The holiday season is usually synonymous with joy. Everywhere we look, from the television to our Facebook feeds, images of happy couples and cheerful families flood our screens. If you’re a widow, though, regardless of when you lost your spouse, the holidays can be a depressing reminder that your life partner is no longer with you, leaving you feeling angry, sad, and confused.

One of the questions many widows will return to year after year, holiday after holiday, is when does it get easier? The hard truth is that there is no timeline for grief, just like there is no quick-fix bandaid solution. Grief is a process that has no end. You don’t wake up one morning and suddenly feel “over it.” Instead, you gradually learn to live with your loss. You begin to find joy in the small things again, like waking up to a fresh dusting of snow on Christmas morning, or wrapping a beautiful gift for your child or friend.

While the holiday season can be an especially challenging time for widows, here are a few things you should try hard not to do, along with a few things you should do instead.

Don’t: Self-isolate

Regardless of whether you’re newly widowed or lost your spouse several years ago, the holidays can be rife with complicated and difficult emotions. Constantly being bombarded with imagery of happy and carefree people can lead widows to feel the urge to self-isolate and avoid family and friends. While it may seem like the most comforting thing to do in the moment, this isolation ultimately only magnifies the feelings of grief and loneliness that are already rampant during the holidays.

Do: Take it easy on yourself

Instead of holing up at home, prioritize spending time with those you love and who love you back. Meet up with your sister or friend for a warm cup of hot cocoa. Walk or drive around the neighborhood with your neighbor and take in the Christmas lights. That said, you don’t need to surround yourself with people 24/7. Be easy on yourself. Give yourself the space to feel, to grieve, and to reminisce on happy memories, just try not to let those feelings consume you.

Don’t: Pretend that everything is ok

Wherever you are on your grief journey, know that it’s okay to not be okay. Odds are that you spend a lot of your time putting on a happy face, going through the motions to try and get through the days, and telling yourself and others that you’re fine.

Do: Ask for help if you need it

The truth is, nobody is expecting you to be fine. The people who reach out to ask how you’re doing are most likely the people who genuinely want to know. Remember, just as it might be hard for you to talk to others about the emotions you’re experiencing, the people that love you are probably having a hard time thinking of what exactly to say to you. They want to comfort you, help you in any way they can, and show you how much they love and care for you, but it can be hard on their end to know the right thing to say or do. If you want or need help, reach out and ask for it. Whether you want to spend an afternoon looking at old holiday photos of your late husband or you need someone to watch your kids so you can spend an evening grieving, your support network is there to help you.

Don’t: Dwell on the past

This is not to say you should try to forget your late spouse. Continue to honor his memory, speak openly about him with family and friends, cook his delicious recipes, visit his favorite places around town, keep his spirit alive. Rather, do not get so caught up reminiscing that you forget to enjoy the present.

Do: Look forward

When you lose a loved one, it can be difficult to find the joy in your life, but, as we mentioned earlier, the goal of grief is not to get over a loss, it’s to learn to live with it. You can miss your spouse and still appreciate the fragrance of flowers. You can wish your partner was sitting next to you and still enjoy the company of a friend. Instead of dwelling on the past, try to look forward. Have you always dreamed of traveling to France? Plan a Parisian getaway and allow yourself to be swept up in the excitement of wandering the city’s rain-soaked cobblestone boulevards. Have you always wanted to improve your baking skills? Sign up for a culinary class and perfect your own homemade bread. It can be something large or something small, as long as you’re looking towards the future, you’re looking in the right direction.

Are you experiencing a season of loss? You don’t have to go through it alone. There is strength in numbers. Join our Rise Up community on Facebook and Instagram and connect with fellow women in transition.

Friends and family members of widows, be sure to check out our new “Holiday Support for a Loved One” resource, where we share tips and ideas for being there for your loved one during a season of grief.

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