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Not So “Happy Thanksgiving?”

So last week, the turkey turned out really great, the pumpkin pie was awesome, the home football team prevailed, and most of the family showed up for the annual feast.  Everybody ate, laughed and played together nicely, but you feel like crying.  It just was not the same without mom or dad or some other loved one in the picture.  You’re not alone if you have this feeling of being let down or even depressed as you try to put on a happy face and enjoy the holidays that used to be so wonderful. 

Psychologists call these responses to holidays or other special times of the year “anniversary reactions.”  The holiday itself may bring back memories of a time when there was a lot to enjoy – which makes holidays without a loved one all the more empty now that they are gone.  Or the holiday may be the time when your loved one passed, and it is hard to find the good times in what now is a memory of profound loss. 

It is not just about dates on a calendar.  There are other potential triggers that bring on a sense of grief and loss almost as fresh as the moment of the initial loss itself.  Certain places when we come “home for the holidays” can be triggers for melancholy.  Certain smells like those of a favorite dish or of the frost in the air or the candle smoke as the Chanukah candles burn down or the Christmas tree that may soon stand in the corner.  And there may be the sounds that open the flood gates as we all shift to the holiday music that will be with us until the day after Christmas.  But you don’t have to simply resign yourself to the blues; here are some ways to reconstruct a more positive version of your holidays.

1.    Crying gets the sadness out.  It’s okay to be honest about how you feel by simply letting the emotions out.  Crying can be a great emotional release and a relief that will let you then get back on with more positive holiday emotions.

2.    Reflect back on the positive activities that you had enjoyed with your deceased loved one.  Find someone – children or grandchildren – with whom you can share the activities, and you may find they begin to give you a new satisfaction.

3.    Memory of loss can stand in the way of other positive experiences that preceded the loss.  Talk with close friends or relatives, some of whom may have shared those positive events.  By reconstructing the positive, you re-experience moments you had cherished with your loved one.

4.     Collect some of the photos of the good times you have enjoyed with your loved one.  Or maybe it is a letter written or other memorabilia that you can place in a special box or album so that you can have stimuli that help to re-experience the moments that have been special.

      These suggestions are not intended to take the place of professional counseling if your depression weighs heavily on you, but they are steps that may help restore the “happy” in your holiday.

      Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  Please email your questions to


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