Dealing with Stress Around the Holidays
Holidays, well, they can be stressful in general. It’s easy to put unrealistic expectations on others during family gatherings, or to allow societal pressures to cause us unnecessary anxiety because we feel as if we are falling short. Holiday stress is no different for those living with metastatic breast cancer (mBC), only enhanced by adding on the extra heavy weight of a terminal diagnosis.
Early on, I remember how precious every moment was. Of course, I was afraid, but around the holidays, the lights just seemed to glow brighter, the holiday dinners seemed to taste better, and the only thing I cared about was time spent with my family and friends. I personally feel a lot of conflicting emotions during the holidays, the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the gratitude for loved ones and holiday season, the magic of the lights, the music, the smells, and well, the thought of not being alive to experience it all next year.
I attended a funeral recently of someone who died from mBC. As I sat in the audience looking around at the photo displays and other mourners, I wondered what I would want in the event of my own death. It’s extremely difficult to go to something like that without internalizing, without seeing yourself being eulogized and honored. I get like that around the holidays, too. I wonder things like which of our family traditions my daughter will carry forward, which heirloom ornaments will she hang on the tree, and who will do the shopping, the wrapping, the cooking and the baking. I’m curious about which of our holiday traditions will bring her to tears, which ones will make her laugh out loud, and which will make her feel closest to me. I wonder how my daughter will feel waking up on her first Christmas morning without me. And just like that, I’m down the rabbit hole.
Speaking for myself, I find it frustrating when I express things like this to family and friends, when I talk about fear or anxiety about disease progression or death and dying, and they suggest I should just be grateful to be alive and healthy. While that is true, I am indeed grateful for my life today, it doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed to feel fear or to think about what awaits me. These are all normal emotions and thought processes that should be felt and honored, and then let go.
So this year, may I recommend allowing yourself a little more grace. Holiday trimmings don't have to be flawless, meals don’t have to be perfectly planned and executed, and if you don’t snag that elusive Christmas gift, the holiday, I assure you, will not be ruined. And should you find your mind wandering and your heart racing about all the “what-ifs”, allow it, and then let it pass. It is said you never really die until you are forgotten, so be sure this holiday season you hold those who are dear to you a little bit tighter, laugh a little louder, and make some amazing memories.