When all is NOT merry and bright

The leaves are showcasing the last of their vibrant colors as they prepare to take their fall to the ground making way for the close of another autumn. The air has become crisper allowing for consistent wear of boots and sweaters. Signs of the holidays are upon us and people tend to ponder about what they are grateful for so they have something to say at the Thanksgiving table. The end of another year is not so distant and reflection becomes an overwhelming theme for many.

The visual transition is glaring in our face but the inner transformations and transitions are often not as obvious. This is when we need to pay attention to one another as family, friends, neighbors, strangers and humans. There is an assumption that the holidays are happy and full of joy for everyone. The reality is that the holiday themes of reflection, gratitude and transition stir up a lot of emotions in people. Sometimes those emotions can take people into a dark season of sadness, loneliness, anger and even regret; which can lead them to withdrawing or even lashing out.

We must take notice of people who do not conform to the perceived notion that the holiday season is wonderful for everyone. We should be aware and present enough with those we care about to notice a change in their behavior like we notice the change in the color of the leaves. We should love them and support them, but more importantly let them know that we are grateful for them and they are not alone. The simplest gesture can turn a dark season around.

I have had family and dear friends over the years who sank deep into this dark season. They could not take all the happiness and joy around them because their hearts hurt, their souls were grieving or they felt isolated and alone. Some withdrew quietly, some were pretending and others became blatantly mean just so people would stay away. While each was in their dark season for their own reason, there was a common thread. They each needed to know someone cared about them, supported them, was grateful for them and noticed what was happening. Things like calling to check in, sending a card in the mail, making plans to take them out or invite them over, baking cookies together, watching their kids for a few hours, stopping over with a coffee or hot chocolate, letting them cry and talk about things, going to their loved one’s gravesite and waiting in the car just so they didn’t visit alone, even sharing a funny meme or photo went a long way to helping them through their dark season. It brought them a little bit of holiday magic and connection at a time when they could not find it themselves.

This can be true for our neighbors as well. One year we noticed that a neighbor’s house was not decorated. This was unusual for them. We stopped by and learned that their son who typically does the decorating, had been in the hospital. Even though he was now home he could not do it this year. They did not want to burden us and declined our offer to help them decorate; but a few days later we brought over some outdoor decorations and home baked cookies. They hugged us all and teared up. Their son was also grateful; he said he felt horrible that he could not decorate this year. Of course, he knew his parents understood but also knew they were missing the tradition.

If we had not noticed our neighbor’s lack of decorations and stopped, we would never have known all the family was going through. It wasn’t about what we did for them; it was about showing up for them. It was about bringing a little bit of holiday spirit to a family that was struggling in their own way.

It is not hard to be kind – even to strangers. Just being kind can and does go a long way. I remember my mom driving past a bus stop where a woman and two children sat waiting in frigid weather, during the holiday season, with very little on to keep them warm. She could have kept driving but instead she turned around, bought a hot chocolate for each of them and went back to the bus stop. My mom simply handed them the hot chocolates, smiled and wished them a happy rest of their day. The mother and her children accepted, smiled back and said “Thank you.” This was a simple gesture of kindness to a stranger and her family – just because my mother noticed and cared.

Acts of kindness should be a part of us all year round, but the holiday season is a great time to kick up your kindness game and take notice. It is a time when being grateful is at the forefront and people are challenged to give to others who may be struggling. Use this holiday season to find a creative way to notice, bring a smile, give a hug and warm a heart…shed a little holiday spirit on someone who may be in a dark season.

Taralee A. O’Malley-Hurff is an educator, a philanthropist and a published author. Her book, 100 Things To Do Before You Are 10, is the go to resource for family bonding and adventure. Taralee has passionately contributed to the fields of special education and early childhood education since 1998, meeting her students as needed in the home or in school. She excels at recognizing each child’s unique gift and successfully ignites their love of learning through exploration, discovery and play. It is through this work that Inspired Education was born. As a philanthropist, Taralee currently serves as the President of the Board of Trustees for the Southern Regional New Jersey Early Intervention Collaborative. This is her 6th year as a Board Member. Taralee enjoys family life in Southern New Jersey with her husband and three children.

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