After John’s death, people said to me, “let me know if you need anything.”  Those friendly words were well meaning, but inside I was screaming, thanks, but I need my life not to be shattered into a million pieces, my heart not to be destroyed, and for my FAMILY to still be intact.  Because I was in that dark and horrifying place of tragic loss, I had no idea what I needed.  Not a clue.  Until you experience a loss of this magnitude, you cannot appreciate the struggle to figure out what you might need.

Thankfully, I was fortunate to have family and friends who showed up and started helping.   My late husband’s brother came over and started washing dishes and straightening the house.  I was so grateful.  He has natural instincts to know what needs done and just does it.  There are not too many people on the planet with such a talent.

Looking back, my major sources of stress after John’s death involved mostly household logistics.  Without John, I was worried out about how I would run the household as the solo adult.  At the time I struggled with my daughter’s transportation, mowing the grass, home and car maintenance, and holiday decorating.  If you are struggling to figure out what you may need help with consider seeking out someone who might be able to assist with your major sources of stress.  Needing help was not a pleasant feeling nor was the thought of asking for it and even accepting help was difficult at times for me.  However, it was necessary to accept help when it was offered and still is essential.

The holidays are fast approaching and many, many widowed people are struggling to come to terms with celebrating a holiday without their loved one.  This will be my 3rd Christmas without John.  I did not think I could bear sitting in the house wishing John was here on that first Christmas.  The thought literally struck me with so much anxiety, I wanted to run away.  Sometimes in order to move forward, you must ask yourself what is going to help you and then accept it.

That first Christmas, I took my daughter to the Caribbean.  It was still an emotionally and mentally painful holiday season despite the sun and sea.  It felt like running away with a gigantic hole in my soul.  We had had never gone away for the holidays as a family and breaking tradition felt like yet another loss.  However, the sea breezes and sun did help us heal that year.

With each passing year, new memories and holiday traditions will emerge.  For those widows dreading the holidays, it is okay to not feel joyful.  You don’t have to pretend everything is great so everyone will be happy.  It is also okay to feel sad, but still laugh and enjoy yourself when you want to.  If you don’t want to send Christmas cards, bake cookies, or go to parties, don’t.  If your spouse always strung outside lights or put up the tree, it is okay not to do those things or ask for help.  It is okay to admit that you are feeling sad during this time of year and ask for and accept help once you figure out what you need.

It is probably a good idea to stay off social media during the holiday season.  While some people may find it uplifting to see others enjoying the holidays, when you are heartbroken it can make you feel worse.  The holidays are tough for those grieving and I recommend doing what feels right for you.  What am I doing this year to celebrate the holidays?  I am going to the Caribbean again with my daughter.  Perhaps someday going on a trip during the holidays won’t feel like we are running away or trying to distract ourselves and will become a new tradition.  Or maybe we will create other traditions, and that is okay.


Northern Virginia has been Jennifer Carstens’ home since she was a teenager. She met John when she was working at the D.E.A. Headquarters in Arlington, VA, during the summer when she was in college. Honestly, it was love at first sight for both of them. He had a way about him that made her feel like everything was going to be okay. They were married 4 years later and lived happily for the next 21 years. While their lives were not
flawless, they were close to perfection. Their daughter had just turned 16 when tragedy struck on March
11, 2017. John was healthy and happy, but suffered a massive brain stem hemorrhagic stroke. Much to
their horror, he slipped into a coma, and would never wake again. He was 49-years young. Their daughter
is now 18 and they are still piecing together their ‘new normal.

Jennifer believes he would be proud of the ways they are moving forward. They continue to seek peace and healing through humor, love, and sometimes tears.