Surviving the Holiday Abyss

Everyone will start to tell you within a week of your wife’s passing that you must steel yourself against the trauma of upcoming special days and holidays. We each are likely to have very different experiences during these special days.

Much of your reaction will depend upon how important and memorable each of those days was for you and your wife. For example, Theresa and I had gotten to the point that our birthdays were not a big deal to us, so I did not have a major reaction on that day. Same was true for Valentine’s Day.

However, Thanksgiving and Christmas were major markers for me and did result in unpredictable regressions into deep grieving.

Thanksgiving was tough, but I survived… having my meltdown the day before instead of on the holiday. To counter the anticipated Thanksgiving impact, I took our kids and grandkids for an overnight stay at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort, which had a Thanksgiving buffet. It changed things up enough that the impact was diminished somewhat.

However, my attempt to introduce a remembrance of Theresa into the beginning ceremony of the meal turned into an awkward scene. The others, and I realized myself, were just not ready to talk about it without bursting into tears. So everyone remained pretty mum and I just let it go.

Unfortunately, Christmas (six months after Theresa’s death) was as advertised, with my regressing into the worst stages of my deep grieving, as if I were once again in month one of the process. This included 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 which was therapeutic and helpful.

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.

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. This will help you process your feelings and love for your wife. Once this is done, it is much easier to move on and celebrate the good moments from the past, and to enjoy the ones in the present.

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

Now in my sixth year after her passing, I find the holidays less challenging. I remember her often and fondly at these times, but no longer sink into deep grieving. My mantra remains: 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 re-engaging with life, as I know she would have wanted me to do.

You can do the same!

© Copyright 2021 Fred Colby

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