Coping with Widowhood over the Holidays

Grief, widowhood

My Cheering Garden—I can dig in clay soil

Dear  Friends,

It is again the holiday season.  And it is so fucked.  End of post.

I jest.

I think the holidays look terrible to us sometimes because they don’t look how they’re supposed to look. But we’re the ones who decide what things are supposed to look like. Not a viagra ad, not Plenty of Fish nor The Hallmark Channel.

I know some women, much younger than I, who are happy on their own.  Their model for what they want their lives to look like does not have a man by their side. A relationship is a possibility, but not a prerequisite, and it’s no less valuable if it’s impermanent.  There!  No buying into those bridal magazine layouts which, after all, are designed to sell a bunch of stuff you’ll only use once.  Things look good to them this holiday season because they didn’t drink the mainstream media Kool-Aid.  Are they happy overall?  Yes.  Ok, no holiday agony.

For those of us who have suffered loss–and that just sucks–the measure of recovery shouldn’t be are we dating again.  It should be, first, if we are surviving, and later, if we are enjoying our lives.

Somehow people think that healing means looking for a partner.  They don’t ask “Are you happy?”, they ask “Have you found anyone yet?”  Part of that is the fun of living vicariously, but it’s just the wrong template.  We’re coping with loss and healing ourselves to be able to enjoy life again.  We’re not salt shakers who need pepper to be complete.

I had 32 years with my soulmate.  Now, I’m looking towards something else. I don’t know what that is yet, but it may not be living with anybody full time, nor combining my finances, nor answering to anyone for my choices, nor eating regular meals, nor…ok…I’m a control freak.

Here is something it took me a long time to figure out: I look the same with or without a boyfriend.  Signs of aging are not reduced having a guy at my side.  Damn.  But, there goes that stress.  I am the same attractive or not regardless of being accessorized with an escort.

See, the metallic barbs make the flowers even more beautiful. I took this at an Estonian prison.

See, the metallic barbs make the flowers even more beautiful. I took this at an Estonian prison.

I used to be sad that my family is just my elderly dad and stepmom. Very little family.  No real holiday celebrations.

Then I finally realized how lucky I am because my Dad and stepmom are awesome.  They’re supportive,  almost always available, encourage me to take risks and to travel, super funny, and helpful when my anxiety acts up.  My childhood home is open to me.  It’s just not the version on the Hallmark Channel.

Life without my George is still so often bleak and absurd.  This is what I wrote about the holidays last year:  It’s Been 3 Years .  I still feel that way a lot of the time.  Like when the main water main in my neighborhood broke last Monday, and my dishwasher decided to flood.  I know not why. The plumber who came said it might be “the solenoid,” but I think it was Beelzebub. 👿

George would have known what to do.   There would be no accursed devil in the dishwasher, just a rational explanation. I wouldn’t have the plumber’s bill.  Then we’d have gotten take out Chinese together–we had the same favorites–and laughed about it.

But I did get an evening yoga class and drinks after with a girlfriend.  And we both got takeout to eat at our respective homes later.  So, I had a lovely evening, just not the one I would’ve had.

I can’t get George back.  I can ask myself what makes me happy or fulfilled and try to have that regardless of what unrealistic, staged magazine photos tell me I want.  A few modest suggestions:

  1.  Stay off social media.  That whole “Fear of Missing Out” is a killer.  Some friend will be posting photos of a celebration with her (still alive) husband with a beautiful table or in Paris and envy will raise its self-destructive head. (Even if I remind myself I went to Paris this year on an intellectually-oriented group tour with my beloved in-laws).
  2. Treat yourself to things that cheer you.  For me, it’s homewares, but I’m a nesting type.  If I’m lonely, it may be yoga classes at times I need them even if they’re not at my regular studio and I have to pay extra to go to them.
  3. Recognize it’s better to be alone than with people or doing things that make you feel worse!   If you have invites from folks, even relatives who are like this, 10 Things not to Say to a Widow, say “no.” I’m an introvert,  if I do something that makes me just feel lonelier, I overeat or drink later.  Can’t do it.
  4. Being outside.  It just helps.
  5. I am trying a gratitude journal. (No, I haven’t been brainwashed by aliens).  It is also showing me things I’m not grateful for. Have you tried this? Did it help you?

Ok, I get though hard things by writing.  Let me know how you’re getting through the holidays.  Comment if you want—or tell me what you’d like to see in a holiday post.  Please share if you know somebody this might resonate with.



P.S.  Yes, I am devastated by this election. And I tried writing about unity with those who don’t share our views, but I couldn’t do it without seeming to minimize the severity of what’s happened.






  • Gary says:

    God, you put into words so much of what I am living. This is my first holiday season since my wife, no my life partner died. Besides the holidays, in an upcoming 6 day period, I have the 6 months since Diane died, 10 years since my mother died, (also from cancer) and the anniversary of the day Diane and I met, or as I see it the day my life truly began.

    I still work and absolutely hate weekends. When people ask my why I don’t retire, I try to explain how a 24/7 weekend would be absolutely awful. What am I doing? I have a garden where I am growing more food than I could ever eat, but I will share it with other people. I am keeping Diane’s rose bushes alive and bringing the blooms into our home in her memory. So many people are trying to be helpful by inviting me into there homes for holiday events and I appreciate their concern, but I find my self avoiding this because it is a stark reminder of what I don’t have and never will again–the love of my life and our special times. I would not do anything for the holidays this year, except I am blessed by having two little children in my life. I cannot become the total curmudgeon and ruin their holidays. And much of the limited joy I have comes from them. So I will do a little bit of the holidays. Cannot bring my self to putting up the Christmas tree that is decorated with ornaments that Diane and I collected from around the world. Looking for input from anyone on what the alone do on Christmas eve, or New Years Eve.

    Diane was a daughter of the ocean. I could not swim until Diane taught me and then opened the underwater world of diving. For the first time in 32 years I feel like I am drowning, except it is in emotions and from the weight of life. I know it is whining, but each day seems to present another problem or three. Debbie, your feelings on dealing with life’s situations are not unique to women. Today I had my first venture in having friends for brunch. I planned, stressed and prepared a good meal, everyone had a good time and after they left, at the end of the day the garbage disposal broke and flooded the kitchen. Which means either a few hours of hands on work or taking time off work for the plumber.

    I agree on the election. Both intellectually and viscerally it set me back to square one. Not sure what comes next.

    A happy as possible holiday to everyone.
    Gary L.

  • Debbie says:

    Dear Gary,
    I so relate to what you’re going through. And I agree it’s not just related to women. Your brunch story is.classic. When George was alive, I didn’t get along well with his parents. A few weeks after he died, I wine to brunch with them, we got along well and I came home to find my water heater had failed.

    I think some of the piain feels less intense over time, but it doesn’t end. You’re doing a lot of great things with gardening and the children. Take care.

  • Kerry says:

    Ahhh, happiness. I recently took a yoga class and the instructor’s quote for Savasana was something like, “Happiness is a byproduct.” Well, I went online and found this quote which I really like.

    “Happiness is a byproduct of function, purpose, and conflict; those who seek happiness for itself seek victory without war.”
    -William S. Burroughs

    I don’t need a mate to be happy, or a killer job, or a marriage, or money, or … but having lived through a great loss, and still healing, I think it’s cool when all of a sudden I am happy in a certain moment or in a situation. My goal shouldn’t be to be happy, but if I go through enough stuff, and really work on it, suddenly happiness appears before me sometimes, and that just feels peachy.

    I’m babbling, but that’s what your post said to me today. XOXO to you my Yogi Friend, and miss you!

    • Debbie says:

      Very wise words my lovely fellow yogi. And I agree, I’ll be doing something, like walking or being with a friend, and I feel happy. I Miss you too!! xxoo

  • tbone says:

    honestly, if you think about what an absurd holiday Thanksgiving is anyway, it takes away some of the pressure to make it all sappy. its a day when white man pretended to befriend the native peoples who he then very nearly wiped out. so…. woohoo! big deal. some great day, lol.
    but yea, regardless, it was a day i enjoyed sharing with my Geoff.,, not with family —bleh! with my best friend and life partner. the best person with which to make a ridiculous “holiday” actually a memorable day, or few days… spending most of it outdoors, in the mountains.
    so now, today, i shared time with a friend i dont get to see as often as i would like. so again: special. not a forced “special” like the commercials, tv shows and movies make you think you gotta have. screwwwww that.
    life after the death of a spouse, i am finding, is alot of redefining.

    • Debbie says:

      I agree. It’s redefining. Who you are and want to be on your own, how you deal with rituals or holidays. I had Thanksgiving with a newish friend who invited me to share it with her family. So, different, but I enjoyed it and felt grateful for friends. So yeah, redefining, what makes you feel good or at least as good as possible.