Touched by loss. Empowered through community.

How to Navigate the Holidays

Tuesday, November 29, 2016
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How to Navigate the Holidays

For those of us who are widowed, the holidays can mark an incredibly difficult and emotional period of time. While being with family and friends can certainly bring us some comfort and happiness, the loss of our loved one leaves a physical and emotional hole that cannot be filled. Whether this is your first holiday season without your loved one, or years beyond that, the duality of sadness and celebration is something that can be difficult to navigate.

For those of you who are new to widowhood, there are many emotions and feelings you may not know how to address. You have your own hurt, pain, emotion and grief to wrestle with, and yet you may feel an obligation to behave in a certain way to make it easier for others. And if you have children, you want to be sensitive to their feelings, traditions and expectations about your holiday rituals. It can be very difficult to go through the motions and put on a brave face to make everyone else feel better when you are crushed, broken, and dying inside. The feeling of being swallowed up and crushed is a real, true, and brutal emotion you may have already experienced, and can be amplified during the holiday season. Over the years I have had the opportunity to talk to many widows and widowers who all have stories of how they deal (or don’t deal) with the holidays. And for every person, what they feel comfortable with is just as different as our own unique story of what brought us to the common club of widowhood.

I think it’s important to do whatever YOU feel you can do, even if it means “disappointing” others in the process. If that means you need to skip parties and gatherings you don’t feel comfortable attending, then politely decline and don’t go. If you need to cry your eyes out, do it. If you need to burn Christmas cards, or break plates, or skip a cookie exchange, do it. If you want to spend your holidays not acknowledging them in any way, then don’t. If you want to be on your knees or singing in prayer, or volunteering at a shelter or soup kitchen, do it. Don’t let anyone tell you how you should or shouldn’t behave- they don’t know your heart and mind, and what you can or can’t do may change from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. And that is okay. No one gets to tell you how to “do it right.” There IS no such thing, and what works for one may be detrimental to another.

However you choose to acknowledge the holiday, do NOT feel guilty for any of the choices you make. We have plenty of other reasons to feel guilty, and whether we are doing what we “should” be doesn’t have to be one of them. Seek out the company of those who are supportive of you, who will hold your hand, or wipe your tears, or tell stories that make you laugh, or break those plates with you. It doesn’t have to be family- it could be a good friend, a co-worker, another widow or widower. Whoever is willing to sit with you however YOU need them to is the person you need around you.  Be gentle with your fragile heart, and know that you are not alone in all the feelings you have. You are entitled to all of them.

I hope that all of you make it through the next few weeks with some degree of peace. You are all in my thoughts. Be good to yourself. 

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