My dad's favorite Christmas carol was "Home for the Holidays." I think, having been raised in Pennsylvania, he loved the lyrics about the man heading home to that state for some "homemade pumpkin pie."
But there are individuals who will not be home for the holidays this year, because they are hospitalized or in a care facility. For them, the holidays can be lonely and sad, especially if they are facing a serious health crisis. And, these feelings are not good for one's health or recovery.
"Loneliness, even when surrounded by many caregivers, can be quite a problem, often accompanied by despair," said the Rev. Kevin Massey, vice president of mission and spiritual care at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.
Massey has made it a point to help those who are away from home during the holidays.
"I have always felt it a great privilege to be in the hospital on Christmas Eve. When you think about it, the holiday time, no matter what religious background you may have, is a particularly sensitive time to be away from loved ones. I find it important to help people find a place to pray or observe their religious celebrations."
Following a current worldwide trend, Massey spoke of the importance of spiritual care teams. These teams are made up of clergy and lay people willing to meet the spiritual, as well as the physical, needs of those hospitalized.
Massey said, "There has been an increasing nurturing of those human domains -- a real shift in thought. Individuals need to be treated as whole people -- meeting their spiritual needs, as well as their physical, emotional and social. Any health care provider does their best work when approaching people from that human perspective."
Some research has shown that praying with others and showing compassion and love, not only helps individuals overcome their loneliness, but also improves their health.
We all have the ability to overcome loneliness, to feel loved and be well, Massey said.
"Everyone has a spiritual perspective," Massey said, "For some people it is from a certain religion -- formal or not. I try to connect with everyone's spiritual perspective. We all have value as a child of God."
Taking this further, Massey said, "We can make every place a place of healing. Gratitude is a way to bring healing into our lives no matter where we are, but especially when facing a health crisis."
He reminisced, "I remember an encounter I once had with a patient which left an indelible mark on me -- one I have never forgotten. A patient had received a bad diagnosis. I went to see her in her hospital room and found a person who was brightening the room with her own smile and presence. She reasoned that I was there because of the diagnosis she had received, but she told me that instead of despair, she had a feeling of thankfulness for all that she had received throughout her life. 'As I look back,' she told me, 'it is with deep gratitude for all I have had and have been able to receive."
Massey said, "Gratitude has the power to take the exact same situation and make our lives experience it differently."
Such gratitude may not just leave us comforted, but may help in our healing, he added.
No matter where you are this holiday season, Massey advises expressing gratitude -- it can counteract loneliness and actually heal you.
• Thomas (Tim) Mitchinson is a self-syndicated columnist writing on the relationship between thought, spirituality and health, and trends in that field. He is also the media spokesman for Christian Science in Illinois. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.