We all have images about how life should look, and those images are never more powerful than when we look ahead to a holiday.
My wife, Bonnie, loved Christmas. The fall when she was dying of cancer, she ordered presents by phone and online, sent our daughter Rebecca to stores, and had me pack presents for shipping. She finished all her Christmas shopping, and she died on the 17th of December.
A couple of days after Bonnie’s memorial service, Rebecca and I opened the gifts Bonnie had bought for us. We were numb, uprooted. The only thing stranger than opening those presents would have been … not opening them.
Birth, love, family, loss — all these come together in the year-end holidays that we celebrate in the longest nights of the year, when we are bracing ourselves for the deepest part of winter, when we are hoping and waiting for the days to grow longer and brighter.
Do you wonder if the holidays will ever be happy again? Are you saddened by the feeling that holidays are “not the way they should be”?
For many of us, the death of someone very dear to us is the doorway to a new world, and we feel cheated out of holidays that we thought would return in the same way, year after year. The rituals of a holiday can highlight the deep changes that death has brought to our lives.
But I want to suggest that holidays can also be infused with sweetness as well as sadness arising from memories of past holidays with people we loved and lost.
My years with Bonnie have endowed Christmas with a depth of meaning that I never brought to it on my own. The memory of Christmases with her is present like incense in the room when I celebrate Christmas now, with my new family and friends.
There’s no way I can bring Bonnie back to be with me at Christmas, but there are ways that I can celebrate her love for these holidays and re-create the beauty that she gave to them. I can light candles as Bonnie loved to do. I can give careful thought, as she did, to gifts that will bring pleasure to my family and friends. I can do these things, and I can choose not to. The only imperative is the one I have chosen — to experience fully my love for Bonnie, even if it is a sorrowful love, and to experience fully my love for my new family and the friends who are with me now.
Birth, love, family, loss: all of these come together in the year-end holidays. These precious holidays in the longest nights of the year remind us that there is life in the darkness, birth in the midst of loss.
Are your holidays dimmed by memories of people who will never again share them with you? This holiday, what would happen if you asked yourself this question …
“What can I do to make this the richest, sweetest, and most loving holiday possible?”
In these longest nights of the year, we’re celebrating birth, loss, love and family. Each of us knows what we’ve lost. And if we embrace love, family and friends, there’s no telling what may be born.Tags: belongings, funerals, money, grief, hope, signs and connections
Thanks for your words and thoughts. i will share with others. thanks also for bringing me to this site.
To Fully experience your love for a lost one, while in the presence of a new spouse requires a special relationship between the current spouse and her respect for your grief as well as your love for your deceased wife.
Dear Paul, my wife Bonnie of 35 years and have known each other for more than 40 years, I lost her to cancer this past New Years Eve, I was not ready, and now I am lost, she was all too me, but I feel so bad to not give her more of me and my feelings. I feel so angry with the doctors and nurses putting drugs in her for pain, and did not allow me to say the things I wanted, I miss her more than life and feel only to join her, you have survived a devastating loss but I do not think I can, like I said she was my world, not the one I am left with. Thankyou for letting me write this, but I know I do not have your strength.
I assure you, you do not know how much strength you have. How can I say that? Because you say you do not have strength, yet you love so strongly.
I hear that right now you don’t believe this life without Bonnie will ever be one you want to live. May I suggest, with all respect, that right now, having lost the one you made your life with, you cannot know what this future life will be, and you don’t know who you will become. That’s a scary place for any of us to stand, and it is also the place where miracles happen.
Naturally, you’re focused on the wonderful person you lost. But are you aware of the wonder in yourself, the person she left behind, the man who is capable of such deep love?
Please make sure you have someone to speak to. You are not alone in grief, and you do not have to do this without help.
The following site has some good suggestions for finding a grief counselor in your area: http://www.ehow.com/how_5534356_grief-therapist.html
Your friends can also a be a wonderful comfort, but they may be as confused about how to help you as you are about what could help right now.
There are people who share your experience of grief at http://www.aarp.org/community/groups/GriefLoss
Please keep this in the front of your mind: what is happening right now is that you are loving Bonnie as intensely as you ever have in the forty years you knew her. As much as it may hurt now, that is an expression of the miracle that she was and the miracle that you are.
I would be delighted to hear more from you here.
With deep compassion,
Paul, I want thankyou for your reply, it has been 3 weeks, I still cry everyday, but my memories of the things we did together are becoming more clear, my anger with the doctor and nurses blaming them for giving her pain killers to make her seem in a trance have gone, I now realize the cancer had travelled to her brain and it was the cancer not the drugs, she fought hard to keep her mind clear, I found when she was alone and no one to talk too the cancer clouded her mind, but when she came home before xmas she made an effort to fight off the effects,but each day it took a more strangle hold on her, I only wished I had learned more to what I was seeing, because I only wanted to blame the drugs. Although I attended church as a boy, I grew up feeling there was nothing after death, but what I am fighting with now is wanting to believe she has a spirit and enjoying the afterlife. I have friends try to comfort me but I sense their uneasiness,and not sure what to say. I have kept busy sorting her things and donating it to the various places she wanted them to go too, I am preparing a scrap book in her memory from the time of her birth, to brownie leader, to our trips together, I had cropped a picture of her in a family photo, had it framed and put it with her mom and dad, I cleaned the dust off her clowns and put them throughout the house. I feel my mission is to see to it my son and daughter are set for the future and then I can decide where I want to be, as I said this is no longer the world I had for 40+ years, and do not know if I want to remain here, I am beginning to have some anxiety when I am alone. Again thankyou for your reply, your expierence does give me some relief the hurting will wane somewhat, I know I must overcome the belief I had about death, must be overcome, if I truly believed in the afterlife I will feel better knowing she is waiting. Bye for now.
It is good to hear from you. I’m glad to hear that you are doing the things that occur to you to do now. Please trust yourself about that. The way the world looks now will change, and so all you have to do now is what’s in front of you.
The album sounds like a celebration of her life, and it’s obvious from how you love her that there is a lot to celebrate.
I will be writing more here and on http://www.lovinggrief.com. Please stay in touch.
All my best,
Frankly I think that’s abuelstoly good stuff.
I lost my husband this Christmas Eve. I opened his presents alone and screaming. It was the hardest thing. I am going to my first grief group tomorrow, but the hurt inside is so scary.
I am 41 and terrified to face the rest of my life without him.
I am lucky in the fact that we would routinely tell each other that we each felt saved by the other person. We would try to explain to each other the depth of our feelings and I know we made each other happy. He said that he prayed for someone to come into his life and he often said I was the answer to his prayer. Sometimes I will tell myself that my job was to love him, now I am drowning because I loved him so much. He had a sudden heart attack so it was unexpected.
18 days. When does it stop hurting just to breathe?
Maureeen, I’m so sorry that fear is playing such a large part in your experience right now. If you can notice that your grief and your fear are two different kinds of experience, maybe each will seem more manageable than the two all wrapped up together into one.
I’m glad you’ve found a grief group. Fear is bigger when you’re alone. Do keep reaching out for any help and companionship you need, when you need it. People around you would like to help, and they need to know what will help you. Please take care of yourself by asking others for what you need from them.
18 days. I imagine time feels different from any other period of your life. Grief time is all out of whack. But things do change for everyone.
Writing things down in a journal gave me a way to see that my feelings were changing, even though everything seemed to come to a halt after Bonnie died. Everything you’re feeling is natural and springs from your love for your husband. Even your fear of the future reflects how well you two imagined your future together and moved toward it.
I wish I could tell you how soon you will feel better, when it will “stop hurting just to breathe.” But I can’t because no one has ever loved another person just the way you have loved and are loving your husband. And no one has lived the life you have lived, or the life you are living from today forward.
I put a lot of my story and discovery in my book, Loving Grief, and I will keep writing on this site and on my website, http://www.lovinggrief.com. My path isn’t your path, but there may be some comfort in seeing how others have made their way through grief and fear. There are many stories and conversations on wwelcoming sites around the Internet, if you look for them.
I would love to hear how you are doing, and you can contact me here or on my website. I’ll hold you in my thoughts as you move through this scary and sacred time.