Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 22, 2003
Solitude can hurt at Christmas
Take scrupulous care of yourself during the holidays
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Christmas is meant to be a season of joy, of family reunions, of friendships and generosity. It is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year.
But what if you are all alone? Most people agree that Christmas is hard to face alone. Whether one is single or divorced or there has been a death in the family, Christmas can be a heartbreaker.
But just because you are alone is no reason not to have a great Christmas, say several area counsellors.
Oblate Father Brian Jayawardhana, a psychologist with Catholic Social Services, says the secret to having a great Christmas alone lies in going inside oneself to meet God. "It is inside of us where the kingdom of God really is," the priest said.
Jayawardhana, a native of Sri Lanka, has no immediate family and spends most Christmases by himself. He usually accepts one dinner invitation but spends the bulk of his free time at Christmas after celebrating Mass, alone with God.
"People must be aware that there is a double life - one inside, one outside," he said. "You must shut out the outer world to go into the inside world, where Jesus resides."
Good poetry and seasonal songs with a spiritual meaning can help people in that quest. Songs he recommends include The Little Drummer Boy and Go Tell it on the Mountain. He suggested people stay away from songs that "don't tell us anything about Christmas."
Jayawardhana also recommends watching quality television programs that lift the spirit.
He said people must also think about what they can give to others at Christmas because Christmas is a time of giving and sharing, not receiving.
"We are living in a culture where we accumulate and that's the opposite of what the kingdom of God is about, " he lamented, adding one of best gifts one can give to others is the gift of listening. "When you talk to other people, listen to their stories attentively."
And, hard as it may seem sometimes, "find something good to compliment someone about," the priest said. "Everyone has something to be complimented about. Love is like a boomerang; if you give it, it comes back to us."
Theresa King, a bereavement counsellor with the Support Network, an Edmonton agency that offers help-lines for people in distress, walk-in counselling and suicide prevention and bereavement support, said the first thing people facing Christmas alone must do is acknowledge and accept that the holidays are going to be a difficult time, especially if they are grieving a loss.
The second thing they should do is share their grief. To do that, they must first find someone to speak to. "One thing they can do if they are totally alone is to phone the distress line (482-4357)," she said. "Just talking to someone on the phone when you are alone at Christmas, grieving, helps."
She also recommended attending public Christmas dinners, volunteering with organizations like the Christmas Bureau or Santas Anonymous, helping new immigrants or simply attending church. "You have to reach out."
One of her clients started volunteering with the Christmas Bureau three years ago. "He is there all the time now simply because he met other people who are like-minded."
"Those who don't have a family close by become very sensitive at this time of the year to the fact they don't have someone with them."
- Carolyn Donnelly
Sister Bernadette Laframboise, executive director of the Redemptorist Centre for Growth suggested, "They could be creative and bring together other people who are single and living alone and organize a dinner for themselves," Laframboise suggested. "If I knew that I was going to be alone, I would find some other people that are going to be alone for Christmas and invite them over for Christmas dinner. Nobody is going to come knocking on their door, but if they reach out, they'll find out that others are alone too and they can connect with them."
Carolyn Donnelly, a St. Albert chartered psychologist, noted everything from Christmas advertising to Christmas wishes points to the notion of family and friends. "And so those who don't have a family close by become very sensitive at this time of the year to the fact they don't have someone with them," she said.
"There is a picture in their mind that Christmas is supposed to be this family gathered around a turkey dinner or around a Christmas tree. We have these very romantic images of what an ideal Christmas is but to many people that's not what their situation is."
Donnelly said those who are alone are not condemned to have an awful Christmas. For one thing, people who are alone have an opportunity to not get caught up in all the busyness and shopping and the parties associated with Christmas.
And that's a good thing "because sometimes people are so busy they forget the true meaning of Christmas."
So people who are alone could use this opportunity to spend some "quiet time" with God in prayer, suggested Donnelly, a member of Holy Family Parish. "I think finding purpose and meaning is really important at Christmas and usually that comes from a spiritual, not commercial perspective."
Prayer, listening to spiritual music and even doing practical things like volunteering or visiting the sick in hospitals can help one find purpose and meaning, she said.
Donnelly said people could find out who in their parish is alone simply by asking their parish priest. Pastors usually know who needs company and what people's needs are at Christmas time.
"Look and reach out to other people that may also be alone or forgotten."