Originally published November 2012.
Losing someone who is a central part of your heart and your family can impact every little corner of your life. We find ourselves embarking on a year of “firsts” as soon as they are gone. Those first holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries stare at us like ominous strangers. We wonder how we will ever make it through without them. If you have children, these “firsts” can be even harder to face.
How will you celebrate Christmas now that your loved one won’t be there to fill his or her role in your family tradition? What about birthdays? Is it still okay to say “happy” that day? Questions loom in your head, Do we keep our old traditions? Should we start new ones? How can we keep our loved ones’ spirit alive on this occasion? What do we do if we cry?
These are all very real questions that we all have to face at some point during our grief journey. No one can answer them for us. We need to do whatever feels right to us and whatever is best for our family. Don’t allow people on the outside to pressure you into doing something you don’t want to or can’t do. Allow and encourage your children to be a part of this process.
My husband died in August, so Christmas was just 4 months away. Our family tradition had always been to cut down our own tree the day after Thanksgiving. We would then return home to decorate the tree while playing Christmas CD’s and enjoying hot chocolate and cookies. We would all wear Santa hats. It was a wonderful time together as a family.
That first year, I couldn’t bring myself to open the box of Christmas decorations. It was just too painful to think about the day we packed it together after what would become our last Christmas together. I discussed it with my kids, and we decided to do something a bit different. We also decided on keeping some things the same. We chose to buy a small tabletop tree already adorned with lights. Since my husband was an avid New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox fan, we chose decorations with those logos for the tree. We all got new stockings as well which brought some excitement for the kids on what was a bittersweet day. Instead of our traditional Santa hats, we bought ones with the sports teams’ logos on them as well. As we erected our “Daddy Tree”, we put on our hats, drank hot chocolate, and played his favorite Christmas CD. We hung lights around the room. We laughed and we cried, but we were happy with our choices. We were able to gracefully blend some old and some new traditions together to help us get through such a painful “first”.
As for how we would spend the actual day of Christmas, we decided to do something we had never done before. We packed ourselves up and headed south to spend the holiday with my sister and her family. We had never left our house before for this particular holiday. Now that we were with my sister’s family, they made us a part of their Christmas traditions. That first Christmas without my husband was a huge emotional roller coaster. It was filled with laughter, love, and tears. I still maintained some of the traditions we had with our kids, but I embraced the new ones my sister brought. It was so nice to be with people who love us so much. That was one of our best decisions. That Christmas is one we will never forget.
The kids and I have decided that every year we will put up our “Daddy Tree” in a prominent room of our house. We will also have a real tree to put our presents under. This is what feels right to us, and we will keep doing it as long as it feels right (which will likely be forever.) The second Christmas after my husband dies, I was finally ready to open up that box. It was nice to hang some of our family’s traditional ornaments on a real tree. It was nice to bask in some of the memories we all cherished.
So, as the Christmas season approaches, take time to discuss with your family the best way for you to celebrate and endure the holiday. Maybe you will choose to keep everything the same. Maybe you will choose to do everything different. Or perhaps, like us, you will find ways to graciously blend the two. Whatever you choose, I wish you and yours the best. Remember, it is okay to be happy and it is okay to be sad. Allow yourself to experience this holiday season in whatever ways help you on your grief journey.
Samantha Sage is a proud mom and wife, as well as a widow. She writes about her journey following the death of her first husband on her blog.