real life

"How I face Christmas after the death of my husband of 32 years."

Dear Friends,

It is again the holiday season. And it is so f-cked. End of post.

I jest.

I think the holidays look terrible to us sometimes because they don’t look how they’re supposed to look. But we’re the ones who decide what things are supposed to look like. Not a viagra ad, not Plenty of Fish nor The Hallmark Channel.

I know some women, much younger than I, who are happy on their own. Their model for what they want their lives to look like does not have a man by their side. A relationship is a possibility, but not a prerequisite, and it’s no less valuable if it’s impermanent.

There! No buying into those bridal magazine layouts which, after all, are designed to sell a bunch of stuff you’ll only use once. Things look good to them this holiday season because they didn’t drink the mainstream media Kool-Aid. Are they happy overall? Yes. Ok, no holiday agony.

Debbie Weiss with late husband George in their young years. Image: Supplied.

For those of us who have suffered loss – and that just sucks – the measure of recovery shouldn’t be whether we are dating again.  It should be, first, whether we are surviving, and later, whether we are enjoying our lives.

Somehow people think that healing means looking for a partner. They don’t ask “Are you happy?”, they ask “Have you found anyone yet?”. Part of that is the fun of living vicariously, but it’s just the wrong template.

We’re coping with loss and healing ourselves to be able to enjoy life again. We’re not salt shakers who need pepper to be complete.

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I had 32 years with my soulmate. Now, I’m looking towards something else. I don’t know what that is yet, but it may not be living with anybody full time, nor combining my finances, nor answering to anyone for my choices, nor eating regular meals, nor…ok… I’m a control freak.

Debbie Weiss. Image: Supplied.

Here is something it took me a long time to figure out: I look the same with or without a boyfriend. Signs of ageing are not reduced having a guy at my side. Damn. But, there goes that stress. I am the same attractive or not regardless of being accessorised with an escort.

I used to be sad that my family is just my elderly dad and step-mum. Very little family. No real holiday celebrations.

Then I finally realised how lucky I am because my dad and step-mum are awesome. They’re supportive,  almost always available, encourage me to take risks and to travel, super funny, and helpful when my anxiety acts up. My childhood home is open to me.  It’s just not the version on the Hallmark Channel.

Life without my George is still so often bleak and absurd. This is what I wrote about the holidays last year:  It’s Been Three Years . I still feel that way a lot of the time. Like when the main water main in my neighbourhood broke last Monday, and my dishwasher decided to flood. I know not why. The plumber who came said it might be “the solenoid,” but I think it was Beelzebub.

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George would have known what to do. There would be no accursed devil in the dishwasher, just a rational explanation. I wouldn’t have the plumber’s bill.  Then we’d have gotten take out Chinese together – we had the same favourites – and laughed about it.

Debbie and George at university. Image: Supplied.

But I did get an evening yoga class and drinks after with a girlfriend. And we both got takeaway to eat at our respective homes later. So, I had a lovely evening, just not the one I would’ve had.

I can’t get George back. I can ask myself what makes me happy or fulfilled and try to have that regardless of what unrealistic, staged magazine photos tell me I want. A few modest suggestions:

  1.  Stay off social media. That whole FOMO (“Fear of Missing Out”) is a killer. Some friend will be posting photos of a celebration with her (still alive) husband with a beautiful table or in Paris and envy will raise its self-destructive head. (Even if I remind myself I went to Paris this year on an intellectually-oriented group tour with my beloved in-laws).
  2. Treat yourself to things that cheer you. For me, it’s homewares, but I’m a nesting type.  If I’m lonely, it may be yoga classes at times I need them even if they’re not at my regular studio and I have to pay extra to go to them.
  3. Recognise it’s better to be alone than with people or doing things that make you feel worse! If you have invites from folks, even relatives who are like this, 10 Things not to Say to a Widow, say “no.” I’m an introvert,  if I do something that makes me just feel lonelier, I overeat or drink later. Can’t do it.
  4. Being outside. It just helps.
  5. I am trying a gratitude journal. (No, I haven’t been brainwashed by aliens.)  It is also showing me things I’m not grateful for. Have you tried this? Did it help you?

Ok, I get through hard things by writing.  Let me know how you’re getting through the holidays. Comment if you want — or tell me what you’d like to see in a holiday post.

Love,

Debbie

Debbie Weiss' husband died in April 2013.  She started writing to deal with his loss and she has personal essays in US publications including Huffington Post, Woman's Day, Good Housekeeping.  She is currently writing a book about widowhood. 

Debbie blogs at The Hungover Widow. You can also find her on Facebook and on Twitter.

This post was republished with permission. You can find the original post here.

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