First person: The Holiday Triangle


We are in the series of holidays that can be called the “Holiday Triangle.” We are looking at the time from Thanksgiving, to Christmas or Chanukah, and finally, to New Year’s Eve.

The holidays come so effortlessly in succession that we can completely miss the opposite side of their celebration. We have embraced this triangle with the intentions of joyfulness, happiness and fulfillment. Within this process, we have done so many people the disservice of expecting happiness and fulfillment for us all.  Not so.

We know that false-positive expectations of the season, over commercialism and a frenzied, almost neurotic need for extravagance has done us little good emotionally and spiritually in our quest for personal and family satisfaction. It is also a time of loneliness, isolation, and deep sadness for those people who are experiencing or have experienced loss and grief for individuals who are no longer with them.  My experience is that many people are in various stages of the loss-grieving-lamentations sequence of coping and are poorly served by the extremes of happiness and joy of this time within the triangle.

Alan Wolkenstein

These individuals can actually feel a greater sense of social isolation from our cultural support systems because they are, in fact, engaged in deep grieving. We have persons who lost someone or an important part of their life while experiencing the holidays. There is little in the way of social sign posts for them to follow in their losses and grieving.

There are so many of us in whom the losses occurred in the past, grieving may have been successfully completed, but the losses are somewhat reawakened by the intensity of the Holiday Triangle.

There are even more, we suspect, that never fully completed their grieving, and now the holidays bring back the losses and deep grieving never having become a part of their own transformation as persons.

We experience losses, we grieve and lament, and eventually we are transformed by the memories of our personal experiences. Without this transformation, our pain and suffering can remain at the levels of our initial losses. While time may heal all our wounds, we must do something with this time if we are to live our lives fully and deeply, love again, care again and grow to our potential.

Yes, there are some semblances of community based awareness to their needs. For example, some hospitals and social service agencies frequently sponsor an event to honor, reflect on and collectively lament our losses in a protected group environment. However, many people are unable or unwilling to share their losses in groups, so they grieve alone and painfully, especially during this Holiday Triangle.

I would be remiss if I did not reflect on many feelings people have during these times of the distances between what is and could be, and what isn’t and what was not in their families. Whether real or imagined, these distances can cause people to be and remain lonely, isolated and fearful instead of “in the moment” and enjoying and appreciating what is and could be. It seems that working with a guide or mentor can have positive results in clarifying and enhancing the enjoyment we can feel instead of the disappointment and losses we experience.

We still have the potential to be a truly can-do community-society. We can accomplish so much once we become actively aware of our human needs, understand their implications, and apply our skills, knowledge and compassion. Now is the time to plan for the many that cannot enjoy this Holiday Triangle. Now is the time to know that in ourselves that we can do this…

Come, let us plan together.

This article is reprinted with permission from The New Social Worker at Alan S. Wolkenstein of Mequon holds a master’s degree in social work from University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and is a retired clinical professor of family medicine with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “Prof,” as his students and friends call him, is a native West-sider. He and wife Kathy are members of Chabad of Mequon.