Transitions In Our Own Words: Holidays as a widow(er)

A few months ago one of my blog readers, Mariana, contacted me about writing a piece:“I think we should write something on your wonderful page about those of us who become widows and how holidays can be a bit lonely! What do you think?” I think that’s a great idea!

Holidays, whether secular or religious, are occasions in our lives when we make new memories and reminisce old ones. Transitioning through the first year of holidays after the loss of a relative or friend can be deeply emotional, and the transition from being coupled to a grieving single is one that so many people face. In their own words, here are a few courageous people who have written about their experiences and want to share them with us. Thank you Mariana, Tim and Dorothy.

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“Here I am, getting ready for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are very important Jewish holidays. My widowhood started 16 years ago and it is a new path for me like it is for many other women, no matter what faith they are.

My late husband had a lengthy illness. Somehow I managed to handle that. After he died what I experienced was that everyone was there for me when my spouse passed away and then they all disappeared. Some people pretended they didn't see me on the street or in a shop, it as though I was infectious and they had to stay away from me. So I would shout a cheery “Hello!” Or others, even recently, put their hand on my shoulder during Sabbath services at the synagogue. I suppose it is to comfort me, but it has been 16 years!! These people never bothered to call and pay their respects then!

People don't invite me any more, as though I am a third wheel. I found that the best definition for a widow in today's society, which is supposedly modern, is being treated like a pariah. I found out who my real friends were during these hard times and after 15 years I made new friends.

Taking courses at the university as well as teaching a course helped a lot and so did travelling, moving residences to a new location, and keeping my mind alive with interesting things, reading a lot and being informed of up-to-date date things. I am friends only with whom I want, and dropped those so-called women friends who are needy, unthoughtful and uncaring. I have had a great man friend for over 20 years. For me it is easier to talk to men than women sometimes, maybe because of my science/engineering profession.

My kids are still kids in many ways, I think basically they are good but they say and do hurtful things at times, so I just have a chat with them, showing them how angry I am when they do that!! I give them hell when they don't phone to see how I am, after all I will be 70 next year!! The grand-kids are delicious, very warm and loving. I suppose my kids have a lot on their plate so I try to be quite independent. But we do get together for the Jewish holidays.

It’s important not to give up and to reinvent yourself, like Madonna! You are the new you on a new path, peeling new layers from yourself.” Mariana G.

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“Julyan died at home in palliative care five days after Christmas Day in 2012.  Our two children, my son’s wife and I had a loving Christmas with her. Our beautiful fir tree was sparkling as it had been for 50 years and the turkey dinner in candle light was elegant and romantic. Mum, in her wheelchair, was pale but beautiful with her favourite red sash tossed over her shoulder.  We celebrated our lives together. We were blessed that day and then she said goodbye. It helps to remember”. Tim R.

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“Rudy’s death affected absolutely every aspect of my life: meals, laundry, schedule, exercise, travel, shopping, sleeping, waking, eating, cooking, dressing. With no external commitments of children to tend, job to go to, or aging parents to check in on, my life was an unstructured void; a vast expanse of opportunity and time waiting to be organized, filled, occupied and slept through. I had the luxury to grieve deeply and intensely. I focussed on rebuilding structure and creating a rhythm to my days.

Never big on Christmas, our family celebration has been on Christmas Eve with my sister, brother-in-law, and their 3 children since the children were small. We would stay overnight to Christmas morning to have Santa stockings and a big waffle brunch. There are now grandchildren and the tradition continues. This often left Rudy and me at loose ends for Christmas dinner. Over the years we’d found various ways to fill the gap. It started with inviting the only people we could think of who weren’t busy on Christmas, our Jewish friends the Freeberts. We started off with a traditional turkey dinner, but over the years evolved to tourtière, frites, and maple bread pudding. When the Freeberts moved away we found others who welcomed us into their traditions. Though one year we came home from my sister’s and ordered pizza! Rudy often advocated following the Jewish Christmas tradition of going out for Chinese food and a movie. I couldn’t warm to the idea.

After Rudy died I never feared ‘holidays’ so didn’t plan for them, but they kind of snuck up on me. Suddenly a long weekend loomed and I’d realize I had no concerts scheduled and all my friends were busy doing family things. It feels hard to intrude on family time. I was more conscious of life events like my upcoming birthday and made sure to have friends to share them with. I learned to put out feelers about what people were doing for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and was welcomed as family to warm and grand gatherings. What made them hard was that Rudy’s absence was never acknowledged. I was thinking of him – often mentioned him, even – but no one else wanted to talk about him. It never seemed like there was an appropriate way to introduce the idea of remembering those no longer with us or being thankful for their presence in our lives. Sometimes the gathering included people new to me who hadn’t known him. At least then I had an opportunity to tell my story.

The other thing that makes me sad is thinking about presents. Rudy expressed his love by giving gifts. And he was very generous. Many of his gifts were things to keep me warm – a cashmere sweater, a mohair blanket, winter cycling boots, flannel nightgowns. Realizing there will be no present from Rudy is part of the ongoing realization that he’s really gone. I’ve given myself some warming presents - sheep skin slippers, a cosy wool sweater dress, and this year a new high-performance winter coat, replacing the one Rudy gave me for Christmas a number of years ago. I think of him with love and gratitude whenever I put them on.” Dorothy Russel