Holidays are a time to spend with family and friends, enjoying the memories of the years gone by, and looking forward to the future together. But for the widow, the holidays are some of the most painful reminders of her loss. Dealing with the death of a spouse during these festive times is difficult, and this difficulty is compounded by the fact that many friends and family members do not understand what you are going through. And it is not only holidays that can be painful. You will experience your loss all over again when you face each anniversary, birthday, and other special event without the one you held so dear.
The first step to managing the painful emotions you will face during these festive times is to recognize what you are heading into. While you cannot predict what events will cause you pain, try to anticipate the possibilities, and then do what you can to avoid the situations that are too unbearable without you spouse. You can say “no” to well-meaning invitations, particularly if attending will make you more miserable. Remember, others will not understand what you are going through, and if attending a dinner party without your husband is going to cause your grief to climax, it is better to avoid it. You are not under any obligation to attend these events. Remember, your emotional and physical health is your first priority.
Family traditions will be reminders to you of your loss. If they are too painful, you need to give yourself permission to change them. Perhaps opening Christmas presents on a different day will be easier on you and your children. You can do something completely un-festive for the actual holiday, taking your mind off your husband’s absence. You may find that a change in the traditional menu will help you to be distracted enough to get through a difficult day.
Do not ignore the pain you are experiencing, because this will only serve to accentuate it. Try to have a way built into your festivities to remember the one you loved and loss. Even if it is a small gesture, such as hanging his picture in a special place, you will find that it helps you to deal with your feelings, taking away the guilt of experiencing the holidays without him.
Some widows find that leaving town on important holidays or anniversaries is the best way to escape from the pain they face. It is important to do what you need to do in order to be able to manage the emotional pain you are going to face. Even if you have children, you can take the family out of town together. Remember, your children are going to want distractions to help them manage their own grief just as much as you do. Maybe plan a visit to grandma’s that you normally do not see for the holidays.
Keep careful tabs on your own health and energy levels. Remember, grief is much more intense, and often unbearable, when the body is physically tired. And the grieving process saps your energy stores. Make sure you get enough rest. Even if sleep eludes you, take the time to sit down and stop some of the activity. The holidays after you lose your spouse are hard, and others will understand if you are not up to the activities you normally enjoy, even if they do not share your level of grief. Take care of yourself, and grieve however you need to without worrying about the opinions of others. You and your children are your only priorities, and keeping this in mind will help you to deal with your grief during the most difficult times of the year.