Article: Being Alone Taught Me To Appreciate Christmas

By: Heather Gillis-Harris

Halloween is over which means it’s onto the holiday rush. Last year I dreaded this time of year. Recently divorced, I was on a limited budget and terrified to spend anything “extra.”

With colder temperatures coming, I had to fill my oil tank and needed new tires on my car. We ate tons of pasta as it was cheap nourishment and the thought of purchasing Christmas gifts depressed me. Not to mention it was the first year I spent Christmas Eve and morning alone as my ex had the kids last year per our agreement.

With no family in the immediate area I felt like an orphan. Sure, I had friends invite me over, but I didn’t want to be Debbie Downer around them.

I can honestly say I’ve never had a lower moment than I did sitting alone wrapping the few gifts I was able to purchase the kids on Christmas Eve. Around 8p.m. I took a Xanax and put myself to bed. I tossed and turned all night, had a good ole’ pity party for myself and slept in, opting to watch Lifetime movies Christmas morning with my faithful English bulldog, Lyla.

When my children did arrive in the early afternoon it finally felt like Christmas.

I’ve had many moments of sadness in my life, but have never felt the level of loneliness as I did last Christmas. I started to understand and sympathize with those who dread this time of year. The senior citizen who lives alone, the soldier actively serving away from their family, those fighting an illness and stuck in a hospital, the police officer working to protect and serve. I never understood why someone might not like this time of year until I had my own less-than-perfect experience.

Being alone changed me. The expectations I’ve always had for Christmas no longer exist. I was always about making it the biggest and best, from the wrapping theme to the food, to the gifts. I ran around like a crazy person decorating cookies, making Christmas cards, getting the perfect tree, hanging wreaths, hitting up parties, and making sure all the “necessary” details were tended to.

But last year taught me to better live in the moment, to appreciate the small things and not get so overwhelmed with the holiday rush. Sometimes it’s fun to start new traditions, to let go of the old and welcome the new.

I’ve learned that we really don’t need all that much. Memories mean more than presents. They are only thing you get to carry with you until the end.

This holiday season I plan to enjoy the small moments a little more, appreciate that my children are with me this year and simply breathe it all in.

This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn’t make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let’s talk about living with loss. If you have a story you’d like to share, email us at strongertogether@huffingtonpost.com.