Dear Misery Loves Cookery,
I have had a difficult year. I switched jobs (not by choice), then a family member who I loved very much died. I can make it through Christmas, because there is a lot of holiday activity keeping me busy, but I’m dreading the post-holiday season. What do you recommend?
I’m so sorry to hear about your losses.
Changing jobs, even under the best of circumstances, also means changing daily routine, leaving people with whom you are comfortable, and becoming a beginner again (where you may have been an expert in your last position.) That can all be very unsettling, and when the change isn’t something you would have chosen, it can be even more stressful.
To then also lose a loved one, while in a time of higher stress, must feel overwhelming. Let me express my condolences. Grief takes time, and its path is unpredictable. I wish you much peace and support in this process.
You mentioned that you weren’t concerned about making it though the holidays, and I hope that they went as smoothly for you as possible. I know that missing someone who is knitted into your family holiday traditions can be very painful. I hope that you were able to remember your family member with some happy holiday memories, too.
It is completely understandable that, following holidays at which you miss your loved one, and return to a job that is still relatively new, and are in the doldrums of the darkest, coldest time of the year, you would feel blue. Who wouldn’t? I think the first thing you may want to do is to let yourself off the hook, and not judge yourself or feel guilty about being down.
If you have not already spoken with a therapist, your doctor, a grief counselor, or pastoral counselor to discuss your concerns, I urge you to do so. They can intervene with the additional help you may need as you work through this season in your life.
In the meantime, my best suggestion for you is to do everything you can to connect with and serve others. It seems like a trite recommendation, I know—just get out of the house and help others, then you can’t worry about yourself—but it is such a chestnut because there is truth in it.
You can find an organization who is looking for volunteer help, or you can simply reach out to friends, family, and neighbors and jump in where help is needed.
I think a lot of people believe that serving others who may be struggling more than you is therapeutic because it makes your own problems seem less consequential. I don’t know that this is the point, really. There is no hierarchy of pain and grief—you are fully able to be devastated with your own circumstances just as someone else is devastated with theirs. You don’t have to work to minimize your feelings in order to get through them.
I believe the joy that comes from service actually stems from two places. First off, it is distracting. You mention this yourself, actually, when you note that the holiday season will keep you busy. If you are serving food to 500 people, or volunteering with senior citizens at a nursing home, or cleaning out pet stalls at the local animal shelter, you can’t be in your head nearly as much. In essence, distraction is a mini-vacation from your own thoughts. There is a blessing to business.
Secondly, I think that connecting with others who are also struggling helps you to feel less alone. Empathy springs from knowing that we all have pain, and even while we are hurting, we can provide support and love to others who are also in pain. The circumstances may be different, but loss and grief are universal, and can be powerful tools for helping us to relate to others.
As for a recipe, I recommend something very simple: make your best dish, and share it with others. Cookies, salad, lasagna, a fantastic dip with some cut-up veggies—whatever you love to make and make well, MAKE. Bring it to your new job, bring it to a place where you are volunteering, bring it to friends and neighbors and honestly say, “I’m feeling down and needed to share some love.”
I hope these suggestions help. I know that there is no magic answer to your question, but I believe that reaching out and sharing yourself, your feelings, and your best dish with others can help. May your new year be a meaningful one for you, and may your joy increase each and every day.