Easter is upon us, and as with all holidays, I am struggling a bit more than usual. It’s like the ache that is always there, just under the surface of everything, bubbles up to the top. The hurt becomes a bit more raw. I ache to see Jeff’s face, hear his voice, and have him here with us more than usual.
I have always been a huge holiday lover, and I attribute that to my mom who has always made holidays special. As a child, she would let me be involved in decorating and helping to get things ready. However, the more you lose the people you want to celebrate with, it becomes so difficult to embrace each holiday in the same way.
When my grandparents passed away, we no longer drove the 4 hours to spend holidays with family as often. My dad passed away just before Meghan was born. We celebrated much the same way, but there was a void that couldn’t be filled. My children still had many fabulous grandparents around, but I wished my dad could watch them hunt for Easter eggs, open presents and delight in their Thanksgiving crafts. I desired for my dad to hold Meghan in her cute holiday outfits.
Then, almost four years later we lost Jeff’s Grandpa Jack. He was always armed with a kind smile and funny jokes. His death, like my fathers, left a void, but we all put on brave faces. Just over seven years later, we lost Jeff’s wonderful grandmother. Grandma Rose was such a special lady. She had a faith like no other and a kindness that just flowed from her. She made everyone feel special, and losing her was hard on our whole family. There was a definite change at the holidays that nobody could deny.
I am not even sure we had all fully recovered when eighteen months later, my husband went to join his grandparents in Heaven. I can’t speak for our whole family, but for me, holidays have never quite been the same. Hell, life hasn’t been the same.
Jeff used to complain that we were always the ones hosting so many of the holidays. He would gripe about the money spent on food and the amount of time that people would be at our house. The kids still joke about how he would gripe all morning about everyone coming over, but the minute they arrived he was usually cheery and joking. Well, until he fell asleep.
He had a love-hate relationship with holidays. I think he secretly loved that time with everyone, but I also think he desired space from everyone. He was definitely an introvert. We were different that way. I never wanted the space. I wonder if he sees how much everything has changed now that he is gone, and if he does, I wonder if he would like the changes.
We used to always celebrate holidays with Jeff’s parents, his sister(s), nieces & nephews, my mother, and of course our children. However, now it is often just our kids, my mother, and myself. This past Thanksgiving, our 3rd without Jeff, was wonderful because our family came as well as some close friends. I cherish those times we have together.
Why have they changed? I wish I had a profound answer for you all because I know many of you have faced similar changes. My only answer is that they have changed because death changes everything. Especially when the death is unexpected or happens to a pillar of the family. Everyone grieves in their own way, and moves forward at different rates. Death brings with it many emotions and much stress, and this can impact the family dynamic. Yeah, death changes everything.
For me personally, things have likely changed because I put so much focus on my kids after their father passed. I wasn’t as focused on our family as a whole but rather on the nuclear core that Jeffrey and I created together. Also, after Jeff passed, I had an identity crisis for lack of a better word. I wasn’t sure who I was anymore, and my self-esteem took a nosedive. His tragic death impacted every single nook and cranny of me, my core, of who I am.
I have had to learn to not only grieve my husband, but also to grieve the life I thought we would always have together. During this time without him, I’ve worked to keep his memory alive all while simultaneously working hard to not get stuck. That isn’t easy, and it takes work. I’ve learned that I have to allow myself time to heal, and in that process, I also have to take time to get to know the new person that I am evolving into. The one that doesn’t have Jeff to lean on anymore. Basically, I have had to learn how to move forward without moving on. Can many of you relate? I bet you can.
Let me say it again…death changes absolutely everything. Holidays are just one of the many areas that are impacted. Our new reality is that we still have a wonderful time at holiday celebrations, but they never look quite the same as when Jeff was here. How can they when his death has left such a large emptiness in so many?
While there will always be a thin blanket of sadness, I choose to focus on joy. I feel joy when I am with our children, our family, and in our home. While Jeff may have moved to Heaven earlier than expected, I feel so much joy in the fact that we will all get to see him again. Also, there is a tremendous amount of joy in remembering every holiday we physically spent together and envisioning him with us in spirit at all of the holidays since.
I’m finding that you have to learn to accept the changes that have happened, and figure out the best way to let your loved ones legacy shine. It won’t look like it used to, and it certainly won’t look like what we wanted. That is because none of us chose this new journey that we are walking. It’s not an easy transition, and I won’t pretend that it is, but it can be done.
How? Well, there isn’t just one way, and honestly, you have to figure out what works for you. I can’t say that I have completely figured it out for myself yet. So far, I know that it is important for me to continue to balance our holiday celebrations with past traditions and new ones. It is imperative that I am able to talk about Jeff during these difficult times and allow who he is to continue to shine. Yes, I said is because to those of us who loved him…he still is.
Ladies, it is true that death changes everything, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t ever be happy again. It doesn’t mean that you can’t find ways to still enjoy your holiday celebrations. If you have found any ways to help you as you move forward, please share in the comments.
**Have you heard about Hope for Widows Foundation’s annual Restoring Hope & Peace Grant program? It was established by the organization in 2019 to help widowed women offset financial challenges as they navigate their healing journey. You can find out details, timeline and the history of this grant here: https://hopeforwidows.org/grant/ All widows based in U.S. and Canada are encouraged to apply. Applications open on National Widows Day, May 3, 2022. For additional questions feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org**