Holiday Survival Guide for Widows

Holidays are wonderful times of the year, for most. For widows, it’s often a different story. Pain, stress, and anxiety start building sometimes weeks before the holiday. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years are often the most challenging because they are so deeply rooted in long-standing traditions and family togetherness. As if that were not enough, it just so happens they all fall within a short period (about 5 weeks). That is tough to get through when you are living life and are relatively happy. When you are broken on the inside, the holidays are torture.

After Randy died, I always felt like my past, present, and future had been ripped out from under me. For a long time, events with family and friends, amplified those feelings. When holidays came around, even years later, I felt like I had been robbed of what once was my favorite part of the year.

Just like every other important aspect of this new life—I had to rebuild holidays and turn them into something I could do—without him. I wanted him here to celebrate like always—to bother me incessantly until I wanted to strangle him because I couldn’t get anything done. But, that wasn’t an option; next best thing seemed to be lying in bed, staring at a wall, and crying until there were no more tears. When the tears stopped, I thought I’d still lie there, wishing I could cry again. I knew better. I knew that option wouldn’t work–I have kids. I had to figure something out and quick because I could feel the panic attacks returning.

I am not an expert on grief nor do I have a license to counsel anyone. All I have to share is how I felt, how I attempted to correct it, and how it all turned out. This isn’t meant as a feel good plan for the holidays. This is a guide for surviving the holidays. I want to share my successes and failures in hopes that your journey is easier than mine. I never want you to feel like you are in this alone.

So the question is, exactly how do you get through this season of holidays?

Traditions.

Holiday and tradition go hand in hand. Traditions created generations ago still live on today. Traditions are comforting because they remind us of all the good times we had. When you have experienced loss, traditions are reminders of what will never be again. That first Christmas, there were things I just could not make myself do. I just didn’t have the energy or strength to get through it. There were no cookies—I barely got through buying and opening gifts. I literally thought I might break in half because it just broke my heart to do it alone. It broke my heart to watch the kids do without him. I was a mess.

There were traditions that fell away. There were traditions that seemed to stick more than ever. And, there were traditions that began that very first Christmas and continue today. I realized that I had to create traditions that I could manage because the kids were counting on me to hold them up.

The first tradition we began was something we had watched my grandma do when Grandpa died: A dove placed in one of his funeral arrangements was given to us. Every Christmas, Dad placed that dove on our Christmas tree. It made us feel like we always had a piece of him with us. Even more importantly, it kept his memory alive in us. So, when Randy died, I took the birds from the funeral arrangements and did the same; each child had their own bird to place.

The kids always made gifts for others. That first year, this became even more important to them. We still take time to make gifts for family members. I am still convinced that the only way to feel better about your tragedy is to care and give to others, which is why we also started adopting a family for Christmas. The first couple of years, I had friends who were struggling, so I would secretly go out and buy toys, foods, and gift certificates. Late in the evening, I would drop the package on their doorstep with an anonymous note. I didn’t provide everything they needed—I couldn’t, I didn’t have the means. I did what I could and made a valiant effort to include the kids in the giving. We don’t do it on the scale we used to, but we still do support part of a family every year.

 

All alone.

No matter how many people are in the room with you, you will probably feel completely alone. Many of your friends and loved ones will be there, perhaps with their significant other. Chances are, you will be thinking of little more than what is missing this year. That’s okay. More happiness will sneak in than you can imagine right now.

I wish a magic cure existed to that make all of those feelings go away. I wish I could tell you that if you just go and try it will work. Unfortunately, it isn’t true. The only solace I can offer, is if you are at home, you are alone—just you and your pain.

If it were me, I would go be with friends. I won’t be your most exciting and happy adventure, but at least you won’t be alone. You might even find yourself wanting to smile once or twice. Go ahead and do it, it will feel good.

Don’t give into guilt.

Guilt can, and will, overwhelm you if you give it a chance. If you feel like you need to go to lunch and a move with your best friend—go! If you see someone do something that is funny—laugh! If shopping makes you feel alive—shop! If a massage would make you feel more relaxed, if only for an hour—get one! If you are with family and friends during a holiday get together and you feel happy for ten minutes—feel it! It is okay—in fact, it is great!

Don’t think about it and let guilt seep in. Don’t wonder who is watching. Don’t care about how it looks to outsiders. Chances are, no one is watching and if they are, they are probably in awe of your strength. Don’t wonder if you are meeting the timeline for widows because there is no timeline. It isn’t as if you grieve for 6 months you are all done. Or if you grieve for two years then it’s out of your system. It isn’t like that. Some days you will feel okay and some days you will not feel okay. That is normal. At first, the days will be more bad than good and then it will slowly switch spots and it will do it in your time—no one else’s.

Gossip and worry.

You are probably the talk of your family circle and social circle; I’m sure that isn’t a shock. I am sure they talk and compare notes to make sure you are doing okay. It worries you that if you face everyone, they will talk to you about what happened or ask how you are. It’s almost easier for them to keep talking with each other and leave you out of it. If they ask you, you might feel obligated to say you are doing okay, even if you aren’t.

Worse yet, someone might try to tell you how you should feel, even if they have never been a widow. Plan for it. One or more of these things will probably happen; brace yourself, but do not let it keep you from your family. Most people have the good sense to keep talking about you behind your back. Some will be so bold as to ask these questions and more. That is okay, you can handle it.

Some just have no idea the type of pain it might cause to ask. To them, it’s a simple point of curiosity. For others, you represent their worst nightmare and they are genuinely concerned how you could handle such a life altering event and still function. And still  a few might feel like you would be upset if they just ignored the fact you are now a widow.

There is no right or wrong way to handle this situation. I didn’t (and still don’t) always handle the questions the same way. My response depends on the type of day I am having and the way the question was delivered.

I will say, it is easier for me to discuss the issue with someone else, than it is to sit alone with it at night. I don’t sugar coat it and I don’t simplify it. I am honest and up front. After all, they asked. If they wanted bull, or if they wanted to hear something that makes them feel better about the situation, then they asked the wrong girl. Dishonest conversation is nothing more than wasted time.

Now, I didn’t always tell them what they wanted to know. Sometimes I might tell them my head is spinning so fast I can’t really put words to it. Or maybe I would tell them I needed some time before I could talk about it because I just wasn’t ready. The only obligation I felt was to myself and my kids.

Don’t feel obliged to seem okay with the question if you are not. Don’t feel like you should say you are okay if you are not. Don’t feel you have to divulge your every emotion or thought because someone asked for it. Your pain, your comfort level, your time.

Now, when it came to people, adults or children, talking to my kids, I listened carefully. I watched my kid’s reactions. More often than not, my children gave concise answers without a moment’s hesitation. It was truly amazing. If I felt like they were struggling or didn’t want to answer or were not sure how to answer, I’d step in and be a firm boundary for them.

Whatever worries you about the holidays and family events don’t let it keep you isolated and alone. If you put off this holiday, it puts more pressure and more anxiety on the next holiday or event. And if you avoid that holiday, then the next becomes even more intense and stressful. It is a snowball and when that snowball hits the wall, it will explode.

Instead of putting it off and letting it build up, approach the holiday season with care. There are several things you should do to survive the holidays: Know where you stand and be willing to take part. Set a boundary for yourself (a limit) and use it when you need to. Carry with you an open heart and an open mind. Don’t expect too much from family and friends—or yourself for that matter. It is hard for you and hard for those who love you. There is definitely a learning curve—no better time to learn than now.

These Little Moments

These days, my life is so complicated. It’s hard to take care of everyone. When we decided to have five children, my grandparents were in relatively good health. I had no idea that I would be taking care of them and a toddler and newborn (the other kids take care of themselves, for the most part). At least I thought I had a couple of years or so to get everything straight. I was wrong. So, now, I’m doing the best I can.

Normally, life is hurried, but manageable. When the kids are out of school and able to stay with the babies, I do a little more for my grandparents than on normal days. I miss my babies on those days and end up more tired. Often they are on their own for supper or it’s take out.

I have been at my grandparents for 8 days straight. When I am there, I am there for several hours. They like me to stay because they are lonely. Sometimes it’s just a bad day and it takes me that long to talk my grandma down from the ledge. I try to enjoy those moments because I know the moments I have left are limited. I have had nightmares about these days since I was about eight years old. I wish I could enjoy these days more, but when I could enjoy them, I didn’t–at least not like I should have.

Today, was my first day at home since December 29th, 2012. It was also a school day for Nora. Today, for hours, it was just me and Cason. It was time to spend time with him. Cason doesn’t talk much, but he has so much personality and he is so loving. I also try to make time to write. I sat down for a few minutes to write before we went to play pirate ship. He jumped up beside me on the couch and asked for my phone. He has decided to stop saying “please” and uses grunts with outstretched hands to relay his request.

I giggled at his new tactics and allowed him to take my phone. I haven’t done that much since he cracked the screen not that long ago. I found a musical game for him to play and let him go. He started off sitting next to me. Then, he leaned on my arm. He moved again, and again until he was laying on the couch on his belly. His feet were flopping up and down, kicking my arm. I was supposed to be writing, but instead I watched him play that game, flopping from one spot to another.

It seems silly to just watch him move from one spot to another, playing a game. Maybe it was silly. Whatever it was, it made me smile. I completely forgot where I was in my story that I was writing and I just enjoyed that tiny moment. That tiny moment makes me remember what amazing creatures we are. It makes me take notice how our growth and development is to be marveled. It also made me remember all of my other children that came before him and how quickly they have grown. Slipping away from me faster than I could have ever imagined possible.

While my life is busier than I had planned, even chaotic sometimes, I wouldn’t trade it–not for anything. These little moments are what keep me going through the hard times. They are my sanity and make me remember exactly what life is about. Life is little moment after little moment. If we lose sight of that-if we forget to treasure that-then we have missed out on life.

Don’t forget to enjoy your little moments.

Mind-full

I remember, when I was younger I would spend hours listening to music, day dreaming, doodling, writing, and thinking. I am an outgoing person. I love to talk. I love to listen. I love to laugh. I also love to do those quiet activities–day dreaming, doodling, writing, and thinking. Especially thinking.

One of the hardest things for me, as a mom, is keeping that piece of me. I yearn for that quiet time. Truth is, even when I have the quiet time, it isn’t quiet. I either fall asleep or I lie awake with a to-do list running through my head. My mind is full. Always.

Lately, my mind is more full than usual.

I have the holiday to do list. The presents, the wrapping, the cleaning, the menu, the grocery list.

Of course, I have my mommy lists and the good wife list. Have to make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there with the correct materials and even the right frame of mind to be successful for the day. The groceries, the house payment, who needs to be picked up, laundry, and what events we have planned for the night.

Lately, with the decline of my grandparents health, I have added lists. I try to make sure they are seeing the doctor, that they have medicine, that their daily medicine containers are filled, hygiene needs are met, and that they are getting some socialization. My mom and I split the lists as best we can. These are my lists.

I have the news running through my mind. As much as I try to avoid the troubling stories, how do  you avoid 20 children being murdered. No one can put that aside. Pictures, worries, and grief roll through my head.

Lastly, I have my own list. Things I want to do for myself. Write, skin care, reading, normal hygiene, planning, tv, and time with friends would be nice.

My list, usually comes last. Because it comes last, often it just doesn’t happen. Many nights I can’t write. Sometimes I fall asleep without brushing my teeth or cleaning my face. Sometimes I barely hit my bed before I am falling asleep. If I do manage to get to my own list (like tonight), it is because I am giving up sleep (like tonight).

One would think having all this ‘stuff’ to do would make me feel important, needed, and wanted. It does…sometimes. If I am honest, though, most of the time, it makes me feel the opposite. There are many times I feel isolated and alone.  It isn’t because people are ungrateful or because I don’t want to do these things. Neither of those things are true, although, sometimes I tell myself those lies out of frustration.

I feel alone because I have lost so much of me in this chaotic life. I have lost friends, or at least the ability to see them when I would like. And, being so busy, leaves me feeling like maybe I am losing my mind. My mind is too full to have one thought at a time. It’s like the thoughts are constantly interrupting each other. It leaves me feeling almost crazy at times. It’s as if I am losing my mind–literally, piece by piece.

What keeps me going is knowing everything is temporary. The holidays pass one by one. Kids grow up and grandparents pass on. There will come a day when I’ll be able to take vacations, visit friends, work out when I want, and go to bed anytime I feel like because I can sleep in as late as I would like. And that’s why, doing what I do is more important that my feelings.

So, even on the worst days, I try to stay mindful of my place. Mindful of how life works and mindful of how quickly it is all over.

Please be mindful of each other, even when you are mind-full. Strength, compassion, and faith is how we get through this world–together.