If You’re Having a Blue Christmas, Know That You’re Not Alone

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by Christie Patient |

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The holidays can be a time of joy and celebration, magic and wonder, traditions and new beginnings — but also grief and pain. These things can exist all at once, but it can be hard to admit that you’re feeling heavy when you’re expected to be light and merry this time of year.

When I was little, Christmastime felt like real magic every year, but the older I get, the more effort it takes to feel the glow. Moving away from home is the root of most of my Christmas blues. Being far from family and friends, traditions, and the snowy wonderland I associate with Christmas makes it tough to feel the Christmas spirit.

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holiday blues | Pulmonary Fibrosis News | In a 2013 photo, Holly, Christie, and Ed Patient pose next to a tall Christmas tree they've found in the woods.

Holly, Christie, and Ed Patient find the perfect Christmas tree in 2013. (Courtesy of Christie Patient DuBois)

While I truly cannot complain about spending Christmas with my toes in the Hawaiian sand, nothing will ever beat tromping through the Sierra Nevada snow to find the perfect silver fir tree to bring home. I try to recreate traditions from childhood and make new ones with my husband, Jonny, but nothing really feels like a tradition when we’re in a different house — or town or state — nearly every year. 

I’m grateful for the chance to roam this big world, but the older I get, the more I yearn to put down roots, to find a forever home near our forever people.

And that’s the heart of the matter: People aren’t forever. The winter months are full of sad anniversaries and painful memories. A grandma’s birthday now celebrated without her. A cousin’s cancer diagnosis the day after Thanksgiving four years ago. And then his death just two months later. My mom’s pulmonary failure that landed her in the ICU the day after Christmas in 2018.

I grieve heavily this time of year and fear that I might be missing someone else’s last Christmas. I cry for my mom’s donor family, who face a third holiday season with an absence in their lives.

And yes, it is possible to celebrate with those who are still here while grieving the ones who aren’t. It’s also possible to be grateful to be alive to witness another Christmas while being afraid that it might be the last.  

holiday blues | Pulmonary Fibrosis News | Christie's husband, Jonny, poses among large trees in a Washington state forest in the winter

Christie’s husband, Jonny, on a hike in search of a Christmas tree in 2019. (Photo by Christie Patient DuBois)

We all are reminded of life’s fragility every once in a while, like when we hit black ice on the freeway or trip near the edge of a scenic overlook. Those reminders are often fleeting themselves. But people with chronic progressive illnesses like pulmonary fibrosis know all too well the fragility of life.

A diagnosis of PF is a constant reminder of our mortality. It comes with a challenge to rumble with death and find acceptance. Most people don’t just accept reality without struggling through the elements of grief. You know the ones — denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression. Hopefully, they eventually lead to acceptance, but the process isn’t linear.

Those with a terminal diagnosis grieve themselves in many ways. It’s normal to grieve the life you had before diagnosis, and the life you imagined you would have in the future. And while we can probably get away with processing that stuff in small bouts year-round, the holidays can cause a big swell of emotions and grief for those living with progressive illnesses.

Trying to participate in yearly traditions only to find them too strenuous could be the tip of the emotional iceberg. Seeing yourself through the eyes of family and friends that you haven’t seen in a year or two might make you realize how much your illness has progressed.

Plus, there are considerations to protect your physical health if you’re using immune-suppressing medications. Do you avoid social gatherings because you know they will worsen your fatigue or increase your risk of catching a cold, COVID-19, or the flu? You can do your best to prepare a safe gathering, but even that can be treacherous. Do you dare have controversial conversations with friends and family members whose actions show that your health is not their priority?

I don’t have the answers. I’m just here to tell you that it’s OK to feel depressed, exhausted, angry, lonely, or stressed out during the holidays. If you’re grieving a little harder right now for someone you love — or for yourself — that’s OK, too. 

Alongside our heavy feelings this season, we can also be hopeful for new treatments, grateful for researchers and doctors who help us find answers, and joyful for those who have beaten the odds. We can be grateful that we are here to enjoy another sparkling Christmas tree or the smell of fresh-baked challah. Whatever holiday you celebrate, I hope a little bit of that magic finds its way into your heart, too. 

Happy holidays, readers. I love you. 

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Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.

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