At the beginning of December each year I give my mother an amaryllis bulb as an early Christmas gift that she can watch grow throughout the season. If I time it right, a green shoot pokes its head out in the first week and by Christmas the shoot is at least a foot tall and beautiful red flowers burst into bloom. It always amazes me how such life and colour is contained in what appears to be a dried-up, ugly brown bulb that looks nothing like the beauty it produces.
There have been times in my life when my emotional state has not followed the joyful trajectory of the amaryllis bulb during the Christmas season, but rather intensified a sense of grief and sadness. I know I am not alone in this as I have sat with many clients struggling through the season missing loved ones who have passed away, or trying to navigate a relationship breakdown or the loss of a career and income. It can feel like we are out of sync with the world that is celebrating with parties, gifts and holiday time when we feel sad and wish we could avoid the season altogether.
I have learned a few things through my journey with sadness during the Christmas season.
It’s okay to have a different experience than the one that is projected by the media and many people around us. If you listen carefully, you can hear that not everyone is as happy as the projected images, and there is a lot of hollow hype, not satisfied joy. Even if many others are in a brighter place, honouring your own experience of sadness is what will help you live and grow through it. Sometimes this means we allow ourselves to not attend all the usual gatherings, or decorate and do all our usual traditions the way we have in the past because they are too fraught with difficult memories. Sometimes we choose to do something completely different to distract and shift our feelings (once I flew to Cuba on Christmas day). Sometimes it means we choose one or two trusted, understanding people to share our tears and help us mark the season in a different way that acknowledges our loss. Blue Christmas services held through churches or hospice can be meaningful events to help us do this with others who are in a similar place during the “festive” season.
And sometimes we find a symbol or metaphor that embodies the process of grief and the journey towards hope. The amaryllis bulb is one of my symbols of hope that comforts me when feelings of grief seem to never end. It reminds me that long before I can see any hope, when there is just a dry, ugly bulb of pain in view, stirring inside is transformation. Just as our bodies have the mysterious ability to fight off infection and produce new cells to heal a wound, our selves have the ability to compost the difficult experiences of life and use them as fertilizer for the new growth that is waiting to happen. When you see the tender shoot of green life sprouting from an amaryllis root this Christmas, claim it as a prayer or a breath of hope that in time newness can sprout from your present sorrow.
Joan Dosso M.T.S., MA, RCC brings a creative approach to therapy that helps her clients understand and integrate their emotional worlds. You can find out more about Joan here: meet Joan.