The first year, Christmas came along 6 weeks after he died. In many ways, this was a blessing because I was in such shock. I have almost no recollection of that first Christmas without him. And, I think this is the way it had to be. I know that I cooked a complete turkey dinner, but I don't remember who sat around my table. I can't recall a single conversation. Not one. I don't even know if I ate dinner.
When I think back to that first Christmas, I can not close my eyes and envision my sons opening their gifts. But, I know that they had gifts. I just have no idea what they were. And, I do not remember shopping for their gifts. Maybe I bought them online. I don't know. I just can't remember. (There is a theme here.)
I know that I got my tree up that first year. But, I have no idea if I was helped doing this or not. I think I actually put up two tress, but I can't be sure. Maybe the trees were already up prior to Mike dying - who knows. Like so many things, I wish I could talk to Mike about all this. But, when your person dies you lose part of your shared history. *Sigh. Now, without Mike, I have to rely on my memories of the past. The person who shared some of the best moments of my life is dead; and without him, I am not able to confirm or deny events of our shared past. This is a huge loss. Secondary losses were something I had yet to comprehend that first year without him.
Beyond dinner and having a tree or two decorated I really can't remember anything about that first Christmas. Looking back, part of my lack of memory is likely due to my white wine intake. That first holiday as a widow Riesling was not optional. I was in survival mode. And, no one was telling me what to do, because no one I knew had done this before. My friends still had their husbands. They had no experience to draw on. They were clueless about widowhood and so was I. Without a manual for widowhood and with no one to mentor me, I put myself into a wine induced haze for all of December starting on my birthday which landed exactly two weeks after Mike died and one week after I stood at the cemetery and buried him. After bearing witness to the horribly dramatic, sad and awful moment at the cemetery when Mike’s coffin was lowered as TAPS played no one was about to tell me not to ease up on the wine. So, with no regrets, my first Christmas was definitely a White Christmas…
White wine or not, I do not remember Christmas shopping that year. Maybe, I had the gifts finished before Mike died - who knows? I can ask him, but since he died I can't hear him the way I used to. I am tired of our one sided conversations. I am tired of his silence. I just want to have him here with me. I want so very much to share my life with him. But, this can never be. In my head, I know the life we shared is over. Still, it was not until late in my third year of widowhood that I began to work on "accepting" Mike's permanent absence in my Heart. And, even now, this remains a work in progress.
My second Christmas as a widow really felt like my first because I really didn't feel anything that first year. The first Christmas I was in complete shock - Mike died 6 short weeks before Christmas. So, the second year, in anticipation, I started dreading Christmas in July which gave a whole new lousy meaning to "Christmas in July".
I remember I felt extremely anxious about being without Mike over the holidays. I knew that there would be a hollowness to the entire holiday season for me and the worst would be Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I felt like the holiday would be incomplete without him. So, in an effort to fix the unfixable, I started trying to plan for Christmas months ahead of time. I tried to get in front of the sadness. But, this is not how grief works. You can not side step the pain.
I was right, the second Christmas wasn't the best. In truth, I barely recall it. I just remember feeling empty. Beyond empty really.
The third Christmas, Mike's absence remained very obvious to me; but, the season was less awful for me than the first two. Things finally began to feel a bit “okay". I managed to cry less and smile more. But, inside I felt utterly gutted and alone. I quietly missed him and the life we were supposed to share together.
I know that Mike is "with" me and I believe that he is around me - especially during the holidays. But, I crave his physical presence. Through this mess, I continue to talk to Mike and I know that he can hear me, but it's just not the same because I do not hear him the way I used to. I always miss him. And, I miss him even more during the holidays. For me, the Christmas Season loudly pronounces his absence.
The third Christmas without Mike, I was much more aware of everything. I noticed that I was very different than my peers. I felt like an outsider who was witnessing a holiday that is best celebrated together as a family. I felt displaced. And, I felt badly for my sons who are also displaced by default. It is just the three of us. Our family is tiny. Death and divorce have isolated us from what used to be big family gatherings.
My fourth Christmas as Mike's widow is nearly here and I have experienced less dread leading up to it. Now, I know what to expect, and what not to expect. I admit, I am less out of sorts about the holidays this year, but I am not altogether “okay”. I miss being light hearted and carefree. And, I quietly grieve that I will NEVER feel this way about Christmas again.
I do not think that I will ever feel completely joy filled and wide eyed about life again - not just Christmas. I know full well that participating in life can be joyful; but, surviving Mike’s death has forced me to know a darkness I never knew existed. Daily, I live with a heaviness that would bring most “regular” people to their knees if they had to endure it.
We the bereaved do not live like the ordinary. There is a constant heavy feeling within us. There is a sense that we are separate and apart from the people and things around us. And, there is a certain look in our eyes that reveals how very, very tired our Souls are. During the holidays, we are not granted respite from any of this.
I have come to intimately know the ugliness of grief. Surviving what I thought would kill me has changed how I experience the world and the holidays. Grief has altered me in some good ways; and, it has changed me in some less good ways too. Outliving Mike has revealed the strength of the human spirit to me. I know I am “strongish”. (I've had no choice.) I am living without him, but I miss being Mike's "Wife". I was good at it. And, I am only average at being a widow.
Widowing is lonely. It is hard stuff. And, it can be especially awful during the holidays. There is no way around this. I think acknowledging the truth of the terribleness and loneliness helps. I can not and will not sugar coat any of this. Grief isn't a something you can sprinkle with sugar to make it more palatable. It is difficult. Ideally, you should allow yourself to feel the sharpness of the pain, all the while keeping Hope in your heart.
With intention, and hard work, it is possible to live a life that is full - I KNOW this. It is possible to feel Joy and Love again if you choose to. The future will not be the one you imagined with your spouse, but it can still be something good eventually.
Best to you this holiday season,