Holidays are an especially hard time for those who are grieving, and Christmas may be the hardest for those who especially love it.
My wife died on October 25, 2010, so Christmas came two months after her death. My three adult children were coming for the holiday with the four young grandchildren we had then, and everyone would stay at my house. I knew that I had to decorate the home to some extent rather than broadcasting to these young people that I was alone, sad, and in shock. Christmas decorating was a project my wife had always led, so now my mind felt like oatmeal and my body seemed leaden. I could hardly go through the motions of testing the lights and putting them up and getting the small, pre-lighted tree from the attic. My decorating was far below my wife’s standards, but it was enough to signal to me and to my kids and grand-kids that life was going on. When my daughters and the grandchildren arrived, it quickly became a real Christmas. The holiday I had dreaded became a step toward the future.
On the third Christmas, after my wife’s death, I was at the home of one of my daughters. It was the first time the children had a grandparent in the house for Christmas, and it was my first time to have Christmas in one of my children’s homes. It turned out to be a very good time, though different from the past.
This is now my 10th Christmas season without my wife, and each Christmas has become easier and more focused on the family and my friends beyond the family. Of course, there are still sentimental moments and sometimes pangs of sadness, but those are part of the truth about life as it is now.
Christmas won’t be the same for you without your wife, but Christmas seasons won’t always be the same emotional challenge you feel now. You may find that you are comforted by having the same decorations and foods as before, or maybe you will discover new places and new activities. Let the holidays begin to shape themselves as you find the best ways to observe them meaningfully now.
Don’t overdo your celebrations, but don’t make a big show of not celebrating the holidays. It will only make you and others sad. Don’t build a wall of gloom around yourself. People won’t want to try to break through that wall.
There is no way to take away the pain of loss we feel at Christmas. But begin now to form your new practices for this special time. Let yourself grieve, but also let yourself be thankful for the celebrations you enjoyed with her in the past. She would want you to grow past your grief into the new person you are becoming now.
Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, “WIDOW-MAN,” every other Wednesday. You can write Dr. Kardatzke at firstname.lastname@example.org