In our culture, the holidays are a time for parties, merriment, gift buying, decorating, and family gatherings. But when we or someone we love is sick or injured, the bustle and glitter of this season can be jarring. Families already stretched to the limit by the demands of an illness wonder how they1ll find the time or energy for shopping. Individuals already struggling with the isolation and depression of illness can feel further alienated when it seems the whole world is celebrating - while they stay at home.

Whatever your particular circumstances, it1s important to remember you are not as alone as you may feel. Despite the images of universal gaiety we see on TV, the fact is many people struggle with the holidays. People who have recently lost a loved one or a job; people isolated by a recent move or divorce; people alienated by the prevailing commercialism - and people of non-Christian faith backgrounds all face the challenge of navigating a holiday season that deepens their sense of being "set apart" from the happy majority.

There is no magic formula for coping with the complex emotions the holidays can bring. But any one of the following ideas may help you and your family weather the hard moments--and savor the good times.

  • Use the holiday season to stop and reflect on what really matters in your life. Illness and injury bring traumatic changes, but some good always remains. Identify the relationships and activities that bring you joy--and make time for the people and events that nourish your spirit and make you smile.
  • Let others help. If your list of holiday list of "things to do" is overwhelming you, assign a few tasks to others. They1ll get the satisfaction of helping--and you1ll find you have a little more breathing room.
  • Reach out. Friends and even family may not understand exactly how you1re feeling, but they genuinely want to help. Sometimes just talking about your feelings of sadness or isolation can lighten the burden of those feelings.
  • Consider a simpler approach to gift-giving. Tell all those friends who've been wanting to do something for you that they can help most by expecting no presents or cards this year. Within your own family, save time and deepen the true spirit of the season by giving personal gifts with no monetary value. A family I know made good use of this idea. One person agreed to read a story to another; one gave a 15-minute back rub; and a third family member offered to baby-sit one evening so a young couple could have a night out. Be creative and personal rather than expensive and commercial.
  • Savor the simple pleasures of the season. If you enjoy the decorations, ask a friend to take you for a night drive through well-decorated neighborhoods. If Christmas music carries happy memories, invite friends over to sing. If hosting your own party is too demanding, why not let a relative or church member know you would enjoy caroling from the local youth group?
  • Even in the hospital, there is room for holiday cheer. One hospitalized patient made a Christmas tree on her wall with cards wishing her well and hoping for healing. Though she longed to be home, she made her hospital room the next best thing by decorating it with the love of friends and family.
  • Find a way to do something for somebody else. Living with an illness, acute or chronic, can be all-consuming. Avoid being defined by disease, by reaching beyond the limits and preoccupations of illness to connect with others. Send a card to someone you know who's sick or lonely. Or phone, just to let them know you're thinking about them. If you don1t have the energy for direct contact, remember others who need help in your prayers. It may seem a small gesture, but we heal by helping others.
  • Disease and disability can turn lives upside down. But whatever changes you face, you still have a spirit that needs nourishment and encouragement. This year--and in all the years to come--focus on the aspects of the holiday season that bring you joy and feed your love of life and of others. That1s the true holiday spirit--and it1s available to everyone.

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