Sirin and Alkonost, the Birds of Joy and Sorrow

The Joy of Giving While Sorrow Is Lurking

These holidays are supposed to be joyful. But we are into a second year of holidays that are bringing the sorrow of isolation, loneliness, and loss every bit as much as they are bringing joy. The uncertainty of omicron is disrupting joyful plans for many people in this season. So no, this is not our typical holiday of joy and giving gifts to loved ones, because sorrow is lurking.

And yet, as we grieve many different losses over these past two years, it is still possible to find surprising joy mixed with the grief we feel.

Feeling Alone

Well before the coronavirus turned our world upside down, social isolation was a growing problem. Now, it has made problems of social isolation and loneliness more acute than ever. Blaise Pascal wrote that “all of humanity’s problems stem from the man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Though this might have been a bit of an overstatement, the fact is that the consequences can be profound.

Social isolation can wreak havoc on both physical and mental health. Add that to the loneliness that many people feel during the holidays. The holidays have many triggers for loneliness, and reality often falls short of expectations. So it’s important to know that there’s nothing unusual about feeling lonely at this time of year when so many people tell us we should be joyful.

Grieving Our Losses

After two years of this pandemic, we are grieving many different kinds of losses. Some are very real and specific. At this point, more than one in five persons has lost someone to COVID. But we are also suffering with more ambiguous losses. These are losses that become harder because we may not name them and grieve them as we would when we experience the death of someone close to us.

Let’s face it. We have lost parts of our lives to the pandemic that we will never recover. Pretending this is not so merely gets in the way of grieving for the loss and, ultimately, moving on. Lindsay Crouse, Kirby Ferguson, and Emily Holzknecht suggest that we mourn our losses and prepare ourselves to build new lives.

Finding New Ways to Give

Our friend Rachel Goldman tells us this “feels like a lot because it is a lot.” Stressors are everywhere right now and the holidays can magnify them. Easy answers feel cheap because they have little value. The best way forward is different for each and every one of us.

But one thought for dealing with loneliness rings very true to us right now. Volunteering to help others can leave us feeling less lonely and give our lives new purpose, writes Christina Caron:

“Something as simple as volunteering can improve our health, ease feelings of loneliness and broaden our social networks, studies suggest. Opportunities to give back – both in person and virtually – are more commonplace than they were last year, and the need for volunteers hasn’t let up, especially at food pantries.”

Kindness toward others might be just what we need for overcoming the loneliness that haunts us.

Click here for more on the science of helping out.

Sirin and Alkonost, the Birds of Joy and Sorrow; painting by Viktor Vasnetsov / WikiArt

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December 24, 2021