Aaahh, the smell of roasting turkey. Sounds of jingle bells and children’s red-cheeked laughter. Visions of shiny wrapping paper and sparkly trees and glowing menorahs. Joy and connection. The happiest time of the year.

Except when it isn’t.

Life can be difficult. As older women, we may have worked hard to reach a stage of acceptance and adaptability to our circumstances. On most days. But the difficulties can become oh-so-glaring when the holidays hit with all their cheer.

We are often the family elders, with the responsibility of creating celebrations for all. And there are times this can feel like a painful burden, or at least like a challenge.

Facing Change and Surviving the Holidays

At our age, the losses can cluster thickly. Some of us will be painfully missing loved ones from the holiday table this year. Some of us will be facing family conflicts, old or new hostilities. Family members who are sick, who have alcohol or drug problems, who are angry or unstable.

Maybe we ourselves are ill, or sad, or discouraged, and don’t see how we can possibly have the energy to make the holiday happen as we feel we should.

Maybe nobody is even coming to dinner.

My husband had been dead two months when New Year’s Eve rolled around. I was completely confused as to how to handle it. Best advice came from a niece – go to sleep. I slept from 8 pm till early the next morning and the celebrations were over!

Passover came right in the middle of my daughter’s wrenching divorce. I just could not face our usual rituals and traditions, but I knew Passover had to go on. I rented a room in a friendly local restaurant, brought in candles and matzo ball soup, and let everyone order from the menu. I distracted everyone by having the children (ages one, three, seven, and nine) perform a hilarious play of the Moses story. This has remained one of our cherished holiday traditions.

I’ve learned a few things that can make all the difference. And it turns out that others among us have learned how to survive the holidays.

Be Strict with Your Own Attitude and Thoughts

One holiday does not a life make. I don’t know who said it but don’t forget it! Go over and over and over all the things you DO have to be grateful for. Remember what you have, not what you don’t. This might require writing a Gratitude List.

You are not alone. You MUST remember that the holiday season can look as if everyone else has the perfect family and all the trimmings but it just isn’t so. Many, if not most of us, are privately struggling with significant issues. That’s life, but especially when you have sixty plus years you have lived through. So, do not be fooled or discouraged by all the pictures and the recipes and the nostalgia and the hype -most of us are fellow-strugglers on the crooked path. Do not feel sorry for yourself.

Do Something for Others

A friend who is alone on Christmas always volunteers to serve food that morning at a homeless shelter. No matter how wretched your circumstance, do something for someone in need. This can be something very simple, like sending an uplifting note or phone call. If you sit down and think about it, you can probably come up with several people who could use a little lift from you. Can you be a light in the darkness?

Ring the Bells that Still Can Ring

Forget your perfect offering. Leonard Cohen said, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” In other words, work with what you’ve got. You might be surprised.

Enjoy and savor whatever there is to enjoy. Part of the joy of being an older woman is we get to be a little more selfish, a little more detached from pleasing everyone and playing by the rules. So, go ahead, take off your apron and play a game in the corner with a precious grandchild, and giggle with her regardless of what is going on around you.

Spend time talking with someone who is pleasant and nourishing to your spirit. Walk away from the negativity. Take a moment to appreciate the smells, or sights, or tastes. Even if there is conflict around you, it is still possible to enjoy the smell of the turkey or the taste of yummy mashed potatoes.

If there is a gathering you think you would enjoy, make the effort to attend. Sometimes it may be a work party, or someone else’s family event. It could be a holiday concert. There are wonderful ways to enjoy the season minus the angst.

Allow yourself to enjoy the process of cooking, or decorating, or buying gifts. Do this even on the days it seems that everything around you is a disappointment. Practice mindfulness to fully enter the moment without thought of past or future.

Pamper Yourself

Work extra hard to nurture yourself throughout the season. You know how! Even if it is a busy period, set aside time to spoil yourself with a professional massage, lavender bubble baths, manicure or pedicure, a compelling new book, walks in nature, good movies, favorite foods!

Maintain a Larger Perspective

To repeat what I said at the beginning, one holiday does not a life make. So perhaps you would like to use a trick I call “Zoom Out.” It is when you look at the whole of your life, at the things in your life that are great. Maybe friends, or work, or your solitary pursuits. At our age, I’ll bet you are already an expert at Zoom Out.

Plan something to look forward to in early January, like a friends’ lunch, or a weekend get-away, or even that good book you still haven’t gotten to. Tap into your spiritual beliefs, whatever they may be. Try to see your own purpose in the journey of your life and ask what is your role. Why is this happening and how can you work with it? We women over sixty have wisdom, perspective, and often leadership roles in our families. How can you best live your life’s purpose during the holidays?

Are you struggling with the upcoming holiday season? Maybe even dreading it? Do you have any suggestions for what has worked for you in the past? Please join the conversation.

Sheri Saxe

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