Grieving Through The Holidays: Changing Expectations

I know I’m not the only one who is feeling the effects of the season.

Grieving during “normal” times is a full-time job.  Throw in 2 or 3 holidays back to back and whatever milestones we might have in the middle…well…we’re all working on nervous breakdowns of epic proportions.

I think one of the cruelest things about the holidays (and this may just be me) is that we’re dealing with something we used to look forward to so much…and it’s turned into something we can barely get through.

My first Christmas without my husband was definitely the hardest.  That should come as no surprise.  It came about 4 months after his death and the truth is, I was still in such a fog that I really hadn’t given much thought as to how exactly I would get through it (that worry came the second year when I was actually with-it enough to worry).

To tell you the truth, memories of that first Christmas are just now starting to resurface.  Everything was so crazy at that point; I really don’t remember much.  I would say that that first Christmas really came at the peak of my “manic” phase.  I was running around like the Tasmanian Devil right after he died in July.  And then I completely crashed the February after.

That was my first valuable Grief Lesson…you can’t outrun it.  It’s within you and will find its way out somehow.

I couldn’t sit still.  I didn’t want to think about what had happened or exactly how I was going to make this new life work.  I actually think I was too crazy for therapy at that point.


I was delusional enough that I had completely tricked myself into thinking I was the same person I had always been.  I wanted to assure everyone around me that nothing had changed.  You don’t have to be uncomfortable around me!  Sure, our family is missing one person, but heck, we can do this!  I don’t need anyone to feel sorry for us…we’re fine!

Webster’s just called recently and asked if they could put my 2007 picture next the word “denial.”  I told them no.  That really wasn’t my best hair year.

As I was getting ready to decorate my house this year, feeling a little less overwhelmed and a little more hopeful than I have in Christmases past, I talked to my sister and said, “Do you remember that first Christmas and that party I gave?  Was I crazy or what?”

And her response was, “Yup.  You pretty much were.”

Don’t ask a question you don’t want to know the answer to.

I got it into my head, somewhere around the middle of November, that I was going to have a party.  None of this widowing stuff for me!  I was going to invite every single person I knew over and throw a shindig like they had never seen before.

Not only that, but I decided to invite people over I knew to sell stuff.  I had a different vendor in every room of the main floor of my house.  Pampered Chef in the kitchen, jewelry in the living room, purses in the TV room, chocolate in the dining room. If I could have figured out someone appropriate for the bathroom, I would have booked them.

I decorated every square inch.  And when I ran out of decorations, I went and bought more.  Greenery on every surface I could think of.  White lights everywhere. I didn’t stop until it looked like Christmas threw up in my house.

Of course, manic decorating has to end at some point.  The guests come and then they leave.  And then I was stuck with a whole bunch of Christmas cheer and no one to share it with.

Kind of made me want to torch the whole thing.

Now, this story may strike some people as odd.  Most of the emails and comments I see are from people who can’t seem to rouse themselves out of their grief-induced stupor to put any decorations up.  And I get that…that was year 2 for me (I’ve always told you guys I’m a weird griever).

Of course, the reason why I’m probably not hearing from the more manic people is because they’re running around too fast trying to make a grid with Christmas lights on their lawn.  The more relaxed grievers have more time to write in.

Coming up on Christmas number 4, I think I’ve figured a few things out.  I have had to reverse my thinking about this time of year.  Instead of expecting to whoop it up at a bunch of parties and see every single person from my past within a 2-week time period, I’m looking forward to just being in my house with my Netflix subscription and endless cups of hot tea.

Instead of trying to hit every Christmas program I can find, I’ve told my kids to choose one and we’ll make an event out of it.  Instead of expecting myself to jolly everyone else along for the next few weeks, I’ll celebrate the fact that I’m just getting through it.

This year, I’ve learned to say “no” a little more and commit myself to less which leads to me feeling not quite so overwhelmed and exhausted.

I’ve learned to change my expectations a little.  Just temporarily.  There comes a point when you have to realize that you can’t completely recreate the magic of Christmases past.  Actually, you’ve already probably had to make that kind of transition before.  Holidays as an adult are really not the same as they are as a child.

As you’ve grown, you’ve had to change how you celebrate and make your own magic.  When you got married, you had to blend your traditions together to create something new.  If you had children, you had to change again, from letting the wine flow on Christmas Eve to drinking coffee so you didn’t completely screw up Barbie’s Dreamhouse.  And now that you’ve lost your partner in crime, those traditions have to be changed yet again.

But coming from someone who is working her way out the other side into a new life she wasn’t expecting…it will get better.  There is still joy to be had.  Miracles still find a way into our lives.  At some point…the lights will twinkle again and you’ll find yourself gazing at a house with really hideous decorations with a little grin on your face.

And if you hit your manic phase later than I did, be aware: it could be your house.

Catherine Tidd 2010

Catherine Tidd

More Articles Written by Catherine

Catherine Tidd is a widow and the Founder of, a free social support network dedicated to anyone who has lost a significant other. She is also a writer, public speaker, and mother to three young entertaining children. She received a degree in English from Rollins College in 1998 and has since worked as a writer, editor, Marketing Manager, and Event Planner. Originally from Louisiana, Ms. Tidd currently lives in Denver, CO. To read more of Catherine's work, visit


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  • Angie says:

    My first Christmas since my wife passed away in July and my mom in September. Both of them died suddenly .We were married for thirty one years and together for thirty five years and knew mom from day one.If there is a hell on earth I am living it right now.Not only was Chris my wife but my best and most loyal friend and now that she is gone nothing matters anymore and If I do not wake up tomorrow that would be fine with me.However that decision is not mine but up to God so I will continue on in this hell until He says it is time.I just hope it is soon so I could be with my Chris once again.

  • Rita Maury says:

    My husband and best friend was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the end of July this year and died the end of August. I have had bouts of gut wrenching blubbering and bouts of manic “getting things in order.” Now it is Christmas time. My boys and I are all together with their wives and our grandchildren. As I spend time with them, I am torn. I want to be with them all the time yet at the same time, I want to run and hide and cry. Luckily I am spending the winter next door to my elder son’s. I miss my husband 34 years so much that I find myself unable to think straight and wondering if I have early on set Alzheimer’s.

  • Maria Conyers says:

    My husband died suddenly in late October. A week later it would have been our 43rd wedding anniversary. A week later my birthday and we met on Christmas Eve 44 years ago and he always loved Christmas. I’m bewildered and lost. I cannot think straight either.

  • Deb says:

    This is my first Christmas without my husband. He died in a car accident in October. How do you do this and not feel like you are going crazy? I have never felt such pain and wonder whee my new life will lead me. Being a widow is the scariest thing I have experienced in life.

  • sonja says:

    My heart goes out to you all…
    I lost my husband 5 years ago as a result of a fall… And the first of everything is the worst… the first christmas, first birthday, anniversary…. and yes Deb being the W word is very scary… I thought I would be very old if that ever happened to me… but the worst part is now… my only son Mitchell 18 was killed in a car accident 4 weeks ago … and to not have my husband here to help me thru… I just dont know how I will make it… !!!!
    I hold on to Gods promise that father and son are reunited… But every day is a challenge and the pain is almost intolerable…
    But we all must keep going …
    I pray for all of you that God will give you the strength and the peace that you need to get thru this….

  • sonja says:

    Oh and Rita and Maria
    No you are not getting Alzheimers..
    Memory loss and not being able to think straight is all part of grief and shock

  • Linda Guma says:

    Catharine Tidd thank you so much for making me laugh. It has also help to read everyones comments you don’t feel alone and the crazy feeling I’m really glad I’m not the only one. Also, being so self absorbed is driving me nuts but going out and getting involved and giving to others I just don’t have it in me right now. I sit and stare sometines all day and I sleep all day don’t anwser the phone and pace all night. This is a great site to help understand what were going thru. Thank all of you very much.

  • Catherine Tidd says:

    Thank you all so much for your comments. It’s funny to me how when many people comment they are saying thank you for making them feel not quite as alone. But by commenting, that’s what you’re doing for ME! I guess I write for very selfish reasons. :>) Thinking of you all and I hope that you got a little peace over the holidays. Here I’ve been looking forward to them being over and I’m STILL suffering from the January blues! I guess there’s no pleasing me. :>)

  • Maria Conyers says:

    January is almost over and I have got through it. Just as we all have. I seem to do this by taking it hour by hour. Each breath is painful but somehow we have to do it.
    Sonja, you are an inspiration and I thank you.

  • Rita Maury says:

    The end of February will be 6 months since my husband passed. I feel more alone now. I cry more. I am existing. I have decided to get some counseling. I tried to work full time and just couldn’t do it. Stamina is very low. Is this normal?

  • Maria Conyers says:

    Hang in there Rita….hour by hour…that is the only way….my god, no one tells you that it is as though you have had half your body amputated do they? Yes emotional stress drains your energy…it is normal Rita…it is 4 months for me….in some ways it seems like two seconds, in other it seems like a lifetime. But it when the realisation suddenly kicks in that you feel …what? as though you are going crazy…this cannot have happened….?? we will get there all of us. Thinking of you…and thinking of me XX