Make Every Day Holiday!!!!
By Donna O’Donnell Figurski
A Holiday is Fun!!
Well, for most people it is. But if you are living with a brain injury, any holiday can be devastating.
What is a holiday?
A holiday can be a looming reminder of what life used to be pre-brain injury. Memories of past holidays that once were happy may prevail (win through) and bring with them overshadowing feelings of unhappiness or thoughts of: “If only . . .,” or, “If I could turn back the clock . . . . ” But, we all know that returning to the time before brain injury is impossible. And, we know that “would’ve,” “could’ve,” and “should’ve” never happens. There are so many holidays scattered throughout the year. It seems like almost every day is a holiday – for someone.
What are some of the more recognizable holidays?
The major religious holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah) fall in the dead of Winter, or happen in the Spring (Easter, Passover).
Secular holidays, which are not focused on any particular religion, crop up throughout the year, like those holidays that bring families and friends together (Independence Day, Labor Day). These are often celebrated with loud, raucous parties, community parades, and all too often, community fireworks displays and neighborhood firecrackers meant to put everyone in a joyous mood.
Holidays whose origins are religious (ex.: Valentine’s Day, Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day), have crossed over to become secular holidays that everyone can enjoy. As a matter of fact, Hallmark has made some holidays (ex.: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day) more prominent.
Then, of course, there are celebrated events — “holidays” — that are associated with birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and graduations. There is no shortage of holidays when and if we choose to celebrate something.
What happens to us as we experience these holidays?
The sound of trick-or-treaters laughing as they race to each doorbell, or, the smell of hotdogs on a neighbor’s grill for Independence Day, or, watching a newscaster wish a safe and fun “Cinco de Mayo” to the audience, can trigger feelings of being left out.
Holidays are not going to go away and folks are not going to stop celebrating them. That “being left out” feeling, that feeling of being trapped and watching the world freely and happily cavort by, can lead to extreme unhappiness.
What do we do with all these holidays?
So, what can survivors of brain injury and their caregivers do to make the holidays less imposing, less daunting, less sad? I have a few suggestions that I would like to share with you.
- Put the holiday into perspective
It’s just a day that will be followed by another day and so on. By avoiding complaining, grumbling, or negativity about the celebration of any particular holiday, you will undoubtedly be in a better place. Though life is not as it was pre-brain injury and you most likely can’t celebrate as you once did, you can definitely honor and appreciate the very significant fact that you survived. You are alive!
- Go to public celebrations!
I remember my earlier years with my husband when he was building his career and always working at the lab – even on most holidays. I hated those days because I perceived everyone was having fun, except me. I was resentful. And, I was sad. In those days, I could wallow in my sadness, or, I could do something about it. Sometimes, I dragged myself the few blocks to town to watch the parade (Independence Day) by myself. I’d forget my sadness when my 1st or 3rd graders would march by in their soccer, baseball, Brownie, and Cub Scout uniforms. Almost all of them were smiling from ear-to-ear, waving wildly, and yelling my name as they marched by in front of me. Those memories still bring a smile to my face. So, get out into the public, if you can. Remove yourself from the place where you are feeling most sad.
- Play Music
Sometimes, I will play happy music – really loud. That is usually a mood-changer for me. And, if it didn’t change my attitude enough, I’d stumble through the day knowing that the next day would be just an ordinary day — not a holiday. It wasn’t easy feeling left out when others seemed to be having fun. But, it happens all too often to so many people, and I knew I wasn’t alone.
- Allow Time to Change Perspective
As the years have passed, the holidays have fallen into a better perspective for me. I don’t fret over them so much because I keep them simple. I think this is my key. Since David’s brain injury, we spend many holidays alone, even Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. We make our own fun. I make special treats for different holidays – cheese and crackers, shrimp scampi over capellini (a thin variety of Italian style pasta), or macaroni salad and sausage.
Sometimes I’ll set aside time to read a book I have been wanting to read, but hadn’t had the time. I have watched a movie I’ve been wanting to see. Maybe reading a book or watching a movie would work for you.
David is no longer able to fight the mall crowds to buy presents for me for special holidays. But, he can do computer searches and order something from a website while sitting comfortably in his computer chair. Quite frankly, I have discovered that I don’t need physical presents. I still have David and his presence is my greatest gift.
- Make the holiday Yours!
Choose something, anything, that will make your day special. You are in charge. Make the holiday work for you. Then look forward to it. And – ENJOY!
PS – Post Script!
To lessen the magnitude of a holiday, maybe you could try to embrace a holiday each day – just for fun. Days of the Year.com actually has a special day for every calendar day. Have you ever heard of “Whipped Cream Day,” “Goof Off Day,” or “Flip-Flop Day?” Seriously! There are so many weird days to celebrate. You have my permission (as if you needed it) to make up your own holiday and celebrate it. Start now! Have Fun!
Another article that may be of interest, and which I also wrote, is Holiday Stress and Brain Injury. It examines the major holidays and how to maneuver around them and stay in one piece.
Donna O’Donnell Figurski is a wife, mother, and granny. She is a teacher, playwright, actor, director, writer, picture-book reviewer, photographer … and, on January 13, 2005, became the caregiver for her husband and best friend, David. Donna had never heard of “TBI” before David’s cerebellar hemorrhage.
Now, TBI invades her life. Donna spends each day writing a blog, called “Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury,” preparing her radio show, “Another Fork in the Road,” on the Brain Injury Radio Network, and searching for a publisher for her completed memoir, “Prisoners Without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale.”
Donna published four stories with Scholastic, won Essex County’s 2013 Legacies Writing Contest, and was recognized for her children’s book review column, “Teacher’s Pets,” by the National Education Association. Donna has published articles about brain injury in several online magazines; she is a contributing author for two books on brain injury, which were published in 2016; she also has three biographies and two chapters in press (due out in 2018). But, Donna’s greatest accomplishment is caregiver to her husband, David.