December 4, 2016

Surviving the Holidays after the Death of a Loved One.

xmas dog christmas tired

Since my husband George died in 2013, I get really depressed over the holidays.

With him gone and having little family myself, the season doesn’t look how I think it’s supposed to. It’ll never be the way it was when he was alive.

But I’ve I realized, I’m the one who gets to decide how things are supposed to look. Not the Hallmark Channel.

So I’ve decided that things look okay this season being on my own. I’m trying to heal from my loss, to find serenity instead of pain. If I’m doing things to recover and to feel connected, I’m on the right path. I’ve decided that there will be no more holiday agony because things are different. I’ll have gratitude for friends, like the one who invited me over to Thanksgiving after I reached out to her because I didn’t want to be alone. I could never do that before.

My aunt asked me last week, “Have you found anyone new yet?” I had 32 years with my love. I can’t just replace him, nor do I want to, at least not for a long time, if ever. My measure of recovery isn’t whether I’m dating, it’s if life seems better, if I’m happier, at least some of the time.

I’m not a salt shaker who needs pepper to complete me.

Besides, I tried dating too much after losing George, trying to tamp down my loneliness with new people. I felt so lost without my husband. It took me a long time to figure out I’m the same with or without a man. I won’t be a better version of myself just because I’m accessorized with an escort.

My next step in coping was to overcome that neediness.

I used to be sad that my family is made of just my elderly dad and stepmom. I have very little family and we have no real holiday celebrations.

Then I finally realized how lucky I am. My dad and stepmom are awesome. They’re available, super funny, offer wise counsel when I ask, and encourage me to travel and take risks. My childhood home is open to me, although it’s not like the version on a greeting card.

Life without my husband still feels bleak and absurd. Like last week, when the water main for my neighborhood broke and my dishwasher flooded. The plumber said it might be the “solenoid,” but I think it was Beelzebub. George would have known what to do. There would be no accursed devil in the dishwasher, just a rational explanation. I wouldn’t have a plumber’s bill. Then we’d have gotten take-out Chinese food together and laughed about it.

Instead, I went to an evening yoga class and had drinks afterward with a girlfriend. So, I had a lovely evening, just not the one I would’ve had.

I can’t get George back.

I can ask myself what fulfills me and carry this into the holidays.

A few modest suggestions for coping with loss this season:

1. Stay off social media. The whole “fear of missing out” is a killer. Someone will post photos of an extravagant celebration with her (still alive) husband. Comparison is the enemy of joy, but Facebook really rubs it in.

2. Have perspective. Many people have problems or are unhappy even though their lives look enviable from afar. A divorced friend coined the eight percent rule, saying that in her experience, just eight percent of married people are happy in their marriages.

3. Treat yourself to things that cheer you. For me, it’s homewares, but I’m a nesting type. If I’m lonely, I may attend yoga class when I need it, even if it’s not at my regular studio and I have to pay extra to go.

4. Recognize it’s better to be alone than with people who make you feel worse. I’ve decided I just can’t hang with a friend who is depressed about being single and talks about it incessantly. Widowhood has helped me see when people aren’t good for me.

5. Spend time outside. It just helps.

6. If you descend into the pit of take-out and binge-watching Netflix, set a specific date to get out or call someone you trust to ask for help. Don’t order a large pizza by yourself. You can really only eat a small one.

7. I am trying to keep a gratitude journal. I couldn’t do this the first three years after George died. But I am trying now, just like we can get through the holidays if we stop comparing what is with what we think things are supposed to be.


Author: Debbie Weiss

Image: flickr/Nick Nuygen

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

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