Holidays are something that you probably used to look forward to. Now that your spouse or loved one is no longer with you, it is something that you may worry about for months, maybe even dread. Holidays and grief are hard to mix! I have written some things I have learned about the holidays…
Let’s start with there are no right or wrong ways to manage holidays or other events. Holidays or anniversaries seem to magnify the loss. We seem to miss them more around special days and realize that those days are different now without them. It is a time of great reflection- the sadness feels sadder and the loneliness is deeper. Holidays used to be fun and now they can be painful but have the best memories. It’s another stage where you feel the huge expansion between joy and sadness. There is some good news– from experience, I can tell you that the anticipation of an event is usually worse than the event itself.
Wow- we never realize how many anniversaries there are until someone you love passes away. The day they died, marriages, births, first date, the day you found out something was wrong, on top of all the holidays. Then we also think about what their last celebration was like when they were here. Also, certain holidays bring up memories of their death because they died close to that holiday. Wow, it seems every few weeks there’s another special time. No wonder the first year or two is so difficult!
Most people worry for a long time about certain anniversaries that are coming up. Worry, worry- what will I do that day? What feelings will come up? The best way for me to handle this was to plan for it, but then also plan on things changing. This is a great lesson on being flexible and learning to honor your feelings. I thought of things that my husband loved- being outdoors, his favorite restaurant, or his favorite card game and tried to insert these things into special days. Then I also thought of what he would want for me now and inserted those things into my day. I know he wouldn’t want me to sit around and cry, so I have come up with happy things to do. I am also one who didn’t want to think too much about death the first year- the pain was too great, so I kept very busy. I know from past experience that these feelings will resurface, but at that time I knew I would be better at dealing with them later. Others want to have a day to reminisce and feel those emotions. What comforts you? Do that!
His family tradition for Christmas is exchanging gifts to a theme so the first year Jay was the theme and we gave things that he loved. On his first birthday in heaven, we went to the cemetery and chose his headstone, let balloons go with messages on them, then went to his favorite restaurant for dinner. On the one-year anniversary of his death, we went on a hike in the desert where he was when he passed away. The second year we did things that were completely different and for some of the holidays, the second year was harder than the first. I think this happened because the first year I planned out each special holiday or anniversary, and the second one I didn’t. Also, people were not as aware of our family still missing him in the second year. Many days our thoughts are with him, even years later, because the cemetery is right by our home and we pass it each day.
Our bodies are incredible. They remember days and feelings before our heads do. I have noticed I have hard days and then realize before going to bed what day it is- an anniversary. It is proven by young children who don’t know the calendar and have hard days at home or at school. Acknowledging the day and loss is easier than resisting it- it will bubble up again when you hold out against it.
What about other people in your life? Remember that anniversaries and holidays take on new heightened meaning for everyone who loved them and everyone is processing this differently. What if they want to do something different than you do to commemorate the loss? Stand up for yourself. What if others don’t even mention the date and seem to have forgotten your loved one and you? It will happen, I promise you. People don’t know what to say and you don’t even know what to say yourself! This is where you get to be secure within and may have to memorialize alone. If others remember- thank them. That’s okay if you turn it around in your head so it is fine and you are happy. Your attitude is huge on days like this where everything within wants to fall apart, but you hold strong. It’s ok even if you fall apart. Let your feelings be your guide and honor them.
Another awesome way to look at this is if you had a tradition before that you didn’t really like- now is the perfect time to change it! Try new things and don’t be afraid to change your mind a few times- this is when people are giving you a ton of leeway. If people ask how they can help you through a holiday say these words, “YES, PLEASE!” I know we have been programmed to say, “No, I’m good.” No- Give people the chance to serve you- be clear and let your needs be known. This may be the only chance you get for this. For example, when my husband Matt was a new widower some friends came over and decorated his whole home for Christmas. But then he said NO to everyone when they asked if they could put it away. It was up until March! Christmas was frozen in time and was kind of painful to look at, but he couldn’t say yes.
One more way of getting through the holidays is to spend time serving others. It helps get your mind off your own loss and helps others who have their own hardships. Be present and watch yourself and how you feel and note it. Sadness is allowed. Happiness is allowed and everything in between.
You are still one whole person. Just because he is gone does not mean that you are 1/2 a person. You may feel like 1/2 of you is gone as you go through holidays, but you are a whole and complete being.
Honor yourself for having the courage to continue. This is not an easy road, but you have proven you are strong and can do hard things. No matter how the holiday went down- you survived! The person that you were has changed and you will continue to find the new you. Find meaning in the loss and do things that comfort YOU.
Now more than ever be gentle with yourself and protect yourself. Don’t do more than you want and don’t do anything that doesn’t serve your soul and your loss.