Reach Out and Touch Someone-Especially Someone for Whom the Holidays Suck this Year

This posting from last year remains significant to me, especially this holiday season, when many Americans may need an extra helping hand or a cup of coffee in a tough year.

More so than myself, my wife Veronica and her brother Vincent are attached to cherished holiday rituals. Since my in-laws have both passed away, we carry on these rituals in our home.

These rituals provide much joy and not a little sadness. “I lived with Mom,” Vincent remarked out of nowhere. “She died. Now I have my own place.” He can’t convey much about his inner life. He communicates enough to show that the holidays are times of genuine grieving.

His fellow group home residents may also have turbulent emotions around the holidays. Some celebrate with close relatives. Others have outlived their caregivers, or have at least outlived these relationships. This morning, I picked Vincent up for a family trip and Thanksgiving celebration. I chatted with a solitary staff member was preparing a large turkey dinner for several residents. They will have a nice meal. Yet conditions are Spartan, particularly in these times of fiscal austerity and the state’s nonpayment of its bills. Guys with no close relatives will spend Thanksgiving and Christmas hanging out at home with a skeleton crew. They’ll be safe and well-tended, but probably pretty bored, too.

For many different reasons, in many different ways, the holidays can be hard or sad times for many people. People mourn siblings or parents who are no longer on this earth to celebrate. People mourn broken romances and marriages, too. Career disappointments and economic anxieties can seem especially daunting this time of year. People face depression and other physical or mental health concerns, too. Meanwhile, we are all commanded to be happy and be grateful and be thankful (and of course to buy lots of stuff) when more ambivalent emotions are likely to take hold.

I don’t mean for this to be a downer post. I myself feel quite blessed this year. Still, not everyone feels the same. This is a good time to reach out and touch someone, to renew a friendship, to lend a helping hand, to share a cup of coffee with someone who doesn’t quite as blessed this holiday season.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.