As I head toward my second Christmas as a widower, I now know the challenges begin with Halloween.
Yes, Halloween. Filled with happy “couple” memories, it’s a tough day for a lot of widows and widowers. It is followed by Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, one blow after another, in overlapping, unrelenting succession, pummeling an already broken heart.
There’s the realization that, on earth, the best is not yet to come. The best has come and gone.
For a widow or widower, no matter how happy the occasion, the gathering, the event, there can be the unalterable fact that it would be so much happier if our loved one had lived.
The first days, weeks and months after the death of a spouse can be a time of complete numbness. Shock. Disbelief. A blur.
And the years that follow, no matter how many years may follow, can be a time of incompleteness. It still astounds me how little I knew about widowhood before my wife died of uterine cancer in January 2013. Just as she had time to prepare for her death, I had time to prepare for her dying. But not really, because I simply didn’t know what it was like to have her gone.
Thanks be to God, I have a loving and supportive family, work I value, health, financial stability, a mortgage-free home, and on and on. But one description I’ve heard of widowhood is that life becomes like a nutritious meal that has no salt, no spice or like a can of pop, of soda, that has lost its fizz.
I don’t say this because I want to whine. I try to limit my whining to prayer. I say this because those who aren’t widowed don’t know what this is like, and so when they want to help a loved one, they’re unsure of what to do or not to do.
With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for dealing with your widowed friend’s Christmas and the holidays leading to it.
Invite the widowed person to the gathering even if the person may not be able to come. Accept the fact that the person may want to come, but on that day, that evening, it’s simply too much. He or she may call, email or text at the last minute to tell you he or she just can’t leave the house. Your gracious acceptance of that helps tremendously. Prodding or pushing guilt buttons don’t.
Please, please, please don’t act as if the person’s loved one never existed. Yes, in your eyes, he or she may have died a long time ago. In the widowed person’s eyes, it seems like a long time ago and only yesterday. Use the person’s name. Tell stories about the person. Share happy memories.
Your stories and memories may make the widowed person cry. Allow that to happen, especially around Christmas. It may make you uncomfortable, but it brings great comfort. It may be just what the widowed person needs for Christmas this year.