11 Ways 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 year that my husband died.

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. 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 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 this year I recognize that 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 widowed aunt sent me after my husband died.

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,”

3. Take a walk outside – fresh air and being out in nature is good for the soul.

4. Volunteer or buy some food for a food pantry.  Plenty of people are needing support these days.  Food pantries need peanut butter, jelly, cereal, soups, applesauce, canned tuna or meats, beans and of course most of all, money.

5. Call a friend or family member.  Maybe they need to hear from you 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 a dog. Harry is the best little dog and 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.  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.

I am excited to have Thanksgiving in my newly renovated home this year.  Both my boys will be here as well. Not sure about Christmas yet but grateful for the week ahead.

 Holidays come and go.  I’ve noticed that the anticipation of those dates is often worse than the actually date.  Making plans in advance to do something different may help – just plan to find at least one thing to be grateful for.

Remember if you know someone who became a widow this year, sending them a care package is a nice way to help them through this tough time. For ideas on what to get them check out my post: I’m here for you – Send a care package to a widow this year.

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?

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runawaywidow

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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.

7 Comments

  1. Indeed very good. When I lost my wife (2018) , we did nothing we even had to run in Christmas eve to buy some meat with my 3 sons. Nowdays, it goes like normal day no big celebrations we live together so we get to prepare something together. Cheers

  2. I was so touched by your words and would be lost without my husband of 7 years (together for 11). We’re in escrow in our current home and are making the leap north to Spokane, WA area in three weeks. We are both 61 and I ask myself what would happen if he passed. Would I move without him? At this point yes, it would be a mess, but then I could start over and be with his family. It’s weird to think about these things but as we age, and with a pandemic, we should think on these concepts a little more. Blessings to you as you gather with your family at Thanksgiving!

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