It’s that time of year again, when people are filled with cheer, shops are selling decorations, Christmas carols are sailing over the airwaves, and festive lights are everywhere. But, if you have been recently widowed, these festivities may all seem somewhat perverse and insensitive, which is perfectly normal.

A holiday season can be overwhelming for a widow or widower trying to negotiate their way through invitations to celebratory meals and vacations from well-meaning friends and family. Holidays are inherently about spending time with your family and friends. However, you may be wondering how you will manage to cope over this period without your spouse by your side.

A Jumble of Emotions During the Holidays

Being in mourning over the holiday season brings with it an array of different emotions, not only sadness and grief, but anger because of your spouse’s death, anxiety about coping with all the celebrations on your own, guilt about whether you should still decorate or participate in the festivities, and even confusion about whether you are allowed to be happy during the special family times that lie ahead.

Holidays can be painful reminders of your loss, especially if you are still in your first year of widowhood. Reminders of happier times will crop up in the back of your mind, unbidden. It will probably feel like you are facing your loss all over again. Friends and family may not fully understand what you are going through or may perhaps be grieving themselves. They will however want to support you, and you will need to understand that this is always out of their best intentions.

You may find yourself crying one moment and then laughing the next as a holiday memory involving your spouse returns. Perhaps you want to shut yourself away and let the season pass, hopefully unnoticed. Whatever your instinct is, only you can decide what is best for you and your family. This is a time when you need to be incredibly kind to yourself and do only what is required to make it through this day into the next.

Take Extra Care of Yourself

Try to anticipate what lies ahead and what emotions each situation will uncover. If you feel that attending a particular occasion will be unbearable without your partner, or you fear that you may break down, decline the invitation. You may be surprised at how understanding the host or hostess is. It is best if you look after your mental health, as well as your physical well-being during this time.

Never ignore the grief that you are feeling. You need to feel it and process it to heal. Every person experiences grief in different ways and it lasts for different periods of time. However, if you find yourself still grieving intensely after the first two years, it may be worth consulting a grief counsellor. Grief is a very tiring emotion and can wear you down in time if it doesn’t naturally start subsiding.

Tips for Coping With Grief During the Holidays

Although it may seem like a mammoth effort is needed on your part, you can survive the holidays as a widow or widower, and here are a few suggestions on how you and your children, if you have any, may be able to better cope.

  • Put yourself and your family first. As mentioned earlier, your emotions are going to see-saw, so it may be necessary to limit some of your family or social interactions, especially if you are not feeling up to it.
  • Communicate your stages of grief. Let your family and loved ones know how you are feeling so that they can better support you, or perhaps even give you some much-needed space.
  • Solitude can be beneficial. However, the holidays are also an excellent time for embracing the love and support of your family and close friends.
  • Your children still need you. If you have young children, they will always look to you for love and support through their grief. Should you feel incapable of providing this to them during your grief, it may be worth contacting a close family member or grief counsellor to assist you.
  • Create new traditions. Some people may cling to their old holiday traditions as a source of comfort, but others may find that this is a time to establish new rituals and traditions.
  • Laughter is the best medicine. Yes, it is! Laughter can be very healing and whether you are sharing a funny anecdote about your spouse or watching a silly comedy, use this time to laugh from your belly without feeling any guilt.
  • You won’t often be encouraged to procrastinate, but some of your goals can be put back in the box for another time. Prioritise only the critically important goals and leave the rest for another day when you are feeling stronger.
  • Permit yourself to enjoy your life. Remember that it is your spouse who has passed on and not you. You still have a life to lead. Allow yourself moments of enjoyment and happiness. As the grief subsides, there will be more of these moments.

Although the holidays may never be the same happy occasions they once were, you will eventually find a new way to enjoy them and to make other happy memories. Recovery from grief does not happen overnight. It is a gradual process of taking baby steps towards learning to live life without your spouse.

Be vigilant about your and your children’s energy levels and mental health during the holidays. Ensure that you all rest enough and eat healthily as grief can quickly tire you out. You and your children should be the only priorities in your life at this time. The more you take care of yourself and them, the better equipped you will all be to face the future. You will also be able to better plan for the holidays that lie ahead – being better-prepared means that you will feel more in control of yourself.

So – cry if you need to. Laugh if you want to. Make new memories and start new traditions. One day, you will wake and realise that the worst of the grief is behind you. You will be able to take a confident step into the future again, one in which you will hopefully be able to enjoy the holidays to their full again.

Should you need more time, The Sonja Smith Funeral Group will always lend an ear and offer support when needed. You need time, space, and a license to grieve. Active grieving, in time, will help you heal.