As a widow, I continually try to be positive in the changes and growth that have emerged in my widowhood.   Attending bereavement sessions around the holidays, I hear and see the word, “surviving”.

Surviving to me connotes a time of languish, a sacrifice and an insurmountable obstacle.  Most of us experiencing loss have felt fleeting moments of such, but then again we may find a single bright moment that leads the way to hope and renewal and even revival on this grief journey.

Holidays not only suggest shopping as with birthdays, Hanukkah and Christmas, but also include decorating, baking and traditional activities.  Weaving new into old and old into new is what our life journey entails.  How can you weave yours with what treasured memories and traditions speak to you and your loved ones?

Shopping: Keep it simple.  Maybe this is a year that you exchange gift certificates only and plan a family trip or excursion after the holiday.   Maybe this is a time when you ask others to do the shopping for you.  Be kind to yourself.  Relish holidays as a time of energy conservation and renewal rather than the have to’s of past years.

Gifting of memories:  I am not the best seamstress but I have friends who are talented in that arena.  They could create a small quilt, a Christmas tree skirt, a table runner or even holiday place mats from your loved one’s old clothes.  It is a way of purposeful renewal and memory. Men’s ties can be especially beautiful in a tree skirt as their shape flares out.  Mom’s old costume jewelry can be hot-glued to inexpensive picture frames for gifts to family members and even used to adorn a Styrofoam ball and hung with a ribbon from the tree. Memories will remain.  Using items gives them renewal and a sense of moving forward with honor.

Barter: This word may appear harsh, but often in grief we know what we have in the way of items and “stuff,” but don’t know how to relinquish and to whom.  Think about trading or bartering your  extra tools for ” x number ” of handyman hours.  Think about trading your lawnmower for lawn care for a year or your snow plow for plowing.  Relinquishing an item does not mean it cannot come back into your space, but it can allow space for other things to come in and other activities that may be burdensome to you now.  Remember holidays are about giving and giving to yourself is just as important as giving to others.

Decorating:  This may be a year when the tree gets a little smaller or all the decorations are not put up.  This may be a year when you ask a friend to adorn a wreath for you and you go on a citywide light walk instead of putting your lights up.  This may be a year, when you are not the ” hostess with the mostess” and visit someone else or even go on a cruise.  My first year of widowhood I picked out a fresh palette of inexpensive ornaments for my tree.  My first year of widowhood I did not bake and decorate the gingerbread houses, my daughter did.  My first year of widowhood I did not stay home.  Did it help?  I do not remember, but it did help me realize that everything did not have to be the same way in order to cushion the void I was experiencing.

Aromas and Baking: The holiday season conjures up sights and sounds and smells.   What speaks to you?  What smells remind you of great childhood memories?  What supports you?  If you love the smell of evergreens, buy yourself a beautiful soy candle or bring in some pine cones seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg.  My grandmother’s recipe for poppy seed strudel was a tradition and my favorite.  My father, now deceased, and I loved it.  Grandma has also passed away but her recipe and her handwriting of the recipe linger.

Holiday Cards: If someone sent me a card, I felt guilty that I did not send them one.  I was too exhausted and “low” to respond during my first years of widowhood. I did respond in another way.  The cards piled up during the holidays.  Beginning January 1st, I pulled one from the basket each day and said a prayer for that family and gratitude for their outreach. In grief, in life, it all takes time.  Give yourself time to allow for your unique gifts to unfold.

Outreach to Others: I found that giving to strangers during the holidays, sparked a gratitude that was hard to access in my loss.  I envisioned the foster sisters that would open the gifts I sent. Receiving a photo and thank you note a month later, I was not far off!  I remembered the Christmas I received my Polly Play Pal doll, when everyone told me the large gift was an ironing board for my mom and hoped that the burlap bag with my untidy red yarn embroidery would keep them in wonderment for a while. I remembered the first warm reversible ski jacket I got as a gift and even remember the pattern and hoped that what I picked out for the Angel Tree family would be as warming and fun.

Reviving your holidays, bringing a little something new to the old, is what makes other beautiful traditions awaken.  Remembering yourself, by placing yourself in a place of support is all that is required. Remember the magic and weave a small bit of change into your celebrations.

Susan W. Reynolds 2010


Susan Reynolds

Susan W. Reynolds developed her innovative system by combining interior redesign principles with grief recovery methods. Susan is a member of the Association of Design Education and a Certified Physical Therapist. Her training in wellness and ergonomics has given her sensitive insights into the needs of people in grief. She is a consultant to hospices on how interior design can help clients feel comfortable and safe. She speaks at bereavement groups to teach her methods to people who have suffered loss. She helps those in grief visualize how small changes in their surroundings can result in big changes in attitude. After her husband died of cancer after a difficult two-year battle, Susan participated in traditional grief groups. She found that a practical approach worked best for her. She uses her blog, "Room for Change", to present her ideas about the role of ergonomics in grief recovery. The book version of her system reflects input from bereavement coordinators and other specialists in the field of death and dying. Her company, Revival Redesign helps people refresh and enliven their personal space using items they already own and love.

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