard things were, I also made sure to have a good time. And if I hadn’t it would’ve been a shame, because those hard times lasted awhile and on the other side of them, my children were not so little any more. There are still tentacles from that time that want to grab me sometimes, but I know how to let them brush against me without pulling me back.
And this is how I approach the dark and the holidays. I let the hard parts, the memories, the ghosts, the fear, let it all brush up against me but not drag me under. I light the little candles on the advent wreath, and I allow myself to enjoy many small amazing things while I wait for the light to come back into the world, and then it doesn’t seem so hard.