How much did I love Christmas? I would start my Christmas shopping in July of each year. I was the social convener of the century, organizing party after party. And, of course, a real tree was mandatory. I loved the smell of a Christmas tree and loved touching the needles. And my collection of Christmas ornaments was huge. There were Christmas ornaments with my children’s names and ones we created together when the children were young. At our house, we decorated the tree together as a family, listening to Christmas carols and drinking eggnog.
The death of my husband, Rhod, changed all that.
The pain in my heart was so big, I wished I could go to sleep on the first day of December and wake up a month later. It was two years after my husband’s death before I could enter the menswear department at the store; every sweater, every shirt reminded me that I had no husband to buy for.
The sadness was so encompassing that even the hint of joy made me feel guilty. If I was letting go of grief, for even a second, was I also letting go of the memory of Rhod?
I struggled with resentment, too. I found it very difficult to be around family and friends who were happy about the holidays. I spent the first Christmas after Rhod’s death with my son and his family. They were excited about the holiday season, and my daughter-in-law had done a great job decorating the house and baking special treats.
They had many gifts for me. Everyone tried to make it a typical Christmas, with the family traditions, as if nothing had changed. There was a pretense that everything was normal, that Rhod was just on holiday somewhere. He wasn’t, of course, and I was angry with him leaving me. I also envied my son for his full family.
I realize now that my anger, resentment and guilt were all part of the normal grieving process that is somehow heightened by the holidays. And I’ve discovered some ways to cope more successfully.
For one, I create new traditions. Insisting on the same rituals only served to remind me of my loss. I started approaching Christmas differently. I bought all new decorations for the tree, choosing a different color scheme – gold and purple. I had fun putting angels on the tree with my grandchildren. For several years, we celebrated Christmas on Boxing Day. Changing the date seemed to take the emphasis off the holiday season. I also planned some holiday trips, which gave me something exciting to look forward to.
For several birthdays, Valentine’s day and Christmases after Rhod died, I tried something new: treating myself to a memorable gift. I bought myself a pair of diamond earrings that I had wanted before he died. I remember him fondly when I wear them.
I also remember Rhod by participating in special projects during the holidays. For example, I donated to the Stained Glass Window Fund at our church in Rhod’s memory. Now, when I am in church, it helps when I gaze up at this beautiful window and silently thank God for having Rhod in my life.
Focusing on the needs of others will help you immensely during the holidays. Not only does it divert your natural preoccupation with grief, but also replaces feelings of powerlessness with feelings of purpose.
I have mentored a young widow for two years. Her husband died in an industrial accident after only one year of marriage, and now she was suicidal. After much persuasion, she agreed to go for a walk with me for an hour once or twice a week. It made a big difference during significant holidays. I shared the pain of suicide survivors like me, and she listened. Our walk, and talk, didn’t make her pain go away, but I think the connection helped her. I know it helped me.Tags: Depression, grief, hope, signs and connections