Finding the Christmas Spirit after the Loss of a Spouse
Dealing with the holidays after the loss of a loved one isn’t easy for anyone. Believe me, I know. I used to be the kind of woman who had all of her Christmas shopping done by the beginning of October and her decorations up during Thanksgiving weekend. I was so together that anything that needed to be mailed to family out of state was packed up and at the post office no later than December 10th in order to avoid the holiday rush. And I was so excited for Christmas that I couldn’t narrow down my cookie selection so I made them all, cheerfully placing them in tins and delivering them to my neighbors with a smile and a “Merry Christmas!”
But in 2007, all of that changed.
I had no idea that the death of my husband would forever alter how I handled the holidays, but it did. Gone was the woman who shopped all throughout the year for things she knew her friends and family would love and she was replaced by someone who woke up on December 21st and said, “Christmas is in how many days? And I need to do what?” I don’t even think I made it to the post office that year and all of our cookies were store bought.
The Christmas spirit I had been known for from my youth to adulthood was gone and in its place was a woman who actually said “bah humbug” on a few occasions.
Christmas wasn’t just difficult…it seemed to mock me. Standing in line to check out my groceries, I avoided looking at the covers of the magazines on the rack. I couldn’t make Martha Stewart’s perfect gingerbread house. Rachel Ray’s wide smile seemed to say she knew I didn’t have the attention span to make a 5 Minute Bread Pudding. And Oprah – her headlines demanding that I “live my best life” were just too much for me to handle.
All of the things I had taken for granted as a married woman I had to figure out as a single mother. Purchasing a Christmas tree became just another problem to be solved rather than a fun family outing. Buying presents for my children was suddenly complicated because I had no one here to assemble a 502 piece tool bench for my son. Around every corner was a reminder of something I had lost – the life that I had once taken for granted and the easy happiness that came with it – and I worried that I would never find it again.
“Change your traditions,” the experts said. “Do things a little differently than you would have with your spouse.”
And so I did, decorating the house in a way that I knew my husband wouldn’t have approved of, almost out of spite as if to say, “So you’re going to just go ahead and die on me, are you? Well. I’m decorating in all white lights just because I know colored ones are your favorite. So there.”
Something tells me that’s not what the experts had in mind.
That first Christmas passed by in a blur. Like many people who have gone through something similar, I would have been just as happy skipping the whole darn thing. But just because a dad has died, doesn’t mean that Santa won’t come. And so I lived the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it,” plastering a smile on my face for the sake of my three children and excusing myself to go to the bathroom when I could feel the tears starting. I mustered up all of the excitement I could as my kids opened each of their presents while I numbly opened my own. I cleared away the mess of the morning without the usual disappointment of another Christmas gone, but with the relief of a new widow who had just made it through her first holiday and had a bland, holiday-free January to look forward to.
And here I am, approaching my 6th Christmas without my husband.
The experts were partially right – there is something to changing your traditions a little. It makes what’s missing a little less glaringly obvious. But nothing is more helpful than the slow tick of time to ease the burden a little. I’ve noticed that, for the first time this year, I did a little shopping ahead of time. I didn’t dread decorating my house. I’m looking forward to my dad helping me with my Christmas tree.
My old Christmas spirit has started peeking out again. Instead of focusing on what it is missing, I’m concentrating on what’s here. Instead of being sad that my husband isn’t with me, listening to the sounds of the kids laughing on Christmas morning, I’m choosing to focus on the fact that they are laughing – they are happy. And the fact that I have to remind myself that joy in an unexpected life is possible just means that I’m always actively looking for it.
And that’s not such a bad thing.
Sometimes I can still hear that widow from 6 years ago saying, “But aren’t you sad? Don’t you just want to shut yourself away for the next month?”
“And miss the magic of the season? Never.”
Catherine Tidd is a writer, widow and mother of three. She is the founder of www.theWiddahood.com, a free peer support website dedicated to anyone who has lost a significant other and has a Facebook peer support page under the name Widow Chick. She has been published in several books about grief and renewal and also writes a blog on anything that pops into her nutty brain called Bud Light Wishes and Cheeto Dreams.