JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas --
The holiday season can be an exciting time, full of gift giving, visits with friends and relatives, delicious meals, or spending quiet time at home with loved ones. For some, the season may not be as joyful – a lonely time full of negative thoughts and difficult circumstances, such as the ongoing pandemic.
Joint Base San Antonio offers many programs and services which can help lift spirits and assist in navigating the holidays in a positive way.
Chap. (Lt. Col.) Larry J. Fowler, a 502nd Air Base Wing chaplain, said anyone can feel down during the holidays for a multitude of reasons, to include distance, grief, guilt and regret, or perfection and comparison.
"Being away from parents, siblings or extended family can be difficult during the holidays,” Fowler said. “Emotional distance brought about by a strained relationship can make the holidays daunting instead of delightful.
“One of the perennial struggles we face is deployment and if you are separated by deployment during December … it sucks. Find the balance between crying in your coffee and taking pride in the selfless service of your family member,” he said. “Remember, deployments come and go. You and your family will make it through this one and the next as well.”
Grief is another difficult thing to cope with during the holidays.
"Walking through a holiday and remembering a loved one who passed recently or even many years ago can wear on our hearts,” Fowler said. “Grief is a strange thing that seems to have a life of its own. Give yourself time and space to grieve, knowing that emotional pain is a sign of life, growth and humanity.”
For some, feelings of guilt and regret can surface more during the holidays.
“All of the would’ve, should’ve and could’ve’s of life can work against us. Misplaced guilt and regret over things in our past are of no value as they do not help or resolve anything,” Fowler said. “Addressing real issues can be of benefit; but playing the ‘what-if’ game with our past mistakes is a no-win situation.”
Fowler said it is best to be honest and realistic in regard to self-induced guilt and recognize that regret is of no value.
“If you need catharsis, then speak with a priest, pastor or professional counselor … or anyone who really cares and is willing to listen,” Fowler said. “It may be your turn to be the listener this year, but talking with others can truly help lift the emotional burdens that sometime pop up during the holidays.”
When it comes to family celebrations, some want things to be so perfect and flawless that they lose perspective.
“Make peace with the truth that your house doesn’t have to look like something out of a Hallmark Christmas movie or compete with a magazine photo montage,” Fowler said. “Real people don’t live in those worlds. Embrace the joys of a messy house, burnt turkey and lumpy gravy. They reflect the realness of life for busy military families.
“Don’t get sucked into the black hole that is social media,” he said. “Don’t despair that your posts aren’t as glorious as some of your friends. It’s your holiday, enjoy it.”
If you are separated from your family over the holidays, Fowler suggests finding positive people to be a part of your life, and for those who are definitely in the holiday spirit, why not reach out to someone whose holiday might not be so jolly?
“Whether it’s a co-worker, a relative, or friend who is alone, a phone call just to check in on them can mean the world,” Fowler said. “Perhaps invite someone to your home, or elsewhere, to talk and share some time together – keeping COVID-19 restrictions in mind, of course.”
Fowler also said the holiday season is a good opportunity to exercise your faith tradition.
“Our community is rich with a wide array of faith traditions,” he said. “Our military chapels have a wide variety of services and events taking place.”
Information on chapel holiday events is posted on the JBSA chapel Facebook pages, which can be found at: www.jbsa.mil/Resources/Chaplain-Services/.
There are also multiple programs JBSA members can utilize to find assistance, free of charge.
“Military members are blessed with a toolkit full of resources to help with the struggles of life,” Fowler said. “On a personal basis, since 2006 I have used the Military Family Life Counselors. They offer free, confidential (except for duty to report items) counseling. I have walked into their offices, or had them come to my office, and I have utilized their professional skills to address my struggles and troubles, both real and imagined.”
Military Family Life Counselors at JBSA can be contacted at: JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, 210-835-5848; JBSA-Lackland, 210-984-1076 or 210-238-5528; or JBSA-Randolph, 210-744-4829 or 210-966-4037.
As the New Year approaches, Fowler said it is important to look ahead.
“2020 has been a difficult year in numerous ways. Truth is, life can be tough with or without a pandemic,” he said. “I encourage people to gain a broader perspective on their current struggles and consider the truth that, while it may be tough right now, it will get better.
“Lean upon the best aspects of your faith, family and friends to help you walk through the tough spots of life,” he added. “Remember, the tough patches will work out. You can, and will, work through to a better, brighter future.”