How to get through the First Holidays after Loss

The weather gets colder. The days get shorter and we know, the holidays will be here soon. Right after Mike passed,  my friends distracted me for my birthday and threw me a “surprise” party.  It was awesome.  There were lots of friends there to show me some love.  That was 3 weeks after my husband unexpectedly died.

Thanksgiving 2 months later was hard when I shared the day with my kids and Mike’s family.  We were all sad but didn’t really know what to do about it.  We were together. We ate some food.  We kept a stiff upper lip and tried not to upset each other with how sad we felt that he was missing.  Maybe that was all we could handle that year.

Following Thanksgiving, I decided to be proactive and make a plan for Christmas. Could I run away from the sadness that was inevitable and heavy on my heart? I wanted to try.

I made reservations for a Caribbean cruise.  I took my two boys, 19 and 22 years old, on a cruise to Honduras, Belize and Mexico.  I needed to be distracted.  I did not decorate for Christmas.  I did not make cookies or send cards or even purchase gifts.  I did climb some pyramids, have a few massages on the ship and swim with dolphins.

Doing something different helped me and was a nice way to bond with my sons.  Making new memories and treating ourselves to some fun gave us more to think about than how much we missed their dad.

I had a friend who suggested that I may want to buy gifts for a disadvantaged child.  It could help me feel better to help others.  I agreed.

Mike was always the one who came home with the name of a child for us to help during the holidays.  The child had asked for a gift and his office would hand out names to the attorneys and their wives would purchase the gift and have it ready in time. It was a nice gesture and we were always happy to help.

Last year I was on my own.  It was so much more difficult than I ever thought it would be to help others.  I stressed out about finding what this child wanted.  Every decision and thought was overwhelming and difficult.  I put it off.  At the last minute I overnight delivered the items to my house so I would have them in time.  Sometimes when we are grieving, we can not do that much.  Every little thing is difficult and you need time to take care of yourself.  I wasn’t ready to engage with people who needed me.

So now the dark season has returned.  I live in New York and it does actually start to get dark at 4:30 pm and doesn’t get light until about 7:00 am.  Now the holidays are starting.  Holidays are nice.  It is a time to spend with family and friends.  But when the man you married and raised your children with is no longer here, there is an ache in your heart.  I have been feeling that this week.

It starts with random memories showing up in my mind.  I think of times and places that we enjoyed.  I relive the fact that he is no longer here.  It is a reality that I try not to think about all the time, but when he is supposed to be here, like for a holiday, it is hard to not acknowledge that he is not here.

This Thanksgiving I was invited to have dinner with my brother and his family.  I asked a friend to come too and we drove the 5 hours upstate New York together.  We picked up my son from his college room and joined family for dinner.  We enjoyed a delicious traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and all the best desserts like pudding pie, apple pie and pumpkin pie.  We told funny stories and got lots of hugs.

I left the visit and was happy to have spent time with family but still – the feeling of loss is starting to gain on me.  Why don’t I have the life I used to have?  I don’t want to be sad, but that is how I feel. I know I am supposed to go through it and not always runaway from my feelings.  But it sure hurts.

So I read about some things people should do to help them cope with the loss of a loved one over the holidays.  I found a Pinterest site from who listed ways of coping with grief during the Holidays. I have nothing to lose so here is my take on her suggestions:

  1.  Find ways to remember– let’s talk about him this year. I want us to pray for him and talk to him and give him a gift. Have him participate in my thoughts of giving to others.
  2. Make time for yourself – my weekly acupuncture appointments and yoga classe are for me. I am thinking about seriously engaging in meditation study.
  3. Give yourself permission to say no. Last year I said no to many of my favorite traditions because I just wanted to say no. This year I will say yes to more but I appreciate that I still have permission to say no.
  4. Change some traditions. I haven’t thought about this one much. I loved to decorate. I want to revisit having Christmas at my house this year. Maybe we will do something different.
  5. Do something for others. Last year I tried my best to play Santa for a little girl. I have also written a check here and there to help people in need. But I could do more.

Today I went out of my comfort zone. My friend had suggested making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and handing them out to the homeless on the streets of New York City. Generally I don’t stop and talk to the homeless.  It is sad but true. But recently I’ve noticed a lot more people who are living on the streets and it is starting to get cold.

I read a very distressing article in the New York Times by Nikita Stewart called “Homeless Young People of New York, Overlooked and Underserved” FEB. 5, 2016.  She stated that some of the homeless are aged 18-24.  They hang out in The Port Authority bus station charging their phones. But many of them are runaways or foster children who have been exited from the social programs.

Well, we decided this would be a good use of our time and money.    We did some shopping. We hit the dollar store first and then the grocery story.  We gathered gloves, socks, oranges, granola bars, boxes of Yoohoo, candy canes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

widow feeding homeless in NYC
Prep night

Setting up an assembly line of sorts, we made the sandwiches and wrapped them in foil.  Then used plastic grocery bags donated from the store to pack the remaining items.


The next morning we headed for the Port Authority bus station in Manhattan with our 2 large suitcases and held several bags in one hand.

My friend took the lead and approached total strangers asking, “Do you know anyone who would like a lunch”.  Some people shyly put out their hand.  Some people said no.  Some people said thank you so much and directed us where we could distribute more bags.

Most people were middle-aged men.  One woman was a bit upset that I spoke to her and took a swing at me, but overall people did seem appreciative.  As we drove out of town, we smiled as we saw men sipping Yoohoo on the street.

I am not feeling as sad as I was yesterday.  We listened to Mike’s iPod and his top tunes last night as we made the bags and today I wore his old sweatshirt as I walked around the city. Every day is different.  We get what we put into it.  This was a good day.  Maybe I will do some decorating tomorrow.

What are you doing to help you through the holiday season?

widow's guide to the holidays

Runaway Widow
Join me, Kristin, on my journey to adjust to the sudden death of my husband and learn to live as a young, middle-aged, remarried widow.

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