Monday, November 8, 2010

The Holidays Come Early for Widows: Shopping for the Perfect Nervous Breakdown

I had a pretty good day today. Which is shocking because I was starting in on my Christmas shopping.

I think what made it okay was that first of all, I got to spend the day with my mom (and Dad...if you’re reading this, shoot me an email. I’ve got some ideas for you. And don’t call me on December 23rd ‘cause I’m not going to the mall for you then).

The other thing though...the true miracle...was that I was doing it at all.

For the past 3 Christmases (this will be my 4th without my husband), I think I have been in such denial that Christmas was going to actually happen that I left my shopping until the very last minute. This little practice made me feel so overwhelmed and exhausted by the time the actual day rolled just compounded my anti-Christmas mood.

Now, before my husband died, I was always the girl who got her shopping done by September. I would keep my eye out all year round for things that I thought my friends and family would like. When people would say on December 15th, “Man...I really need to get started on my shopping” I would answer, “Really? I’m already wrapped and ready to go!”

Yes, I know. It annoyed the rest of my friends too.

But I’m kind of thinking that this year...the fog has lifted a little bit. No...I wasn’t done by Labor Day, but the fact that I’m doing it now is pretty miraculous. Two years ago, I would have never seen myself get to this point. In fact, last year I was still picking stuff up at Walgreens on Christmas morning.

Don’t judge me. You can get a George Foreman and a smokin’ deal on t-shirts.

I think to most of the outside world, it’s pretty obvious some of the things that we struggle with during the holidays after the loss of a spouse. We’re lonely. We miss the family time. There isn’t anyone here to take the guts out of the turkey (I know I mentioned that in my last blog, but I really hate doing it. It may be a reoccurring theme until the first of the year).

What most people don’t understand is how early the difficulties of the holidays start. When we walk into Macy’s in August and they’re hanging snowflakes and lights...I’m sure anyone paying attention can see us turn ghostly pale and suddenly seem rooted to a spot in the accessories department.

(I just came in for socks dammit! Now I’m walking away with a nervous breakdown!)

Gift giving changes a lot when your spouse is gone. And I mean...a lot. When my husband was here, I still did most of the shopping. But I knew that if I needed “Santa Claus” to assemble something, he would be right there with me at 3 AM, ignoring the directions and looking for that one missing screw that seemed to hold the whole damn thing together.

Now, not only do I have to find things that are already put together, I have no one to bounce ideas off of. And since I don’t think that my son really wants anything from Justice or the American Girl store...this puts me in a pickle.

My dad is stuck with getting a shirt and a book every year now, but he’s a really good sport about it and shakes each one like he’s not sure what he’s going to get. “Does it sound like a red shirt, or a green shirt? Does this feel like a spy novel or a biography??”

I’m sure he misses shaking something that actually sounds like it has pieces and hardware.

And what to buy the in-laws??? I mean...sure...realistically he was no help in that department. But at least when I got frustrated with it, I could turn to him with a deadly glare and say, “I don’t care if you think your mom will never wear that sweater. What’s your solution? A welding helmet?”

Gawd...I miss that.

And don’t even get me started on the “couples” gifts. My husband may have blown it on most birthdays and anniversaries. He hated Valentine’s Day and didn’t put anything in my Easter basket. But he made up for it at Christmas. Since he’s been gone...well...these past few years have been when I’ve really digested the fact that I’m an adult. Because around the holidays...he always made me feel like a kid.

The funny thing is...I always felt like I was the opposite. I was a champ at birthdays and nothing makes a man feel guiltier than when you get him something nice on Valentine’s Day and he hands you a packet of seeds instead of flowers (and yes...he did do that one year), so I always capitalized on it. But he always seemed to outshine me at Christmas.

It’s hard shopping for everyone else and everywhere you turn you see something for him. All of those years I felt the pressure of his Christmas present...who would have thought I would miss that?? But I do. Last week, as I was walking through Sear’s with the kids, I passed through the tool section and nearly had a panic attack.

What’s weird is that years ago, I probably walked through the same section and felt something similar. (All those tools...spinning around air...oh the pressure...where the hell are the gift cards???)

The truth is...nothing makes us feel more like our spouse is missing than the present we didn’t buy. To me...that’s harder than the present I’m not getting. And this has been the first year I’ve been able to even start on this process without constantly asking myself, “What would he have wanted? If he were here, what would he be giving everyone else?”

I’m not going to lie to’s still hard. And I expect it always will be. But since the holidays only roll around once a year, I guess it takes a lot of extra time for us to digest our new “special occasion” normal. At least at this point I’ve gotten to expect a little extra heart pounding at Home Depot. I know my hands will get sweaty when I pass by the auto parts store all decorated in tinsel and tools. And now I circle the jewelry ads with a pencil instead of a big, fat, red Sharpie.

What can I say? I’m still a work in progress.


  1. This brought tears to my eyes...ok I'm lying I'm a mess right now. This will be my first Christmas without my DH and I'm already dreading it. I would always do the shopping for our 2 boys and then about a week before Christmas he would do his own for the boys and spoil the heck out of them he always got them the "good gifts". I have been reading your blog and follow you on FB your posts make me laugh some days Thank You for that!!

  2. Chuck wasnt much of a "holiday" person.. and our daughter is the same... still, the second year I had a big holiday party. Didnt help me a bit. cant remember third and 4th year.. This year I will just decorate the heck out of our Book Store and wrap treats for the dogs. DD and DSiLaw already have their gifts.. DD just dosnt know it yet :) no family besides them to buy for so I ordered a few things for me and bought myself a new coffee maker.

  3. Ah WC, not sure what made me laugh more, but my Dear was color blind so..."does it sound like a red shirt or..." surely did. And I still have the packages of wildflower seeds given one birthday, he was proud of the idea. He did love Valentine's though, a total sap about it. I was too still in shock last Feb, only a month out, for it to hit.

    Poignant would describe this post so wonderfully written. Thanks, always, for the humor with which you leaven the sorrow. We all takes our hope and courage where and as we can.

  4. At five years, I'm still a work in progress too! My husband was the holiday guy. He loved Christmas and he did all the shopping. I'm not much of a shopper and am all about the process so it takes me forever to make a, I gladly gave the shopping to him. I was in a panic the first holiday, but it was ok...we were away from home. The holidays since have been here at home and get a bit less painful every year, but you are so's just not the same. I became an online shopper (that's what he did) and so far so good...this year will be tough tho' money is nowhere to be found.
    One year I even set up the video camera like he used to do...I don't sob anymore and we seem to get through...but always something that is missing...him!

  5. This is my second set of holidays without my beloved Nelson. All year I haven't been able to look at men's clothes in a catalog--or a store--without getting tears in my eyes. And now the holiday catalogs are in. I've learned to avoid the men's clothing section of clothing catalogs, but I keep seeing stuff he'd like in other catalogs, and it hurts Every. Single. Time. I hate it.

    Last year it was so fresh--Christmas was just two months in--I didn't buy a single present for anybody. I think my family realized I was still in shock and went easy on me. This year I'm making whatever gifts people are getting. And they're going to be grateful or...yeah, whatever.

  6. You sure do know how to hit the nail right on the head! I have had the panic attacks in the mall and in the auto store when I went to get a simple bottle of glass cleaner. I am to my surprise doing better than what I expected at this point other than the fact that yes, I too have stopped in the middle of the Department store and just stared at the Christmas stuff. I am pretty good at faking and putting on a smile so I am sure I will do this alot for the kids sake, but we all know on the inside, I could break at any moment!

  7. Yep, I could have written this story too. Tim loved to go overboard at Christmas, one year I got 20 boxes of assorted fiesta ware. Individually packed. Last year...Nothing. I don't read the men's catalogs and if they come in the mail they go straight in the garbage!

  8. Wow I thought it was only me that feels like I'm going to have a nervous breakdown when she all the xmas stuff. My spouse did all the decorating and most of the shopping. He always went overboard on buying gifts. Now this year I'm lost and I know I have to be strong for my daughter.