Christmas week. It’s a tough week for all of us on this widowhood journey, but especially those in the beginning.
This will be my 4th Christmas without my husband, and it is still hard. But I’m here to tell you it does get better. I’m here to remind you that your grief will change eventually and one day, you will look back and be grateful you made it.
But right now, you must get through this holiday, this year.
My first Christmas in 2018 was excruciating. There’s no other way to describe it. I was just a month from unexpectedly losing my husband at age 57 to a heart attack. In those four short weeks I’d found him collapsed in our garage two days before Thanksgiving, planned two memorials (one in our current town and one in our hometown), bought a burial plot, endured Thanksgiving (what did I have to be thankful for?), turned 55 and now I had to get through Christmas.
Yes, I had friends and family ask me to travel to their homes, but I knew I couldn’t be merry and bright. I didn’t want to spoil their time with their families.
I thought I’d prepared myself. I’d wake up, do my daily sobbing and pull myself together to go to my aunts for dinner late that afternoon.
For me, that was a mistake. I’d underestimated the impact waking up on Christmas morning alone for the first time in my life. Social media, of course, was my second mistake. Reading about everyone’s celebrations was not a good move.
By noon, I couldn’t stand the sight of my Christmas tree any longer. It didn’t help putting up the décor was the last major project Dale and I had worked on together.
I then thought of one of the first Christmas presents he gave me, when I was 16. It was a little pin of Mr. Bill, the SNL character so popular at the time. I wanted to hold it – hold onto something – from our many Christmases together.
I looked and looked and couldn’t find the jewelry box I knew I’d seen just weeks before while putting up those decorations (I would later realize “widow fog” was so strong, the box was sitting there right in front of me, and I just couldn’t see it).
I returned to the house, and I will tell you, I didn’t want to live at that point. I got out all my prescription pain meds I’d collected from months of surgeries I’d recently had. I sat them in front of me on my side table and stared at them.
I thought of a 9/11 widow’s story I’d never forgotten. In her grief, she’d ended her life shortly before Christmas that year. I always thought how sad her grief defined her story. But now, for the first time, I understood.
I sobbed. I kept thinking of reasons to take the pills. I thought my life was over. I didn’t think I was strong enough to go on without the man I’d loved since I was 15 years old.
Then a voice inside my head kept reminding me of the many reasons not to. The people, my large tribe who’d worked so hard to help me make it in those weeks. My godbrother/our good friend, Mike, who made a 6-hour trip in less than 4 when I called him that first day. He stayed with me and helped me with all the arrangements. He and his wife, Charlotte, came back after the memorial to help me secure my property so it was safer for me to live alone. My friend, Kathy, who came and stayed with me the first week after the memorial, who was calling me every single night promptly at 7 p.m. to let me sit in my grief with her. My aunt, who was the first one to tell me I had to get up from the driveway where I’d collapsed and had been helping me each day since. My daughters and granddaughters, who, during their grief, was tending to mine. My very large group of friends – my tribe – who did many, many acts of kindness. Even writing colleagues, some of whom I’d never met in person, who realized when I didn’t that life insurance doesn’t settle within days and took up a collection to help see me through the next few months.
Those were all the reasons I had not to take those pills.
When my oldest daughter called that afternoon, I was still an emotional wreck. I didn’t tell her I’d been staring at a table of pills for 2 hours. She told me she was bringing me to Germany, where she lives, the following summer, so I could meet my granddaughter. She wanted to give me that to hold onto.
I did. I held on, and so can you.
This holiday, plan. Go with those family members or friends who have invited you. They love you; they will understand if you’re not full of joy. You can always leave the room if needed. If you can help it, don’t be alone.
If you must be alone, make sure loved ones check on you. Call a friend or family member. Try to plan to stay busy. Watch funny shows, movies, binge a favorite series. For God’s sake, stay off social media. And if you get to a point of no return, please call the Suicide Prevention Hotline.
You can make it. Please, believe me. You have so much life to live yet. So many people to meet and things you haven’t done. Do not let your grief define your story.