Senior Savannah Watermeier lost her cousin Solomon four years ago. He was only 19 years old when he died suddenly in a car accident. Watermeier was 14 at the time.
“He was a singer/song- writer and played the ukulele and guitar, so it was a holiday tradition that he would sing us all of the songs that he had written over the course of year at Thanksgivings and Christmases,” Watermeier said. “Even though we’ve had four years of not hearing that, it still doesn’t get any easier. We had 19 Thanksgivings and Christmases where we heard him sing, and now there’s a very big empty space.”
The holiday season causes stress and depression of all kinds for many St. Martin’s Episcopal School students. Often, students go about their daily lives covering up or holding in the pain they carry because the holiday season is supposed to be a time of happiness and togetherness.
“I am stressed out that I won’t be with my whole family during Christmas, that’s one of the common things you hear a lot about at Christmas,” said Senior Jeff Zheng.
Zheng lives in his father’s house, while both his brother and sister have dropped out of college to start their own business in Colorado.
“We’ve come to the point where we all understand that we were going to separate eventually; it was just a matter of time,” Zheng said. “I would like to visit my other relatives over the holidays, but it might be difficult.”
Junior Bree Milioto has not been able to spend a Christmas with her mother in 10 years. She feels an obligation to spend Christmas with her father because of his little children that she has to help with.
“I could spend Christmas with my mom, but I would feel very guilty,” Milioto said. “It makes me stressed out. There’s an expectation that I have to help take care of the kids, even though I’d rather spend a Christmas before college with my mom.”
Coping with loss and challenging family dynamics can be difficult for students, especially given the expectations the holiday season demands.
“Marketing projects the perfect holiday,” said Upper School Guidance Counselor Dr. Bill Rosenbaum. “You see ads of families sitting around the tree, and everybody’s happy. But the holidays can be tough for some people: for people who’ve had a loss, it makes them miss that person; for someone who’s had a divorce or if they’re single or widowed, they feel less than adequate because they don’t have that in their lives, so it makes them feel less than fulfilled. That can be really tough.”
The holidays don’t have to be perfect. They are not about having everything you want and everything exactly go as planned. They are about being thankful for what you are gifted to have, according to Rosenbaum.
“Try to take time to reflect on all the things that are positive in your life, essentially to experience gratitude, to be thankful for all the things that we do have,” Rosenbaum said. “Sometimes we make life more complicated than it has to be.”
When stress and depression seem to be taking over, helping someone less fortunate than yourself can bring about a sense of happiness and meaning.
“What is really helpful is to sometimes volunteer, if you have time, to do something for less fortunate people,” Rosenbaum said.
In addition to personal stress, academic pres- sures add up as the semester nears its end.
“I definitely feel very stressed because of all the work, and it seems to be piling on more and more,” said Junior Zelia Wolf. “You might just have a regular paper, and then there’s one project that is due soon that you have to really focus on, but then something else pops up on top of that.”
With college application due dates coming up fast, seniors have to juggle both academic demands and deadline pressure. This balancing act can be overwhelming when added to the difficulties of final projects and upcoming exams, according to Senior Nick DellaCroce.
“With the holidays coming up and college applications due soon, we have to be sure that we are studying for our midterms and exams while keeping up on applications,” DellaCroce said.
The toll these expectations take on students can lead to anxiety and depression.
Mixing things up and keeping things interesting and joyful can alleviate some of this intensity. Trying to bring happiness to some- one else who is struggling can also be therapeutic, according to Rosenbaum.
“Break routine instead of just sitting at home with an empty chair,” Rosenbaum said. “Or if you know someone who is usually alone during the holidays, invite that person over so you have a different person there, and the chair is not empty.”
Though it has been four years since the tragedy, Watermeier and her entire family feel a deep scar where there once was joy, but they have made an attempt to heal.
“Solomon’s younger sister Clementine was 12 when he died,” Watermeier said. “So about a year after he died, she learned how to play the ukulele and how to sing. She’s still learning, but occasionally during Thanksgiving or Christmas, she will sing. Sometimes she even sings a song Solomon wrote. It puts a smile on everyone’s faces. It’s not the same as Solomon playing, but she tries to do her best to fill the void. Even though it’s a happy time, the holidays, it’s also a sad time for my family because my cousin is gone, and he doesn’t sing anymore.”