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Nostalgia November 2017

How to Handle Seasonal Depression

By Lois Greene Stone

Don't others feel exhilaration and sadness during religious and cultural celebrations? Perhaps, instead of how-to-avoid we need positive reinforcement and reassurance that, at times, it's okay to experience temporary depression.

Memories. Thanksgiving, New Year’s. Magazines print gentle stories of family, homecoming, gatherings. Turkey dinners delight poultry breeders. Greeting-card makers feature snow scenes and rhymes about sharing. Are holidays, in reality, like film, cards, articles, or fantasy versions?

Try to imagine the manpower that goes into studies to research seasonal depression, and each offers a quick how-to-shun holiday blues. Since time passing, aging, family interaction, emotional separation, health problems and financial insecurity do exist, is there a quick fix?

My first New Year’s Eve at a party with a date found me excusing myself at midnight to telephone my parents and wish them happiness as a new calendar began. I never missed a midnight call. My mother's widowhood changed the perspective of my wishes but not that routine – and when she moved to California, I was faced with dialing at my time or setting my alarm for 3 a.m.

How can I avoid being sad when my mother's terminal illness ended this lifelong pattern? Even experts on illness and grief can’t counsel for "good health habits" when pillows get soiled with salty tears and meals become biologic rather than social occasions.

Memories are both painful and pleasant. We remember, but are also reminded that a loved one is absent.

Family gatherings were always at my parents' house. My mother rose shortly after the sun to begin preparing the turkey dressing. Pungent onion odors raced from frying pan to entire kitchen.

Fowl feathers had to be singed, yams needed placing in oven-resistant glass so marshmallow dots could decorate the orange vegetable, salads had to be artistically arranged. No one assisted.

Tiffany's third floor table displays were no lovelier than her amethyst-colored crystal goblets, porcelain plates, linen napkins. All were hand-washed. Dishwashers were a new invention and rare. She had fresh flowers out as something living and fragrant was important.

Guests arrived about four in the afternoon. She'd still been in the kitchen until almost three when she put on clean clothes, combed her hair, greeted them. On a silver platter she'd polished the preceding day, the huge bird rested until my father carved. Relatives were noisy, ate, complimented, retired to the living room.

Reluctantly, I helped clear some plates and was asked to dry dishes. I resented it. One aunt bragged about her remodeled kitchen with imaginative appliances but didn't ever have us for dinner. Linen dishtowels soaked with water were frequently changed else the plates stayed moist. My mother would have to wash, then iron the pile that accumulated from just this meal.

I grew up. Winter recess, during college freshman year, was filled with inner conflict. It was still my family's food and hospitality; I felt displeasure at the parasitic relatives. Questions about my future profession, of men, and comments about my perfect figure that betrayed their envy, disturbed me. Out of respect for my parents, I kept opinions inside and made social conversation.

During my junior year, my father, then age 45, had a massive heart attack and died on the living room couch.

Widowhood and ostracism went together. People visited to instruct my mother or eat her meals. Invitations to celebrate holidays with anyone she'd entertained for so many years were never issued. Few came to spend time listening or to extend empathy.

Emotional upheavals during holidays can't be eliminated by placing "emphasis on the positive aspects" for even now I've a bittersweet sensation. Don't others feel exhilaration and sadness during religious and cultural celebrations? Perhaps, instead of how-to-avoid we need positive reinforcement and reassurance that, at times, it's okay to experience temporary depression.

Would this put statisticians out of work?

 

Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide and her poetry and personal essays included in hard and softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including 12 different divisions of The Smithsonian.