During the holiday season, everywhere you look there are images of joy, togetherness, and family.
For widows, regardless of how long ago they lost their spouse, the holidays can be difficult.
No matter how many blessings are present in life, the holidays are never the same after losing a spouse.
For loved ones of a widow who want to support her in helpful ways it can be difficult to know what to do.
As the holidays move into high gear, widows often experience a range of strong emotions. The sights and sounds of the holiday season can trigger bittersweet memories. It’s common, when you have lost a spouse, to feel left out when surrounded by media images of happy couples. When your life partner is no longer with you, this often produces feelings of anger, sadness, and confusion.
To escape the holiday bombardment, widows may avoid family and friends. This typically increases feelings of grief and isolation. It’s important for widows to have a supportive network of family and friends they can rely on during this time.
If you have recently lost your spouse, most of your energy will be needed for the grieving process. This is not a time to take on too many obligations or events. Choose commitments based on what is best for you. Spend time with people who support you unconditionally and who enrich your spirit. Well-intentioned family and friends may feel encouraging you to spend time with them is helpful. Sometimes it may be just the right thing for you. If it isn’t, remind yourself you can decline and explain you aren’t up to it yet.
If you haven’t recently lost your spouse, friends and family may not understand that time doesn’t equate to the holidays being ‘easier’. Gracefully decline invitations that feel more like obligations than things you enjoy.
Surround yourself with a supportive community. Spend time with people who hold space for you without adding pressure or commitment. Do things to care for your mental, physical, and spiritual health. Exercising, spending time in your place of worship, meditating, yoga, and prayer are some examples of activities centered around self-care.
Ask for help
Stay close to the people who help you the most. Perhaps this is a grief group, a treasured friend, a therapist, or a spiritual advisor. Family may not be what you need to nurture your wellbeing over the holidays.
It may be more helpful to reach out to people with a neutral viewpoint or who don’t have a rich history with you. For example, mothers naturally want to be there for their children, even if they are adults. It’s important for you to be in a position of receiving care as well as giving it.
Tell people what is helpful
Even loved ones don’t always know what is helpful and what isn’t. It’s hard to say, ‘that’s not helpful’, but it’s easier to say, ‘you know what would really help?’. If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable during the holidays, explain to well-meaning people what would be most helpful for you.
Decide which holiday traditions and events you want to be part of, and plan ahead to give yourself things to look forward to. Avoid last-minute surprises and extra stress by booking your calendar as far in advance as you can. Prepare ahead of time what you will say to people who offer you unexpected invitations.
Making gift purchases online may help avoid the stress and bustle of holiday shopping. Unless, of course, shopping is something that lifts your spirits.
If you decide to skip some holiday traditions or events, think of ways to start new traditions with a supportive friend or loved one. If the family pot-luck supper is too much, take a walk with a friend or attend a support group meeting instead, perhaps.
Honor your spouse’s memory
You may find it comforting to honor the memory of your spouse in a meaningful way over the holidays. Some ideas include:
- Bring a supportive friend to your spouse’s favorite holiday event
- Pray, reflect, or meditate on your life with your spouse
- Light a candle each day in their memory
- Contribute or volunteer for a cause your loved one cared about
- Journal some of your best memories of your life together
- Share holiday memories/stories about your spouse with your children and/or grandchildren
- Start a daily gratitude journal to help focus on what you are grateful for, even on the hardest days
The holidays may feel daunting, but a vital part of grieving and growing is taking care of yourself and preparing yourself for tough days. Self-care, spending time with supportive friends and family, and reaching out for help when you need it can ease grief and emotional pain.