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.


“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.


“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.


“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

Climbing New Mountains: 10 lessons learned on how to reach the goal

Trekking through the magnificent Annapurna range of mountains taught me many lessons. The biggest lesson was that I had to climb my internal mountains to get there. Yes, trekking up a mountain was tremendous physical exercise but it was even more of a mental and psychological exercise in mounting my fears and doubts.

I feared injuring myself. I doubted my ability and my fitness level. I worried about not sleeping, ever, and getting sick. I worried about feeling really cold and becoming ill. I worried that I would not be able to complete the trek. I worried that I would not meet like-minded folks on the trek. So there was lots of Saboteur chattering and nattering going on in my mind.

I learned a lot about my personal Saboteur, how loud the nattering can get and how to quiet it down so that I could move forward and complete the trek:

1. Have a scheduled plan and scheduled rest stops. In order to climb higher and manage the challenging parts we had to have a scheduled plan, scheduled rest stops and scheduled “Tea and Pee” breaks as Gelu Sherpa called them. We could not have reached the top without a goal, a plan, scheduled time to rest and replenish.

2. Adjust and realign with what is happening. I got acutely sick with some stomach thing on the very first night. Projectile vomiting sick. I didn’t sleep much. We had been told the next day was “the hardest”, trekking up five to six hours.

I took a few dozen steps and had to stop often, feeling weak in my legs, light-headed and nauseous, vomiting again. As I consumed some electrolytes, our leader guide offered me two options: Return to the tea house and rest (and say goodbye to the rest of the trek), or Pay for the services of a horse to take me to the next tea house.

Of course, the horse — because continuing on was the only option. Forty-five minutes later my white horse (really donkey) arrived. And his name?

LUCKY. I got Lucky! I hung onto dear Lucky’s saddle for dear life as he mounted up and down the steps that I couldn’t manage.

Thank you good Lucky!

The next morning I woke up feeling strong and well again which was good because we had to leave at 5:15am to ascend steps for the sunrise at Poon Hill.

This is what I would have missed had I gone back:

Sunrise at PoonHill

4. Staying present is necessary to staying well. Worrying about losing my footing and injuring myself, I focused on each step - to see where I was going, to step safely and stay the course without breaking any body parts. Trekking up the mountains required strength, patience and endurance. Descending the mountains required concentration and courage (the heights!). Being so mindful of every step transformed the experience into a walking meditation. Focusing on the here-and-now, on each step, kept me grounded in every way.

5. Celebrate at the end of each day. It was exciting to meet the scheduled plan and goal for each day. Some days were easier and some were more challenging. At the end of every day we celebrated what we had experienced and appreciated the stunning views from the new tea house in the new village with the team of trekkers, Sherpa leader guides and porters.

6. Appreciate the boring parts. There were boring parts, even trekking the Annapurna Sanctuary. Until I remembered where I was, what I was doing, and what I was there for! Until I noticed the beauty and wonder in that boring moment. Until I brought myself back to being present, appreciating just being there, and being grateful for the boring parts too.

7. Prepare appropriate equipment and supplies. I needed equipment and supplies to keep me safe, healthy and well as I trekked the mountain. It was helpful to get up steep ascents and then back down safely, to keep me warm, comfortable and dry, and to keep me hydrated and nourished. We need equipment and resources to get us up the mountain.

8. We need support to get up there. It was important to have expert help from knowledgeable people. They knew the landscape and the dangerous parts. They knew when to lend a hand and when to give space so that I could do it on my own. and grow my self-confidence.

I felt gratitude to everyone who was a part of making this mountain trek possible — the leaders, the porters, my fellow trekkers, my family and friends who supported me to get there.

We need help to get up the mountain, and helping each other up our mountains is a powerful relationship builder.

9. The challenging, stressful parts can take your breath away. Climbing up 4000 feet (1200 metres) in 8 hours with wind and snow is a whole thing. Heart pounding, lungs heaving, my mind and body wondering, “What is going on here? What are you making us do? How do we breathe up here?”

Everyone was ahead of me and I did not care at all. I was getting there when I was getting there. It became clear as the Annapurna mountain air that I was not there to impress anyone.

During my numerous rest pauses, I noticed the raw beauty surrounding me: the stark rockiness of the landscape, the lack of wildlife and birds, and cloudy skies darkening as sunset approached. It was primal and I felt primal.

I also felt emotional — to be aware of my heart beating and pumping, to feel so much heart. It was a heart-felt climb.

I arrived at the teahouse and received big cheers and hugs from everyone. I had made it, we had all made it together and there was a palpable sense of fulfillment and aliveness in the space.

10. Leaving the mountain is both euphoric and sad. The euphoria of seeing such raw beauty and of getting “there” is potent. Two feet of snow had fallen overnight at Annapurna Base Camp. The morning skies were bright turquoise as we started our descent. It is a memory etched into my being.

I had no idea what to expect when descending the mountain. I had prepared for it by bringing trekking poles to protect my knees. I was ready to descend and welcome more oxygen into my heart and lungs.

And then it hit me. We were leaving “there”.  I was leaving the mountain and leaving my mountain.

I had done it. I had planned and worked hard to make this dream happen. I got up there and now it was time to leave. I could not stay up there forever. I had to leave “up there” and come back down. Coming down the mountain was unexpectedly sad for me and I was not ready for that.

I began to think of new dreams and adventures in different parts of my life - in my health and lifestyle, career, home, family and friendships. If I could reach this mountain then I could surely climb other mountains. What other dreams and goals might I vision and focus on now? New mountains await.

Each of us has our own mountain to climb. It is only ours to climb and only we can climb it. No one can climb it for us. It is on that climb that our mountain reveals our power and our vulnerability — to us.

What is the mountain you are climbing? Where are you on your climb? Just beginning to see your mountain, at the bottom of your mountain, half-way up, approaching the top, coming down on the other side, somewhere else?

Create a gift box - for yourself!

Whether going through a challenging transition or feeling in the midst of stuckness, one idea to  stay motivated is to create a gift box as an accountability tool for yourself. It can hold you accountable to your dreams, your goals, and your Authentic Self. Create it for yourself as a personal gift that will inspire you. Here are some suggestions for your gift box. The “Letting Go box” and “Friendship box” are amazing ideas that were offered by students from my “ReDesign Your Life for Retirement” class.

* Core Values Box - After clarifying your personal core values (a life coach can help you!), write down each one on a separate piece of paper. You can write down as many as you want - 30, 50, 75! Each day, remove one from the box and honour it throughout your day.

* Celebration or Gratitude box - Every day write down (at least) one thing you feel grateful for or want to celebrate and read your collection at the end of the month or at a time when you most need it.

* Accomplishment box - Oftentimes when we are moving through a transition or making a big change in our lives, the steps we take and the work we have done can get lost amid all the movement. Creating an accomplishment box that you fill daily with one thing you have done can keep you inspired as you read your accomplishments a week or a month at a time.

* Inspiration box - Fill your inspiration box with 30 meaningful quotes, sayings, poetry, jokes. Draw one out each day to enjoy, inspire you, make you laugh or give you a moment’s pleasure.

* Letting go box - Write down things you want to let go of. For example, a book, a household item, a bathroom item, an item of clothing, an emotion, a grudge, rigidity, smallness, frustration, a situation, tension, etc. Fill your box with 30 different items. Draw one item every day from the box and practice letting go on a daily basis.

* Friendship box - Place the names of your friends in the box. Each day pull out one name and contact that person. Keep on meeting new people and making new acquaintances to add to your box. What a wonderful way to stay connected to your friends and deepen your friendships.

* Kindness Box - Lynnette Rumble of Aim Coaching and Be The Game offered this great idea for a gift box. She says, “We suggest this to our school kids as part of the 21-Day #KINDEVERYTIME Challenge. Write down kind things you have done or make note of the kindness bestowed upon you by others.” Such a great idea!

When you finish filling or emptying one box, consider whether you want to stick with the same gift box or try a new one. Each one will offer you an opportunity to learn about ourself, experience connection, resonance and aliveness, and honour that which is most important to you.

Do you have any other ideas for a gift box? I’d love to hear your suggestions or other ideas you have tried.