Monday, December 6, 2010

Grieving Through The Holidays: Finding The New Normal In All Of Those Decorations

I know I’m not the only one who is feeling the effects of the season.

Grieving during “normal” times is a full-time job.  Throw in 2 or 3 holidays back to back and whatever milestones we might have in the middle...well...we’re all working on nervous breakdowns of epic proportions.

I think one of the cruelest things about the holidays (and this may just be me) is that we’re dealing with something we used to look forward to so much...and it’s turned into something we can barely get through. 

My first Christmas without my husband was definitely the hardest.  I know...that should come as no surprise.  It came about 4 months after his death and the truth is...I was still in such a fog that I really hadn’t given much thought as to how exactly I would get through it (that worry came the second year when I was actually with-it enough to worry).

To tell you the truth, memories of that first Christmas are just now starting to resurface.  Everything was so crazy at that point...I really don’t remember much.  I would say that that first Christmas really came at the peak of my “manic” phase.  I was running around like the Tasmanian Devil with a cocaine problem right after he died in July.  And then I completely crashed the February after. 

That was my first valuable Grief can’t outrun it.  It’s within you and will find its way out somehow.

I couldn’t sit still.  I didn’t want to think about what had happened or exactly how I was going to make this new life work.  I actually think I was too crazy for therapy at that point. 


I was delusional enough that I had completely tricked myself into thinking I was the same person I had always been.  I wanted to assure everyone around me that nothing had changed!  You don’t have to be uncomfortable around me!  Sure...our family was missing one person, but heck...we can do this!  I don’t need anyone to feel sorry for us...we’re fine!

Webster’s just called recently and asked if they could put my 2007 picture next the word “denial.”  I told them no.  That really wasn’t my best hair year.

As I was getting ready to decorate my house this year, feeling a little less overwhelmed and a little more hopeful than I have in Christmases past, I talked to my sister and said, “Do you remember that first Christmas and that party I gave?  Was I crazy or what???”

And her response was, “Yup.  You pretty much were.”

Don’t ask a question you don’t want to know the answer to.

I got it into my head, somewhere around the middle of November, that I was going to have a party.  None of this widowing stuff for me!  I was going to invite every single person I knew over and throw a shindig like they had never seen before.

Not only that, but I decided to invite people over I knew to sell stuff.  I had a different vendor in every room of the main floor of my house.  Pampered Chef in the kitchen, jewelry in the living room, purses in the TV room, chocolate in the dining room...if I could have figured out someone appropriate for the bathroom I would have booked them.

I decorated every square inch.  And when I ran out of decorations...I went and bought more.  Greenery on every surface I could think of.  White lights everywhere.  I didn’t stop until it looked like Christmas threw up in my house.

Of course, manic decorating has to end at some point.  The guests come and then they leave.  And then I was stuck with a whole bunch of Christmas cheer and no one to share it with.

Kind of made me want to torch the whole thing.

Now...this story may strike some people as odd.  Most of the emails and comments I see are from people who can’t seem to rouse themselves out of their grief-induced stupor to put any decorations up.  And I get that...that was year 2 for me (I’ve always told you guys I’m a weird griever). 

Of course...the reason why I’m probably not hearing from the more manic people is because they’re running around too fast trying to make a grid with Christmas lights on their lawn.  The more relaxed grievers have more time to write in.

Coming up on Christmas number four I think I’ve figured a few things out.  I have had to reverse my thinking about this time of year.  Instead of expecting to whoop it up at a bunch of parties and see every single person from my past within a 2 week time period, I’m looking forward to just being in my house with my Netflix subscription and endless cups of hot tea.  Instead of trying to hit every Christmas program I can find, I’ve told my kids to choose one and we’ll make an event out of it.  Instead of expecting myself to jolly everyone else along for the next few weeks, I’ll celebrate the fact that I’m just getting through it.

This year...I’ve learned to say “no” a little more and commit myself to less which leads to me feeling not quite so overwhelmed and exhausted.

I’ve learned to change my expectations a little.  Just temporarily.  There comes a point when you have to realize that you can’t completely recreate the magic of Christmases past.  Actually, you’ve already probably had to make that kind of transition before.  Holidays as an adult are really not the same as they are as a child.  As you’ve grown, you’ve had to change how you celebrate and make your own magic.  When you got married, you had to blend your traditions together to create something new.  If you had children, you had to change again...from letting the wine flow on Christmas Eve to drinking coffee so you didn’t completely screw up Barbie’s Dreamhouse.  And now that you’ve lost your partner in crime...those traditions have to be changed yet again.

But coming from someone who is working her way out the other side into a new life she wasn’t will get better.  There is still joy to be had.  Miracles still find a way into our lives.  At some point...the lights will twinkle again and you’ll find yourself gazing at a house with really hideous decorations with a little grin on your face.

And if you hit your manic phase later than I could be your house.

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© Catherine Tidd 2010


  1. boy, have we been on same track... and yes, this year is much sainer (dont know if that is a word). I am decorating the store but that is business... my house will be quiet with dogs and netflix and hot coffee/ tea. (kid is grown so I dont have to "DO" stuff up for her.)

    have a Merry Christmas, remeber the reason for the season and yes, it is getting better.

  2. I told myself I wouldn't do it... but I ended up decorating the apartment anyway. For some reason decorating is therapuetic. At the time. Then when your project is done you sit down and look around and go "ok, now what. where's my comfort and joy?"
    This is my first Christmas without John.
    I just want to get through it. My family said we dont have to do gifts. Which is fine I guess. I can't even imagine what I would be like shopping in madness right now. I would probably turn into a crazy woman and bite people's heads off. So it's best for me to just stay in. And if I feel the need to buy a gift... I'll do it online.
    It's soooo weird not buying things for John. So tough. But thank you for showing me that we can make it through... one day at a time.

  3. Going on year two...Put up the decorations with a great friend...budding into a very special relationship...Did it a little different...Spending the actual holiday in a vacation spot with special friend. My suggestion to all it to create new traditions and memories...Host a Holiday for the home away from home friends, volunteer at a shelter, adopt a family...I find giving, helping and sharing with others helps to ease the loss and gain new friendships and perspective...It could always be worse...Just try to make it the best it can be each day...We are all here until we are not..What if it was our last Christmas? What would be do differently? My guess our loved ones did not know it was their last on earth? Sent with love to make a difference, each and every day...

  4. It is year 4 and boy did you hit it on the nose... Crazy were the past 3 christmas' but I still struggle. This year lights on the tree outside nothing but a santa and Joy to the world sign inside. I am not the decorator my husband did all that.
    Thanks for the encouragement and the chance to look at myself. You did bring cheer Thank you and God Bless you!

  5. Last year was my first.. Like you, my husband died in July.. I went on a cruise.. my mother and daughters didn't want me to be alone (at the time I thought alone would be good), so we all went together, and had a wonderful time. This will be my first year in the real world.. I just want to hibernate until it's over.. I wonder.. will I ever enjoy Christmas again? Will there come a time when the songs I used to love to sing along to will be wonderful.. when Christmas shopping won't be just a huge chore?

    I'm waiting.. hoping.. I want the manic.. I think.

    Thank you for this look into your world.. It makes me see that maybe we are all normal.. hmm.. or maybe not.. but it's all ok, isn't it..

  6. Well said!

    As long as the grief keeps moving you're doing just fine.

    The first Christmas after my mom died, we as a family went absolutely overboard, and all 3 of us did exactly the same thing...bought out every store within our reach. It was insane.

    Great point about how Christmas has already changed in many ways.