Every widow has a situation. Every person has a story. There is a common thread among widows,widowers and the grieving is that the holidays can be difficult and they can be lonely. Grief like a lot of things doesn’t get easy, but it gets easier and unfortunately there is no one size fits all situation for any of this. Someone’s ‘should’ is someone else’s ‘shouldn’t’, someone’s tradition is someone’s ‘inappropriate,’ a funny story is someone’s trigger for tears and a sad memory.
Many widowed people report they feel like they are a burden because the holidays are supposed to be for close family, they are isolated, going through a depression, widowed brain, angry and on top of everything else are probably feeling pretty abandoned.
T’was the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a widow was stirring, their stupid memories were though.
As someone who has gone through a lot of grief and loss over the years I sometimes get asked for advice “what do I do?” “What do I say?” and here is some small advice for people who have no idea what we are going through to help us navigate this difficult season.
Try offering your widowed friend, family or neighbor a place at your table along with your other guests and please show that grieving person that you would genuinely like them to be there with you.
If you do invite a widow at your holiday table, be mindful of where they are in their journey and be prepared that grief might pull up a chair at the table too. If the person is invited and genuinely welcomed the grief should be invited too.
David and I were never really Christmas people, not traditionally. We both often worked on Christmas eve or Christmas, and David’s mom was a Seven Day Adventist (they don’t celebrate) and I never really celebrated Christmast *really* after my mom died, so to be honest the holiday season seemed to have died with her, at least for a little while. So when I’m asked “what did you and David do for Christmas, what were your traditions? I never knew how to answer. But, a lot of other families have them and they are really important. For some widows the idea of continuing those traditions are integral and need to be respected as they were when things were “normal” (Read: they were alive), for other people the traditions are a bleak and upsetting reminder that the person they loved are never coming back and unless stated otherwise they would prefer to do something different and start their new traditions, this decision is just as valid and also needs to be respected. As someone who is helping the grieving person you need to ask your loved one what they want to do. Do they want to decorate the tree with the old decorations? watch a holiday movie? take a trip? do absolutely nothing? don’t assume. Ask. The answer may surprise you.
Follow up, please don’t guilt your loved one into anything or force their hand. We have enough guilt over lots of things in regards to their loss, especially as a widow. Sometimes we don’t want to celebrate, sometimes we don’t want to decorate a tree, send cards, bake cookies etc., this may sound great to you, but it could also sound emotionally and physically exhausting and as much as we would like to maybe possibly join in please ask and don’t assume.
Finally, please help us remember. Chances are you had your own relationship with the departed – friend, coworker, neighbor, sibling, parent and I know it is difficult about not being quite sure if you should want to bring them up over this holiday season, but please do? Especially if it is encouraged by your loved one. It is better for all involved “I don’t want to make you cry,” okay, I can respect that and I probably don’t want to cry either, but can we say their name? Can you tell us the stories you always tell around the table if you’re family? The ones that make you laugh? The ones that makes you giggle until you think you might cry or even pee! The funny childhood stories, the stories that you will see get the wheels turning in a child’s head and you need to lean over with a cheeky grin to warn them “do not get any ideas…” (you know the ones), the ones that you don’t think your parents know about? The weird thing that happened at work that would probably only happen to them? A funny joke they would always tell? a dumb pun. Can we remember them?
Our loved ones won’t be home for Christmas, but, while we are talking about them, it will feel like they are with us, if only in spirit.
A really well meaning website, not made for widows, suggested the idea of “for the holidays consider giving a grieving loved one a plant…” the idea is that it would nurture the idea of rebirth and renewal as they heal, while I love the suggestion of this, I am going to be honest and I once again can only speak for myself, I can’t take of a plant and quite frankly I don’t need another thing dying in my apartment, instead of giving me a plant or a precious stone made from his hair (why is this a thing?) help your grieving loved ones this holiday season by remembering our dearly departed.