Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships


         What makes the Christmas holidays special? For most of us, the religious significance of the birth of Jesus Christ gives meaning to our lives. It is a time for a renewal of faith and Christian charity. It is more than that however. The holiday encompasses people from other faiths and secular persuasions as well. The traditions of sharing and gift giving are wonderful.

Christmas is a time for family togetherness. We come together. We exchange gifts. We renew memories and create new ones. We connect with friends and the events in our lives.

It is a time for traditions. By its traditions, a family shows that it cares about certain things deeply. Christmas traditions are the way we show one another who we are and how special we are to each other. Our love helps us make that extra effort and planning to make the holiday season a meaningful expression of family togetherness.

Christmas is a time for the renewal of friendships. People without strong family ties depend on friendships to satisfy their need for belonging and love. Friends are great. True friendships are like precious jewels. They are to be treasured, polished and openly displayed. Friends can also have traditions. Keep in touch in special ways to let each other know that someone cares.

For people with strong family ties, friendships are an embellishment of a life already full of opportunities to share love. With less family connection, these friendships are essential.

The travel, expense and sacrifice of family and friends to get together during the holiday season are worth the effort. Wonderful new memories crowd out the hassle, the cost and inconvenience.

The holiday season can also be a downtime. It can be a lonely time for those away from home. It is an empty time for those who are alone and sense the world is coming together without them.

- The holidays are not the same for families who have lost a loved one, especially the first or second year. Going through the Christmas season without a loved one present is a disorienting and painful experience. The holiday is an excruciating reminder of the enormity of their loss.

- If the laughter of a child has been stilled, the vitality of that young life has been robbed from the season. The absence of a loving spouse means half of you is not there. A close sibling is no longer there to support you. These unwanted emotions are there reminding the survivors that their loss goes on and on.

- People who have gone through a separation or divorce during the previous year experience the loss of connection, of family and of their past life - however happy or unhappy it may have been. Some parents are separated from their children for the first time on this holiday. It seems unnatural to be alone and away from those who they love the most.

- For elderly childless couples, the holiday season can be an empty and lonely time. Christmas is for children. The world conspires to remind them of that which they don’t have. Young single adults, unavoidably away from home, also experience the loneliness of the holidays. If they are aggressive enough, they band together with their friends to create a holiday spirit with each other.                                                                                         

 - There are others who have their family and friends around them. Unfortunately, their relationships are marred by strife and conflict. Their hearts ache for what should be and is painfully not present. Where is the love? Why do others have it and not themselves?

In their loneliness, they suffer in silence. Others assume that their family nurtures them during the holidays. To feel alone while being around those who are supposed to care and don’t is to feel profoundly alone.

Reaching out to others. I have a simple formula for those who find themselves in these difficult situations. Find someone less fortunate than yourself and serve them. Help someone else have a better holiday. Give even if you don’t have much to give. It is in the giving that peace and connection comes. You are truly needed. Your open hearts are needed by a world with too much suffering in it.

For those of us fortunate enough to be surrounded by family and friends, let’s put our arms around one another in love and cherish these moments together. The season brings us together. We need to extend our arms and say the words.

           Remember others who would benefit from human attention and concern at a time when they need it the most. We need to take the time to make a phone call, send an e-mail, write a letter, make a visit, invite to a meal, recognize a loss or listen to a heart.