Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Christmas Carol - The Other Ghost

It was just before Christmas about 9 years ago. I was at the Streets at Southpoint, an indoor-outdoor mall in Durham, NC. It was a pretty mall, with a pedestrian street that was lined with stores glittering like Rockefeller Center. The bounty of the season was everywhere. The aroma of hot cider from the kiosk and the carols swelling up from the speakers disguised as rocks along the path, enveloped the crowd, bundled like they were trekking on an expedition to the North Pole itself.

I was trying to figure out what to get my mother, my father, my brothers, my sister, and my wife for Christmas. I confess that I rarely find things at the mall which make suitable gifts; however, I’ve always taken comfort in browsing and confirming my suspicion that this was not where I wanted to make my purchases. I guess this sort of made me an outsider, in a way. While I was glad to be surrounded by the holiday cheer, I did feel a bit disconnected. If I was honest with myself, I was actually a little sad and I couldn’t put an exact finger on the reason.

Then, as I walked down the path past a Crate and Barrel, I saw The Children’s Store. Moms and dads were bustling into and out of the store. As I stood outside the store, peering in the display window at the reindeer jumpers, elf pajamas and angelic ball gowns for little girls, I could see my reflection in the glass. Looking through my own reflection at the warm holiday interior, I began felt like a ghost: empty, vacant, barely a whisper. I felt like the Ghost of the Christmas That Would Never Be.

For people who have lost a loved one, for those separated from their families, for those without a family, with financial woes, with illness … we all know this is a tough time of year for some people. Watching other people, happy families apparently living the life of which you’ve been deprived can seem particularly unfair, or make you feel like a failure if you’ve not achieved these things.

This time of year can be especially difficult for people suffering from infertility. All the hopeless feelings, all the lonely feelings of isolation that infertility brings are magnified by the merriment of the season, the energy and bustle, the long lines at toy stores, by the crowds of twittering kids waiting to sit on Santa’s knee. All the holiday cheer can seem to just mock the pain of childlessness.

To make matters worse, if you feel like you’re on the outside of all of this Holiday fun and you see someone who is apparently blessed in ways that you are not, and you hear them complain about what seem to you trivial issues of the season… it can just make you mad.

In the end, most of us really do want to be happy. The question is, how is a person to rescue themselves from the sadness the season besets upon them?

Few solutions are perfect, but here are some things I have tried. Here are my suggestions, and I’m open to new ideas:

Own your feelings. Acknowledge them for what they are and ask yourself if you want them. If so, embrace them. Sometimes we need to do this first, before we can move on. It may be a miserable December, but it may be the first step to healing.

  1. If you do not want these feelings, you should recognize that you may not be able to completely shake them. You may go for hours or days without the negative feelings resurfacing; however, it doesn’t mean you’ve been defeated when they do.
  2. Focus on what the season is really about, for you. In my family’s tradition, Christmas, the season is a reminder of the gifts we have received – even though we were not worthy to have received them. Because of the gift already received, the season is about giving to others. (I know we all have different backgrounds and beliefs, but I do think the spirit of the holidays, Joy and Peace, can be enjoyed by all. When I was at my lowest, and thought I’d never have a child I would pray. I did pray that we would be given a child, but more than that I prayed that I could find peace in the event that we never did.
  3. If being around children is too much for you, some people say you should avoid areas that are likely to be filled with them. I find this to be an impractical solution for many people, but you should not feel guilty for protecting yourself.
  4. Consider devoting your time to someone else in need. This can be healing for you can for them.
  5. Get plenty of rest. (Fatigue makes nearly everything worse.)
  6. Get plenty of exercise. (This makes you feel vibrant and boosts your metabolism.)
  7. Surround yourself with supportive people.
  8. Seek counseling. If needed. If you’ve wondered if you should get counseling, then you probably should. I know a lot of wonderful people in the Chattanooga area and can make recommendations.

For some people this year, the Christmas season is going to be something to be survived, not enjoyed.

If this is you, plan ahead. If you need to, give me a call…. do something to help reclaim your life.


  1. Amazing post. And this is what makes you such an excellent RE. When we met I was standing on the outside, peering into what my husband and I may never have...a RE that has never stood there, even with experience and intelligence, will just never understand. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

  2. Where's your next post? I check at least once a day... I love reading your words and insights! You are such a good teacher~ I hunger to learn more and more as our journey's depth increases. We met a couple who came to you from Texas, and we were reminded how absolutely blessed we are to have you in our back yard!
    Now back to the 2 week wait... and checking for posts. ;-)