The holiday season can be one of great joy. But for widows and their grieving children, it can also be one of great sorrow. Reminders of who is missing. Traditions that can no longer be kept. Gifts that no longer need to be wrapped.
This is our seventh Christmas without my late husband. He passed away three months before Christmas in 2014. And honestly, I remember very little about that first Christmas. I do remember that I tried very hard to make it a joyful Christmas for our son. I tried very hard to keep it “normal“. I tried to ease the pain of celebrating our first Christmas without the man we both loved most. But nothing I did, could ease that pain. Nothing.
So instead I decided to do Christmas our way. We created some new traditions. Kept some old ones. And some traditions we let go, because they just didn’t hold the same meaning anymore. That first Christmas, we started writing letters to Jared on Christmas Eve. We put our letters in an envelope and put the envelopes in his stocking. That way his stocking is filled with love. And now, seven seasons later, we still write the letter on Christmas Eve and fill Jared‘s stocking with love. It helps feel like he is still here. In this small way he is still celebrating Christmas with us.
I have always ordered a family ornament at Christmas. The first year Jared died, I couldn’t order an ornament with people on it. I ordered a globe to document all the places we had traveled that year. The next next year I ordered a house. And so on. For six years I could not order an ornament with people because one very important person was no longer on it. Was no longer here. I still continued to order Steven an ornament each year to commemorate something special or an achievement of that year. But our family ornaments were no longer about the people. I just couldn’t do it.
Even after I remarried, our ornaments were not people. It just didn’t feel right. Was just wrong somehow. But this year without even thinking, I ordered an ornament with people on it. Everyone is wearing a mask. And it just felt right. Seven years later, it’s OK to order an ornament with people on it again. And if it had taken me 14 years or if I had never again been able to order an ornament with the people on it, that would have been OK too.
The first year my husband died, I started a tradition of giving my son a present from heaven. Something his dad would have bought for him. And I continue to do that to this day. For me, it’s a way to keep Jared alive. To have him be part of the celebration. For my son to know his father is still very much a part of our lives.
My son and I also write a letter to Jared on Christmas Eve and put it in his stocking. Yes, Jared’s stocking is still hung on the mantle along with mine, my son’s, and my new husband’s. Every year we fill his stocking with love. And my new husband supports all these traditions. He understands that while Christmas is a time of great joy and celebration, it’s very bittersweet for us. That there is definitely some sorrow with who is missing.
We try hard not to focus on our loss on Christmas. We try to focus on the joy of the day, celebrate the holiday with the people who are gathered around the tree. Cherish the new memories we are making. But we can’t help but miss Jared. And as much as we love the people we are celebrating with and we are grateful to have them there, we still ache for the one who can’t be.
Christmas is a time of joy. A time of celebration. But for widows and their children, it can also be a time of sorrow. Over the last seven seasons, I’ve learned how to balance the joy and the sorrow. And the joy definitely wins. But I’ve also learned I have to take the time to step away, honor my grief, spend some time with Jared. And then I can truly enjoy celebrating the holiday with my friends and family who are gathered with us.