Delightful surprises could lurk behind the anticipated ‘Bah Humbug’ of a new widow’s Christmas



For many recent widows and widowers, the idea of celebrating their first Christmas without their spouse opens a window of dread akin to being force-fed a fruitcake.

As unique individuals, we have different ways of dealing with the grief of finding ourselves alone during a holiday dedicated to family celebrations and long-held rituals and traditions. Some of us may refuse to do any holiday decorating, including any kind of Christmas tree. We may hole up in our widow’s quarters and shut out the world, wallowing in self-pity. Totally understandable.

My high school friend Don, a widower for many years now, admits he hated the idea of Christmas, since he had spent every holiday with his beloved Mary since age 17. He felt like his life was over when the holidays rolled around after her November 1 death. All his memories were wrapped up in her and he just knew he could never top the life he had once lived.

He knows now he was wrong. His daughter would not listen to his protests that he just wanted to be left alone for Christmas. He spent the holidays with her and his son-in-law’s extended family, including his Jewish and Lutheran parents. It was such a different celebration, it temporarily took his mind away from his sorrow. Each holiday since has been a little easier, even while he never forgets to honor his late wife’s memory.

For another high school friend, Donna, doing something different over the holidays helped her get through that first Christmas without her husband. “Trying to make everything the same brings up too many memories.” She reports that instead of the big family dinner, her family had a chili cook off and hit the Dollar Store for silly gifts as prizes for games. She also made a special remembrance tree ornament for herself and each of the adult kids.

“Also remember that there will be times when your spouse’s death is going to hit like a ton of bricks,” she advises, adding the examples of hearing a certain song, seeing a Christmas movie, a gift, anything. “It’s okay to have some mini-breakdowns,” she concludes.

For myself, this first holiday without my husband is punctuated with distractions. I am having the kitchen re-decorated and trying hard not to get sheetrock dust and glue anywhere near the ingredients for holiday confections that I insist on making, just like I have every year since I was old enough to follow my own mother’s example. I will never forget her making beautiful Swedish tea rings decorated with frosting and green and red maraschino cherries to give as gifts to friends and neighbors . . . (and she was German, not Swedish, but they were works of art that I drooled over).

This first year I have tried to follow the admonitions of my church to make Advent a mini-Lent through almsgiving. I went through the massive and unnecessary multitudes of our holiday decorations and gave many of them to a local nursing home. I will be going to that same nursing home on Christmas Day to have dinner with my husband’s stepmother, even though she will not remember the celebration a few minutes after I leave.

On Christmas Eve, the time I dread the most, I will be singing with a choir at two services, then having a few of the members of the group to my house for a buffet. One of them is a man who just lost his wife after a nine-year battle with cancer and is himself suffering from Parkinson’s, and the man moved this week into an assisted living facility.

I predict, that with this activity, I will fly through the holidays relatively unscathed and land in the doldrums of January just in time for a meltdown. But why borrow trouble, right? If my friends and acquaintances can get through a tough time, I certainly can too.


For now, as the days dwindle in the lead-up to a major annual event, surprises and delights are surely in store. New memories will be made, especially with a 15-month-old grandson whose wonder at twinkle lights and a fat bearded man in red can be soaked up vicariously and eagerly, along with some cuddles and kisses. A new vulnerability will lead me to do things like I did this morning and be moved to tears by an article in the newspaper about slave labor in Thailand that produces much of the shrimp we eat.

The rawness of emotion that I now wear on my sleeve like a Girl Scout badge may allow me to feel and experience precisely what I need in a season dedicated to remembering the birth of One who will dry our tears and lead us to a reunion with all our loved ones.

Widow Journal Part II: Knowing when to ask for help

My almost-completed deck staining/sealing project. Sloppy for a beginner but at least it's good enough.

My almost-completed deck staining/sealing project. Sloppy for a beginner but at least it’s good enough.

The Bible readings at church this morning spoke of widows and orphans. I can now sympathize with the widows of the Old and New Testament, even though I resist that identification. They were considered the most helpless individuals throughout history, with good reason.

But fast forward to the 21st century, and at least widows are no longer deemed helpless. As a stubborn female who has always prided herself on being able to use power tools and do chores on her own, I have entered this new chapter of life without a mate determined to tackle some of the more male-oriented tasks that my late husband had to put on the back burner due to ill health.

With just a tiny bit of trepidation, I tackled the staining and sealing of our deck and patio (learning through mistakes and sloppiness). I went to Sears and bought a new self-propelled lawn mower when I became fearful that the rider in the shed was going to tip over in our steep yard. Like an idiot, I mowed both the front and back yards in one afternoon, trying to keep up with the self-propulsion that went a little too fast for my tastes and arthritic knees.

I even put both my dogs on the grooming bench yesterday and trimmed their muzzles and the fur on their feet, just like I’d watched my husband do so many times before.

But by golly, a simple little 48 inch fluorescent light tube nearly did me in. I’ve replaced those suckers before without too much cursing. Today nothing worked. Add to that the fact that my old washer finally gave out and leaked all over the basement. I’m not strong enough to move it out of the way and my newer one into place.

Finally admitting I could qualify as a helpless widow, I called my brother-in-law to ask for help from my nephews, knowing my son would not appreciate driving 45 minutes one way to put a light tube in a stupid socket.

See, that’s the thing. We are called to be humble, and widowhood will put you there fast. Widows, widowers and others on their own need to learn the power of discernment. We have to overcome our embarrassment and fears of being a burden on others and admit we need the help occasionally. We also should realize that most folks welcome the opportunity to be helpful to widows and orphans; they just might need to be asked.

So, when my basement family room is once again illuminated, when my standby washer is maneuvered into place by my much stronger and more capable nephews, I will go back to doing my normal widow things. These things include, but are not limited to the following:

–Marking time by how many weeks have passed since the funeral and doing a self-assessment of mental progress and spiritual growth.

–Marking the time also by mundane things like trash days and daily to-do lists.

–Staying insanely busy to keep from being overwhelmed by emotional pain and self-pity; just letting those things descend on nights and Sunday evenings, and then only just a little.

–Learning the full meaning of the term “third wheel” and of cruel sayings like, “It’s a couples’ world.”

–Thanking God and the entertainment industry for Netflix while wondering what to watch once I’m finished with 130 episodes of “The Medium.”

Comfort food and lots of it could prove to be less than healthy.

Comfort food and lots of it could prove to be less than healthy.

–Realizing with a pang of guilt that keeping grief at bay by eating my way through Great Harvest Bakery’s offerings and those little Ben and Jerry’s ice cream cups might not be the healthiest thing to do.

–Slapping my hand off the iPad before ordering yet another item on the Internet that I probably don’t really need, knowing my late husband would probably come back to life to chastise me for it if he could.

–Noticing with disgust that the air conditioner hose is clogged and leaking all over the basement floor, then wondering if I am up to getting the compressor from the garage to the basement and then figuring out how to unhook said hose. Maybe this is a nephew call.

–Realizing that calling for help too often would quickly wear out my welcome. I have a friend whose widowed mother could not understand why her grandsons would not be able to come and mow her yard once a week, driving 150 miles one way to do so, even though she promised to pay them $10.