Embrace or Escape the Holidays?

WSN: Widower to Widower by Fred Colby

One of my mantras as a widower is: “It will never be the same again!” This view is never more apparent than during the holidays. Because holiday memories are so unforgettable and because they are so important to the family as a unit, the loss of your wife just makes these days incredibly challenging to get through. COVID 19 has only compounded the problems.

Like my family, yours may have developed time-honored traditions for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or New Year’s Eve (ours was a New Year’s Eve Tamale Party for friends and neighbors). Often your wife may have been the driving force behind these special holidays.

For me, continuing these traditions in the same way was not only challenging to execute but also a huge trigger to intense grieving. At times I felt that I was deliberately punishing myself.

We each may have very different experiences during these special days. Much of your reaction will depend upon how important these holidays were for you and your wife. Regressions into deep grieving are perfectly normal during important holidays, whether you adhere to the old traditions or not.

As I put up the Christmas tree that first year, set out the Christmas displays, and decorated the tree with my grandchildren, I felt it necessary to let the grandkids know that Popa had not forgotten Gaga and that Christmas would go on no matter what. But there was a price to pay.

That first Christmas was as advertised, as I regressed to the worst stages of grief. It was as if I was again revisiting the first month of the healing process, including full-blown meltdowns, sobbing, crying, yelling, and the whole bit. Total funk days occurred often, and I could barely function at times.

In the middle of preparing our first Christmas family dinner together after my wife’s passing, I had to escape. I crouched in our master bedroom closet, shut the door, and sobbed. After regaining control, I returned to the family to enjoy our meal together. I felt better just knowing that I had taken the time to remember and honor my wife in a way that was therapeutic and helpful.

However, after that first year, I decorated my home less and attended the holiday celebrations at the homes of my daughters and their families. I still have good memories, but the reality is that these holidays just don’t have the same meaning for me now.

One way to make the holiday more survivable is to “reinvent” the holiday. For example, to counter the anticipated Thanksgiving dinner impact, I took everyone for an overnight stay at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort, which had a Thanksgiving buffet. It changed things up enough that the sorrow was somewhat diminished. (Granted, this is extra hard to do this year).

One thing I have learned during this process is that it is best to confront your demons, your grief, rather than try to avoid it. That does not mean wallowing in constant self-pity where you are re-experiencing the pain for the pain’s sake, but rather, allowing your grief to progress and come out as it needs to. By confronting your demons, you will help process your feelings and love for your wife. It will enable you to move on and celebrate the good moments from the past and enjoy the ones in the present.

Each Widower must find his unique way to embrace and express his grief, a practice that means something special to him and/or his family. You may discover it will build on a talent you have, such as writing, singing, music, painting, or carpentry work. I escaped to reorganizing our photo albums to try and counter the grief with the many positive memories of my wife, Theresa. Writing my book, Widower to Widower, was another effective and therapeutic outlet.

Now in my fifth year after her passing, I find the holidays less challenging. I remember her often and fondly at these times, but no more elongate sink into deep grieving. My new mantra is: Stop thinking about yesterday, focus on today, and look forward to tomorrow. I know Theresa would be there with me every step of the way with this approach. Yes, I still miss her… but I am gradually re-engaging with life, as I know she would have wanted me to.

You can do the same!

© Copyright 2020 Fred Colby

All rights reserved

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Fred Colby is the author of Widower to Widower, which is available on Amazon.com. You can find Fred’s column appearing here on WSN-MO every other Tuesday. Widower to Widower is available through your local bookstore, my website, and Amazon.

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