Maybe the date is highlighted on your calendar. Or perhaps you’ve left it blank, trying your best to make it like any other day of the year. When you’ve lost a loved one, “memory dates” and holidays are going to pop up over the course of a year that you likely dread. Whether it is the first year or many since you’ve lost a loved one, there are feelings and emotions that you will experience all over again simply because you are reminded that it’s a special holiday or a past wedding anniversary, or birthday.
Memory dates and holidays are always going to bring back thoughts about a different place in your life.
Do what works for you
Widows and widowers face memory days and holidays in various ways. There are no right answers. Some stay in their homes and pretty much wish the day away; others gather with family and intentionally make it a memorial or celebration event. Those without families often call up someone else who is alone and spend time together. We’ve heard from members who go to the movies, enjoy a dinner out with friends, or get immersed in a volunteer activity.
Be kind to yourself and do what works for you.
Offer your non-widowed friends and family some guidance
Many of you find that after a death, friends and even family avoid talking about the person. At holiday gatherings, remind those in attendance that you would like to remember your loved one in some manner. Perhaps there’s a toast given in the person’s memory, or a time when a few stories are shared. You may wish to put a photo with a candle at the dinner table. Whatever is planned for the time, help them understand that ignoring the topic is not helpful.
Revisit your expectations
Leading up to December, we’re all bombarded with images of the perfect holiday celebration. All of this is fantasy, regardless of your circumstances. (If you need convincing, watch the holiday classic, Christmas Vacation, where the hapless Clark Griswold fails miserably in his attempt to create such an event).
Remembering the above reality doesn’t diminish the pain you are feeling. However, it is a reminder to everyone that it’s pretty much impossible to live up to the high standards of a “Hallmark” holiday.
Take baby steps to different traditions
At some point, you’ll take small steps to different ways of celebrating holidays and acknowledging memory dates. Like most traditions, these may evolve without even realizing it. Although Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or your own birthday may not look like it did before you were widowed, these occasions can still be meaningful, and once again, bring joy.
Know that you will get through it
Getting through these days, particularly that first year, is so unknowable that there is no single answer, otherwise we would have heard it. But after the initial year of “firsts”, know that these dates do get better. You’ll look back one day, and note that you got through the first year, and then the second, and third; and even though the memories remain, the pain will not be as intense.
The anxiety and anticipation of a upcoming dreaded holiday or special date can be overwhelming. Reach out and share your feelings and emotions with a family member or friend. It’s OK to acknowledge these holidays are difficult for you.
Connect with others at Widowed Friends. Let’s help each through the holiday and special dates together.