In my last post I wrote about the value of holiday planning and how the choices I made (and didn’t make) affected the outcome of the holidays. Since that first year, I have tried so hard to push through avoiding the “day” – stick with my plan and then show up. Whether I’m showing up alone in memory of a significant date, or showing up for an event or gathering with others, this “showing up” requires an inordinate amount of courage.

In exercising this courage I choose to be present while acknowledging the past, present, and possible future. I dare to create positive emotions and bring solace and meaning to the numbers and days on the calendar. I choose to remember my husband and I am choosing to remember myself.

My heart may be on the floor in pieces, but with every step I take to immerse myself in “life”, I am sewing the pieces back together, one tiny stitch at a time.

Showing up will always require courage to execute, but it gets a little easier with each try. Seven years later, I still fumble from time to time but I have noticed a spirited courage emerging – a little gumption – telling me I can face these dates and holidays with a smile and build a beautiful experience that I can sew into the story of my new life.

As I embrace this spark of gumption, I honor my feelings and prepare to show up. I observe what my body and mind are currently doing, acknowledge these sensations/thoughts/emotions, challenge negative thought processes and then reframe for truth, positivity and self-love.

Here are a few examples of what I still work through as I show up with a little gumption:

Just the thought of leaving my house causes a lump to form in the middle of my throat. Every. Single. Time. It doesn’t subside once the event is through, but lingers for days or even weeks after. Is my body trying to tell me I will have nothing to say if I attend? That I won’t know how to respond, or that I will literally struggle to swallow the festive surroundings? Maybe. I acknowledge the block in my throat and challenge the conversational insecurities lurking in my mind with positive affirmations. I am interesting. I have more to talk about than my loss. I can participate in playful banter. Others want to talk to me.

I give myself 20+ pep talks about the reasons I should go: the basic need for human contact, a visual reminder that there is a world going on other than my own, the hope that something positive (however small that may be) might come from being there, and the list goes on. That spark of gumption kicks in as I realize I want to see my friends and family. Being present and trying to enjoy some holiday cheer is meaningful and needed. Friends and family are eager to celebrate festivities with me.

I sigh with annoyance when I realize I have to dress myself for public appearance. My wardrobe is rampant with abandoned outfits filled with past memories. As I pull out an item of clothing, I allow my mind to run through any attached memory and tell myself this is a great way to bring new and happy memories to this piece – and I will look beautiful wearing it.

Often, I will practice deep breathing or mental yoga as I drive to the event, because I know once I arrive, triggers will inevitably invade my fragile space that I tirelessly work daily to protect. These triggers may be a person, a story told, a sound, or a color and a thousand other unexpected things that my brain tells me relates back to my husbands death. I acknowledge the triggers and challenge them with truth. The Christmas lights are just lights. They are not the red and white lights on the ambulance. The pine tree air freshener is here in THIS place and it is only scenting THIS air. It is not the air freshener I saw peeking out of my husband’s front pocket in the funeral home. Christmas is a beautiful time of year, and I tell myself I am grateful to be part of it.

I hold back tears and smile when the large crowd of people I find myself around reminds me of the large gathering of family, friends and strangers I was surrounded by at the funeral. I remind myself that this is most definitely not a funeral. I will myself to look at faces and expressions and note how joyful and happy they all are. There is not a solemn face in the room, but my own, when I allow myself to think I am transported back at that funeral. Everything in this place, this gathering, has a theme – holiday cheer and good will.

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There are many more things that I work through as I attend these events and by the end of the night I am exhausted by the amount of mental energy it takes to control negative emotions, be present and enjoy myself. If I can find even the smallest amount of positivity or joy, it is worth it. I am giving myself a gift of new experiences.

The process is slow, and in the beginning my surroundings literally looked like this:

With each year, a little more color comes:

And now, I get to enjoy a lot more clarity because I choose to keep trying and embracing that gumption:

To participate, to be, to experience, to laugh, sing carols and drink hot cocoa with those yummy peppermint marshmallows – I am choosing to live.

May you find a way to make your season merry and bright.

About 

My widow journey began in 2011 when I was 27. My late husband passed away from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. My re-entry into life has been difficult, but my relationship with God, being diagnosed with PTSD and my passion for music, dance and science have greatly helped me get back on my feet. I am currently preparing for graduate school and volunteer as an endometriosis educator for the Endometriosis Foundation of America.

I have so much that I look forward to sharing with you and I hope that you may find something in my writing that will bring hope to your own journey, help you through the tough days, and show you that happiness can be found in the midst of grief.

You can follow me on Instagram at @kelly.m.cann