Friday, December 07, 2012

For the newly widowed parents out there ...

I wrote this guide for newly widowed parents several years ago for an online group. I wish I had remembered to post it earlier in the season. But maybe some of it will still be helpful, even for widows without kids.

A guide to "getting through" the holiday season

First, decide where and how you want to spend the holidays. Do you want to make this year as much like all the previous years as possible? Or do you want to totally change things up?

Regardless of where you'll be and how you'll celebrate, whether you'll travel to someplace new, spend the holidays with family, or stay home by yourself ...

1. Scale back wherever possible. Yes, you want to make the holiday special for the kids, but that doesn't mean you have to do everything exactly the way you always have done it. Decide what traditions are absolutely required for it to feel like Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa and focus on those things; if you have time and energy for the "extras," terrific. If not, that's okay.

2. Feel free to skip the greeting card frenzy. Seriously. Anybody who is offended not to hear from you this year really doesn't deserve to hear from you. (I sent no cards the first year; but I did send about a dozen letters to people who I knew would not have heard about Nick's death.)

3. Speaking of greeting cards, feel free to shred -- unread -- all the happy newsy Christmas letters from people you haven't seen in 10 years but who want to tell you how wonderful their perfect little families are. If it helps, write your own letter about how "wonderful" your year has been and post it right here in the comments.

4. The Internet is your best friend. Don't subject yourself to the happy families at the shopping mall if you don't have to. Just about everything you want to buy for the kids can be purchased online. In many larger metropolitan areas, you can even buy your groceries online and have them delivered for a minimal fee.

5. If holiday music is important to you, buy a new CD with someone different performing all the old favorites, someone you don't associate with your DH/DW. Yes, you can still listen to the sentimental favorites, but different is good.

6. Think of new traditions to start with the children, ways to remember Mom/Dad during the holiday season. A photo, a song, a prayer, a candle, a particular food, a visit to the cemetery, a letter to heaven, a special decoration or ornament ...

7. Speaking of ornaments, decide BEFORE you open the boxes if you're going to hang your spouse's stocking or the classic "First Christmas Together" ornaments. Think about it now, so you're not blindsided when you find them. Some people hang them with all the others; some people put them away forever; some people make a special tree or corner for these items. There is no right way to do it; just think about it before your 5YO hands you Mommy's stocking.

I was originally going to have two separate sections here: one for those with supportive friends and family around and one for those who are "going it alone." But this is the time to cash in on all those promises of help, to turn to all the people who said "Call me if you need anything," and then disappeared. This is one time of year that people really WANT to help. Call them.  And I'd like my nonwidowed readers to pay particular attention to this section and think about any widows you may know. Trust me when I say they'll be grateful for any offers of help at this time of year.

1. Ask friends/family to take the kids shopping for presents for you. Give them a list of things you'd like and some cash, so your kids can choose what they want to give you. Ask them to help the kids wrap the presents, as well. You deserve a surprise under the tree, too!

2. Ask for help wrapping all the presents -- parents tend to do this late at night when the kids are in bed, and the loneliness can be a real gut-kicker. Have a friend come over when the kids are in school so you can have company.

3. If decorations are important to you, ask for help putting them up. Don't feel like you have to get all the decorations up at once, in one day, in one weekend.

4. Ask for help putting up and trimming the tree. It's a big job: Don't make yourself do it alone if you don't want to. (I've written elsewhere about how I decorate our tree slowly and involve the kids in the activity.)

5. If you usually bake up a storm, and the kids are expecting your famous Christmas cookies, ask someone to come over for baking day. That way, if (when) tears start to fall, you can excuse yourself for a few minutes and the cookies won't get burned.

6. If you are buying a bike or a doll-house or a swing set or anything that requires assembly ... ASK FOR HELP. If you feel confident in your ability to put it together by yourself -- great! But do NOT wait until 10 pm Christmas Eve to do so. You'd be surprised how quickly 10 pm becomes 1 am and 2 am and 3 am ... and if you're by yourself at that hour, alone in your frustration -- trust me when I say that it ain't pretty.

If you decide to get away this year, because you can't bear to be home ...

1. Think about how far and how well you can travel with the kids. Don't choose a destination that's going to be hard for you to manage by yourself. Disneyland is great, but not if your kids are different ages/sizes and can't go on all the same rides. Who's going to watch the child who can't ride the roller coaster or doesn't want to ride the choo-choo one.more.time?

2. This is not the time to go someplace the two of you always wanted to go. The holiday will be emotional enough without adding that layer to it.

3. If you are traveling with younger kids, choose a destination that has child care available for at least part of the time. Give yourself a break.

4. If you are traveling with older kids, choose a destination that THEY are interested in, someplace where you can give them some freedom to do things by themselves.


1. Breathe.
2. Be gentle with yourself.
3. Cherish your memories.
4. Don't be afraid to cry, to let your children see your tears.
5. Just breathe.


  1. Great post for all of us to consider!

    I love #3 in the first section. Made me chuckle. I can't stand Christmas/Holiday/End of Year letters. Never have -- never will, especially from people who you know their woes and complaints, and yet, they write as if their lives are "perfect"! Let's get real!

    1. I don't get as many of these as I used to. I don't know if it's because they've gone out of fashion (supplanted by the TMI of Facebook), or if it's because my friends have learned through the years how I really feel about them!

  2. I love those letters! I'd rather get one than nothing at all. But my friends aren't really braggy, either.

    Alicia, I thought of you when I read this. At least this woman says her in laws are nice. If my husband died, I would never talk to his parents again. Even if we had kids - I have seen how they treat the grandchildren they do have and no way would I subject my children to that.

    1. I thought of me when I read that, too. It's so easy to pass judgment on the letter-writer; and it's so easy for me to defend a fellow widow. I suspect there's a lot more going on than just not seeing eye-to-eye with them.

      I'm inclined to be lenient with the widow regarding not making the effort to see her in-laws AND to be firm with saying she does need to allow them to make whatever effort they want to see their grandchildren.

    2. Agreed. As long as they are not drunks or mean or toxic, she shouldn't keep them from the kids. But if she doesn't like them, then she shouldn't have to be around them.