Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Without Them

I've posted this in the past, but  each year there are new additions to the ranks of those observing the holiday for the first time without a loved one, so I decided to share it once more.

Many of you know that I started writing after the death of my first wife. I used segments from the journaling I did to craft a book with chapters dealing with the situations I faced in the months afterward. I pulled no punches, detailing my failures as well as the victories I eventually won. That book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, is still in print and continues to help thousands of grieving people each year.

Because I know how difficult the holidays can be after the death of a loved one, I decided to post this article which I wrote for a small local paper several years ago. I hope it helps those of you who are facing this situation. If you know of others who need it, please forward it to them.


    After the death of a loved one, every holiday that follows carries its own load of renewed grief, but there’s little doubt that Christmas—especially that first Christmas without him or her—is the loneliest time of the year.

    After the death of my wife, Cynthia, I was determined to keep things as “normal” as possible for that first Christmas. Since this was an impossible goal, the stress and depression I felt were simply multiplied by my efforts. My initial attempt to prepare the Christmas meal for my family was a disaster, yet I found myself terribly saddened by the sight of my daughter and daughters-in-law in the kitchen doing what Cynthia used to do. Putting the angel on the top of the tree, a job that had always been hers, brought more tears. It just wasn’t right—and it wasn’t ever going to be again.

    Looking back now, I know that the sooner the grieving family can establish a “new normal,” the better things will be. Change the menu of the traditional meal. Get together at a different home. Introduce variety. Don’t strive for the impossible task of recreating Christmases past, but instead take comfort in the eternal meaning of the season.

    The first Christmas will involve tears, but that’s an important part of recovery. Don’t avoid mentioning the loved one you’ve lost. Instead, talk about them freely. Share the good memories. And if you find yourself laughing, consider those smiles a cherished legacy of the person whom you miss so very much.

    For most of us, grieving turns our focus inward. We grieve for ourselves, for what might have been, for what we once had that has been taken from us. The Christmas season offers an opportunity to direct our efforts outward. During this season for giving, do something for others. Make a memorial gift in memory of your loved one to your local Food Bank, the Salvation Army, or your favorite charity. Involve yourself in a project through your church. Take a name from an Angel Tree at one of the malls and shop for a child whose smile you may not see but which will warm your heart nevertheless.

    When you’re grieving, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by Christmas, especially the modern version. The echoes of angel voices are drowned out by music from iPods. The story of Jesus’ birth gives way to reruns of “Frosty, The Snowman.” Gift cards from Best Buy and WalMart replace the offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. If you find the season getting you down, the burden of your loss too great to bear, read once more the Christmas story in Luke, chapter 2. Even when you celebrate it alone, this is the true meaning of Christmas.


Anonymous said...

I lost my wife of 27 years suddenly and unexpectedly on Fathers Day. She was 48 years old, taken from me by a massive heart attack. Sne loved Christmas so very much, and I adored her. I am in so much emotional pain, and I am so very lost without her. I don't know what to do or wbere to turn without her. God help me.

Richard Mabry said...

Dear Anonymous, I truly feel your pain. It sounds hollow now, but I can say from experience that things eventually get better. How long will it take? Only God knows. I urge you to talk your feelings out--with friends, with a minister, with a grief group, even by journaling (as I did, which turned into my book, The Tender Scar). I'll pray for you.

Anonymous said...

It will be the first Christmas my cousin's wife is spending without him. Should I say something on my card? if so, what would be appropriate?

Richard Mabry said...

This is a tough question. My gut instinct is to first of all make a phone call, ask "How are you doing?" and let the conversation direct you. I was so desperate for conversation after my loss, I was willing to listen to telephone solicitors.
Regarding the Christmas card, perhaps you could say, "There will be tears at this season-- let them flow. There will be temptations to smile--let it out. It's hard to fathom, but things will get better."

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much, we have communicated over the past year both in person and by email as live out of the country for several months of the year . As my cousin passed last Jan just after New Years day, I want her to know that we are thinking of her, but also know that we too remember.