How to Survive the Holidays after the Loss of a Loved One

“I am totally not decorating this year!”

That’s what I said the first time I drove past someone’s festively decorated home the day after Thanksgiving.

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That first Thanksgiving without my husband was the toughest.  I was not prepared.  I don’t think I could have been.   My brother in law and his wife generously offered to make all the food and bring it over to my house.  My boys were home from college and my in-laws wanted to see them.

I provided the wine which I started drinking very early that day.  It was awkward.  We all missed Mike but didn’t know how to approach his absence.  We ate.  We talked about stuff.  Some of us drank a bit too much.  We were together and not alone so that helped.

I remember wanting to just spend the day in my pajamas and order a pizza but I went along with the tradition of having family together.  I cried all weekend.  Grief is hard and the holidays only get worse.

This year will be different for many of us as we limit the size of our get togethers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  We will be happy to see 2020 shut the door, and we are hopeful that 2021 will leave the chaos of riots, the polarity of the election, and the wariness of the virus behind.

For people dealing with the first holiday season without a loved one, this time of year can be just simply awful. My first year as a widow I practiced the title of this blog and was a runawaywidow after that first holiday.

For Christmas I booked a week long cruise to the Caribbean with my 2 sons.  We slept together in a tiny cabin with 3 bunks.  Eating and drinking in the sunshine was different from a week in New York and we even swam with dolphins on Christmas morning.  I had been determined to do something different.  In addition, I did not send cards.  I did not decorate my house.  I did not buy presents for anyone. I did not go to church. I just disappeared or ran away from the idea of the holiday.

Widows get a pass that first year so take it if you need it.

As the dates get closer I may have waves where the grief hits me again.  They still come unexpectedly but I have learned to ride them. I know to let the feelings hit and that I will be OK.

Learning to acknowledge my feelings and not always run away from them has been difficult. I love the analogy that my aunt sent me after my husband died and I became an unexpected widow.  

That the journey through grief is like treading down a road with potholes.  In the beginning, the holes are big and wide.  It seems you may never get out.  Over time, the potholes are still there, but they do get smaller and come along less frequently.

Knowing that waves of sadness or tears will come, and that “this too shall pass” allows me to keep moving forward. Here are some suggestions that have helped me get through grief during the holidays when it is getting tough.

1. Listen to  positive affirmations on  “Think up” app – I program the recording with my voice and inspiring music.

2. Name at least 3 things you are thankful for.  Research has shown that keeping a gratitude journal “Benefits associated with gratitude include better sleep, more exercise, reduced symptoms of physical pain, lower levels of inflammation, lower blood pressure and a host of other things we associate with better health,” said Glenn Fox, an expert in the science of gratitude at the USC Marshall School of Business.

3. Take a walk outside – fresh air and being out in nature 

4. Watch a favorite movie like “Titanic” or “Hair”  – Those movies don’t end well so you know, life could always be worse.

5. Call a friend or family member.  Maybe they need to hear from me too.  I don’t always  like to make the call, but once I am on the phone, I love catching up with loved ones.  

6. Play with my puppy. He makes me laugh. Sometimes I dress him up.  He loves to play fetch or tug of war.  He is quite good at sniffing so taking him outside for a walk is good for both of us.

7. Take a nap.  Especially as the days are shorter and colder.  Some days it just feel wonderful to take a midday nap. 

8. Go to Costco – This may just be my thing, but I love the openness of the warehouse store.  Browsing at all the cool stuff from TVs to diamonds, sweaters to kitchen appliances, sports equipment, books and Christmas decorations are such a joy to me! Even though tasting is not allowed now, new foods are always proven to be tasty and the cooked rotisserie chickens are a deal.

9. Pull some weeds or do yard work.   Get grounded with the earth. Leaves still seem to be falling and the gardens look pitiful.  A bit of effort makes the yard look better and is a good workout for me I like to tell myself.

10. Read a book.  Buying books is no longer necessary as I have discovered the Kindle and Libby apps on my phone.  With my library membership I can download books to my ipad and many are available in audible so I listen to them while I walk or exercise.  Finishing the book is important if you want to participate at Book Club.

11. Listen to music. Do you have an Alexa or Echo in your home? I love that you can now just tell it to play a song or genre of music you like and – viola! instant playlist.  Just not sure what to do with all those CDs and boom boxes in the garage.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, except when it isn’t.

Visiting family at Christmas will be nice. I know I deserve it after teaching Kindergarten for this past month!   Holidays come and go.  I noticed that the anticipation of those dates is often worse than the actually date.  Making plans in advance for something different may help, as well as surrounding yourself with friends and family.

Thanks for reading my blog and sharing my journey.

Do you have any suggestions for dealing with the holidays when you don’t always feel up to it? HOW TO HANDLE THE HOLIDAYS AFTER LOSS OF A SPOUSE


25 Responses

  1. So proud of you…you handled grief “your way” and that ca never be a bad thing. Time will certainly help but it seems you have a good finger on the pulse of the rest of your life, so keep on living it “your way”

  2. Thank you for sharing. I am into my third year of widowhood and approaching my 4th holiday season without my husband. This year is a little harder as Christmas Eve would have been our 10 year Anniversary. I am just starting to feel like myself again and accepting this new “normal”. I have finally realized it is ok for me to have fun and enjoy myself. That the only thing that matters is the happiness of my children and I. I am starting to finally see some light through the fog that has been my life the past 3.5 years. Thank for you the inspiration to continue this journey.

  3. Visit a new widow and take her a care package for the holidays! Just read this and thought it was a great idea. Helping someone else always blesses the giver too.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story. This year is my second Christmas since loosing my mum to cancer. As she passed away in September I was so not ready for November – her birthday then December. It was similar to your story, as a family we were a bit awkward. I got drunk on baileys and cried in the shower…..
    This year your pothole analogy is so true – it will be tough and at times I will slip but it will be better.
    Stay strong and inspiring.

  5. It’s our third holiday season without my dad and first without my grandmother. You’re correct that it does get easier, but it’s still hard. Developing a gratitude practice has been so important to me!

    1. I agree. When I feel sad I try to redirect my thoughts toward being grateful and that does help. Thanks for reading

  6. I lost my husband April 4, 2020 as a result of covid-19. He was 50 & we were married 26 years. We met when we were 13. He’s been in my life so long it’s hard to picture my life without him. We were blessed with 2 wonderful kids. We stuck together as we had to be quarantined after his passing for 2 weeks. We had to say our goodbyes to him over the phone, he was in a medically induced coma & on a ventilator. I feel like we made it through the worst life could hand us. I appreciate you sharing your journey . It is comforting to hear your story & that you & your kids are doing okay.

    1. Oh Tina I am so sorry for the loss of your young husband due to COVID. What an awful way to say goodbye. Yes. You will have tough days but keep taking steps forward, even if they feel tiny. Hugs to you and your kids.

  7. I’m in my third year of widowhood. Christmas this year was enjoyable. I counted my blessings. I was with my family, went to a Christmas Eve service at church and finished writing stories of the past Christmas of my childhood. I found a comfort in the memories of that time. And it gave my grandchildren a glimpse into the the way things used to be.
    Grief is a long journey and we must choose how we live it. I read somewhere “we can use any tragedy as a stumbling block or a stepping stone”. How true that seams to be with this grief journey. Choose wisely.

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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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