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Family Grief Holidays Loneliness Relationships
The Holidays and Expectations

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is only a week away. In our home, the Christmas tree has already been set up and twinkling since early November. Tis the season for crazy schedules, holiday activities, travel, and lots of holiday functions. Most families have their list of traditions, and if your family is like ours, have already began filling the calendar with various events and gatherings. In both families at large, and in our individual hearts, there are typically many expectations surrounding this time. These expectations can include a list of traditions that will be celebrated, how they will be celebrated, when they will be celebrated, and who will be there. Sometimes the expectations of others align with our individual desires and sometimes they do not. How do we navigate managing the expectations of our own heart during the holidays? How do we honor the expectations of others while also maintaining congruence with our own bandwidth and ability to show up? 

 As I ponder my own expectations for the next few months, I wonder how to make my time align with my desires. A helpful tool may be to sit down and determine personal values surrounding the holiday season. What seems the most important? What are your spoken or unspoken expectations? What is your heart longing for this season? In this process of seeking understanding, you may discover a strong value to spend extra time with extended family or out of town friends. On the contrary, you may determine a value of carving out more time for immediate family and advocating for slowness in your household. Some may discover a longing to be more intentionally focused on the meaning of the season and engage in more church centered activities. We are all unique in our desires and could be holding many expectations at one time. It could be helpful to check in with yourself and determine these expectations ahead of time. 

A meaningful element to consider and make space for, is the presence of sadness related to the holidays. The feelings of sadness, loss, loneliness, can be prevalent around the holiday season. Gathering with family can be complex. Not gathering with family can be complex. For many, family can bring an array of feelings and pain. Grief and loss can come up around the holidays, as many of us are missing loved ones. Maybe children aren’t coming home this year, and “empty nesters” are feeling extra empty. Maybe times are changing and things aren’t quite how they used to be. Nostalgia can bring warm feelings of joy, as well as a ping of longing for the past. Holidays can highlight estranged relationships, or relationships that once occurred and have since ended. Many families are deeply saddened by missing those who have passed away. The reality is, most of us have pain points that get rubbed around the holidays. 

Is it okay to feel this pain? Is there a way to hold both sadness and joy in the same hands? It is possible to acknowledge pain and longing, along with gratitude and hope? Grappling with our broken places and hurting parts require bravery. It can feel hard to address these places in our heart, especially during the holidays when many want to feel “merry and bright.” Isn’t this supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year”? 

As the holidays are complicated, so is the pain that’s etched into every story. The human experience isn’t limited to one feeling. The holidays can be more than happy. Maybe a piece of the “wonderfulness” of this time of year lies in the opportunity to acknowledge all of the parts and experiences that make up our lives. Maybe we can celebrate our resilience. We can give permission to bring all of ourselves to the table, including all of our mess and hurts. The holidays can represent an opportunity to acknowledge the whole story of our heart. We can choose to make space for all of our emotion, even if those emotions are sad or lonely. 

We may be surprised at what happens with the permission to acknowledge pain. This release could actually provide more opportunity for joy. Allowing ourselves to be fully seen, could cast out shame. Sharing pain with others could allow for connection and combat isolation.

And if you ever discover that you want the compassionate support of a trained therapist, the Refuge Center would love to serve you. To schedule an intake appointment, call 615-591-5262 or email [email protected]. To see what sort of services we provide, head to

Written by Master’s Level Intern Gray Hernandez