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Leading lives of quiet desperation this holiday season

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“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”  That simple, but insightful quote has been attributed in varying forms to many people, from Plato to Philo of Alexandria among others.  No matter who said it, or the exact phrasing of such, the sentiment is the same. We all seem to engage in great battles every day, some larger than others, but still important to each of us.


I think of all the great quotations that I’ve come across through the years, that is one of the best and most truthful.  Henry David Thoreau had his finger on the pulse of humanity too with his famous musing “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”


We’ll forgive Thoreau for not including women when he said that.  Whether he truly meant just men or he was using the term “men” to include all of us, (as in “mankind”) we don’t know but I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt. For surely women lead lives of quiet desperation too and women also are fighting a great battle, which brings me to my point: The holiday season which is now upon us and will require those of us who are engaged in a daily battle with depression or extreme sadness, to try to find the strength to get through these next four weeks and emerge unscathed.

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I refer to the Christmas holiday since this is my heritage, but the daily battles are waged by everyone, whether it’s Christmas, Hannukah or any other celebration. The sad fact is there will be many of us on the outside looking in.


It wasn’t always this way.  Christmas, and in particular Christmas Eve, was always the happiest time of the year for my family and I.  My youngest son, Scott, although a grown man, was like a big kid on Christmas Eve, eagerly anticipating what treasures were hidden in the gaily wrapped and decorated Christmas gifts.


Laughter and love abounded in our home, not only at Christmas but all throughout the year.  These are the memories that I will draw upon this coming Christmas Eve, our 7th such holiday without our youngest son.

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Our son was a paramedic and an RN who loved life and loved animals and was a truly kind, loving and compassionate person.  Unfortunately the Addiction Monster had invaded his body at the age of 17, and for 14 years he struggled trying to overcome this monster until on December 1, 2002, the battle finally came to a conclusion and the Monster had won.


So if you happen to see me out and about, doing all the ordinary, mundane things that we all do each day, when we speak, please understand that you will be seeing only the shell of my former self. The words have been well rehearsed over the years, the forced smile comes easily after so many years of having a good reason to smile, and you’ll most likely walk away from our encounter believing that I’ve healed and I am me again.


With every “Merry Christmas” exchange, and every Christmas song being played in the stores while we shop for gifts to make others happy, and every Christmas card wishing us a peaceful and prosperous New Year, the well-intentioned knife cuts in a little bit deeper, cutting out more pieces of our already broken hearts and serving as a painful reminder that our loved one is no longer with us.


Do I want people to stop wishing me well and wishing me a happy holiday? No, of course not. That would detract from our loved ones’ joy.  I do not wish my unhappiness on anyone else. I would just like all of us to realize that there are so many of us walking around with wounded hearts that you cannot see.


I will never be the old me again.  I am someone new now.  I am a person leading a life of quiet desperation, a person fighting a great battle. 

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Sheryl Letzgus McGinnis is a retired medical transcriptionist. She's also been a radio DJ for several radio stations in 2 states and also did voice overs for a local TV station while living in North Carolina. She now uses her voice to speak about (more...)

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