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


At the age of 51 I unexpectedly became a widow. For the first 6 months after my husband died, I was in shock and numb. I journaled and with the help of friends, family and therapists was able to get back to living my old life, even if it is now very different. Before I was married, I had spent a semester in England and backpacked around Europe. My husband and I moved from New York to California for 8 years and started a family. Travelling took a back seat to raising a family and going to work everyday. Since the loss of my husband I have visited a lot of places with family and friends and took a solo trip to Thailand. I am enjoying sharing my stories and adventures as well as some of my insights to how I am traveling the path of being a widow. I hope to share my stories and adventures as well as some thoughts on being a middle aged widow. While I have some great experiences traveling to Thailand and cruising to Central America, some of my adventures involve a trip to see a Broadway show in nearby Manhattan and a shopping trip at Bed, Bath and Beyond. If I can inspire anyone to go out and continue to live a good life that would be my greatest accomplishment.

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11 Responses

  1. Adelaide M Sanders says:

    Good for you, a good way to help so many who live with so little ….GOD bless you today and always.

    runawaywidow wrote: > a:hover { color: red; } a { text-decoration: none; color: #0088cc; } a.primaryactionlink:link, a.primaryactionlink:visited { background-color: #2585B2; color: #fff; } a.primaryactionlink:hover, a.primaryactionlink:active { background-color: #11729E !important; color: #fff !important; } /* @media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px) { .post { min-width: 700px !important; } } */ runawaywidow posted: “It has just started, the holidays, but it is already beginning to hit.  I knew it would.  Last year 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 wa”

  2. Liz says:

    Love it! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us all. Have been thinking of you….So glad to hear that giving to others has brought you a smile. Wishing you all goods things this year.

  3. Lauren R says:

    You are absolutely amazing Kristin! Reaching out and touching the lives of others in need had to be an amazing feeling. Prayers for you and your sons during this holiday season and always. Love and hugs to you my friend.

  4. Rachel says:

    Good for you Kristin. You are inspiring me!

  5. cedar51 says:

    I guess I am living with a different kettle of fish – I don’t ever do much for the “holidays” and in New Zealand, we don’t have Thanksgiving – I can go weeks without seeing a friend, particularly during our summer holidays (Christmas is summertime here) that is because most organisations shut up for summer recess…

    I am doing a Christmas day with family – but yet again it is split – as 2 siblings in my sisters’ family are not on speaking terms at all…
    I can’t understand how they can’t put aside their differences for this one day, particularly as my sister is now 90 and she’s not going to be here forever!

    So instead we have the 25th with the sons, me and sister plus the DIL – one of the sons is coming out from the UK for Xmas.
    Then on the 26th, we shoot off to the female siblings with the son/UK, me and sister…and I guess we do Xmas food all over again!!!

    As for the rest of the holidays, I will enjoy, hopefully sunny weather in my new backyard 🙂

    • runawaywidow says:

      That is so different from here. It is so dark around this time of year so the lights on people’s houses really helps to make the holiday season brighter. Enjoy both of your Christmases.

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