Right on the heels of Thanksgiving, the Centers for Disease Control reported another decline in U.S. life expectancy, driven largely by a soaring suicide rate and opiate overdoses. It's a national trend, but also very local, possibly involving our friends and family.
Year-end melancholy is no surprise, really. It’s normal for people to get depressed as three gigantic downers converge to cancel out the joy that’s supposed to come with family gatherings, shopping sprees and wassail.
It starts with Thanksgiving, which promises to deliver the all-American trifecta: food, family, and football. But Uncle Billy was passed out on the couch before halftime, Dad and Aunt Bev kept arguing about who gets the silverware when Granny dies, and Aunt Sadie wouldn’t stop griping about her daughter’s choices in men. Then there’s Gramps, who started every other sentence with, “I’m not a racist, but…”
Even better, all of them are coming over again for Christmas dinner. Yipeeeeeeeeee! Uncle Billy swears he won’t be bungee jumping into the egg nog, Aunt Bev and Dad have promised to wait until Granny dies before they duel with her shrimp forks, and Aunt Sadie says, fine, she never wanted to have grandchildren, anyway. No promises from Gramps, though.
Fun fact: By the time Christmas rolled around, even Norman Rockwell had given up on painting family dinners. Clearly, he couldn’t figure out how to draw “Freedom from Relatives.”
Then there is the solstice, which brings the shortest stretch of daylight on the calendar. Of course, almost nobody will notice, because the sun is only out during working hours and the cloud cover is non-stop in December. (If Jesus had been born in Chicago, the Magi would still be looking for him.) Lack of sunlight leads to Seasonal Affective Disorder, which affects about 10% of the population, and then they pass it on to 100% of their friends. Who says this isn’t the season for sharing?
Finally, the end of the year delivers the coup de grace, as people consider unkept resolutions, unmet goals, and unpaid credit card bills that will be delivered by forklift in January. There’s no better way to say Happy New Year than with a bright, shiny, new debt-consolidation loan.
Meanwhile, we’re inundated all month with happyjoyfunjoyhappy posts from all our friends on social media, and every one of them is simply having a wonderful Christmastime. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we’re alone in our sadness, that we are the singular despair in a world of glee.
People feel isolated when they travel through a dark place, because they can’t see the friends who are alongside them on a parallel journey. Each of us has the opportunity to shine a light, to illuminate the journey, to help them break free of their isolation. It might be as simple as a “how are you” that’s more than a platitude. It might be an assurance that there’s no stigma to seeking help. It might be a coffee break that includes a ton of listening. It can simply be a reminder that they have a friend, that they aren’t really alone.
At this time of year, that perspective can be a lifesaver.
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Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.