Anyone who has experienced loss knows how difficult holidays can be, and how traditions can be tricky beasts. For me, the first holiday season after Gary died fell a mere 3 months later. We were all still in shock. When I look back on pictures of that year, the kids are smiling, but with the telltale dark circles of “something is not right in the life of this child” showing. The few pictures I allowed of myself show a faint smile with pain stricken eyes. At that point, and for quite a few years to come, I avoided family photos of the 4 of us. I couldn’t bear to pose for a family photo without our full family.
In the beginning, I clung to our family traditions, wanting to keep everything as close to the same for our children as I could. I signed their cards “Love Mommy and Daddy.” After all, I needed to be the one who kept Daddy alive in their hearts, right? I tried desperately to continue every family tradition we previously had, especially during the holidays. Consistency was good for the kids, and would help them feel safe, I told myself. But, of course, nothing was the same.
Widowed, solo parents do the job of two, but in the end, we still cannot actually be the same as two parents. After some time, I finally decided it was not only ok, but good for us to create new traditions. Widowed parenthood is definitely an on the job training position, and I was quite a reluctant learner. After more than a decade in the role, two of our three kids are adults, and we are a solid family unit, with some new, and some old traditions during the holidays, as well as during other times of the year.
When the pandemic first hit, I remember thinking that widows were probably handling all the changes better than some of the rest of the public. After all, learning to live with drastic, unwanted changes in our lives was kind of our thing. Living day to day, not sure what is coming next? Yep. Been there. Dealing with sudden loss of income? Done that. Realizing that the life of a loved one can suddenly be taken, and absolutely everything changes overnight? Welcome to our world.
One of the most difficult things for me, has always been the long haul permanence of losing the love of your life. Of course death being permanent was not a new concept for me, but being widowed at 44 is not something anyone plans for emotionally. I am not an athlete in any sport whatsoever, but what I’ve always compared it to is running a never ending marathon, when I am only a sprinter. In every other challenge I had faced before, I dealt with things by focusing on the end result. The light at the end of the tunnel. Becoming a young widow, I could see no end game. This happened. I have no idea what happens next. Forever. It’s something I still struggle with, although I’m getting better at it.
Now, we are all, as a society, living in times of the unknown. We are being asked to change our traditions for celebrations this year. It is heartbreaking, and it is so very hard. We want sameness, comfort, and the security of the known. It is terrifying to think of possibly giving up being with loved ones, especially those that may not see another year.
Traditions, though important, are not the same as love. Give thanks for the traditions you are able to keep this year, while doing your best to create some new ones, possibly to carry over even in better times. Hold those you love as close as you can, even if it can only be from a distance for now. There is a light at the end of this tunnel. We will see each other again.