A Thanksgiving Post On Grief

Happy Thanksgiving! I’m sitting here thinking about how this is the 10th Thanksgiving since Steve died. Wow! Ten years! In some ways, it feels like an eternity. Who was that woman who was so shattered? When I think back to that first Thanksgiving, I barely recognize her…..

I spent my first Thanksgiving as a widow with friends, friends who wouldn’t expect me to put on a “happy face.” It had been barely a month since my husband had been ripped out of my life. I was about 4 months pregnant with a 3 year old and 6 year old running around too so honestly, it was a good day if I showered and got dressed! I was exhausted. I spent the night at my friends house because the truth is, after spending the day with them and their friends, I was too tired to drive the one hour back to my house!

I don’t remember much about that first holiday other than feeling as if I was watching the world from the outside. It’s like standing outside of someone’s house and looking in through the windows, except that you’re standing in the same room. Grief has a way of separating you from the world. I was surrounded by people who were laughing and enjoying themselves while every inch of my being was torn completely apart. Everyone there knew I was a new widow so they all understood when I would start crying for no apparent reason (the truth is, I had a very good reason to cry all the time, right?). I am so thankful that I spent my first Thanksgiving surrounded by caring, loving friends instead of alone in my grief.

This year, I am happy to be spending Thanksgiving with my children, the man I love, his children and our extended family. I have spent the past ten years in various stages of grief during the holidays but none were as difficult as that very first one without Steve. I pray that you never experience the soul shattering grief of losing your spouse but if that’s you this holiday season, please hold on. The holidays will be over in a few weeks and you can get back to the business of healing.

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‘Tis the Season

MB900436341The holiday season…a time for family and friends to be together. A time to be happy for the people in our lives. A time to rejoice in the birth of our Savior.

For those who are grieving, however, the holiday season can be the hardest time of the year. It’s when we look around and see happy families but our heart is broken for our loss. It’s a reminder that our family is no longer whole. There is an ache in the heart of a grieving soul during the holidays and it seems impossible to fill it. No matter how many smiles we put on, no matter how many presents we receive, no matter how many hymns we sing, what we really want for Christmas is our loved one.

This is my ninth holiday season without Steve but I can still remember the grief of our holidays so clearly. I spent our first Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s in a state of shock and denial. I was sure that his death was a bad dream and I would wake up any minute from my nightmare. The second holiday season, I bought a new tree and all new ornaments. I was determined to make Christmas “normal” for my children, but I still wasn’t ready to pull out the decorations that Steve and I had shared in our home. The next few years, I tried to pretend that everything was ok, that I was “over” my grief. I had remarried so I went through the motions of being happy, even though I constantly felt like a fish out of water. I would look around and wonder whose life I was living. I would constantly ask myself, “How did I get here?” Nothing in my life felt right, but I thought it was the way it was supposed to be since Steve was gone. I was wrong.

When I divorced, I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. My children and I could enjoy our lives again. I started this blog a year ago. When I began writing, I didn’t know if anyone would be interested in what I had to say. Over the past year, I’ve found healing in helping others. I have renewed my faith in God and His plan for my life. I can honestly say that this is the first holiday season that I am enjoying since Steve died over eight years ago. I have finally found “me” again. My children are doing well and our home feels complete again. It is not as if we don’t miss Steve. We do and we always will. It’s just that we’ve all found a way to be whole again, without the ache of his loss coloring our joy.

When I look at my children, I see their father reflected in them. The older they get, the more it makes me smile to see his personality coming through their actions. Perhaps I have been able to heal because I feel him with me every day? He isn’t really gone if they continue to live and it just took me all these years to realize it.

‘Tis the season for joy and I intend to enjoy every minute of it this year!

Life Goes On

There’s one thing that I’ve learned on this journey of widowhood: life doesn’t stop for grief. As much as I wished I could curl up and just grieve, the world still existed. My children needed to be fed. I had to go to work. In fact, my experience has been that the world expects grief to last a year. During that first year, people are more patient with grieving souls. They understand your grief, they accept it and you are encouraged to grieve.

After the first year, however, you are expected to “be over” it. It’s no longer acceptable to break down in tears for no apparent reason, to be exhausted because your grief is the worst at night, to have a hard time concentrating. What I found, though, was that the second year without Steve was actually harder than the first year. During my first year, I was pregnant and just trying to make it from day to day. My life centered around my children and the new baby I was carrying. Our first holidays without Steve are a blur. I went through the motions, for my children’s sake, with the goal of just making it through those days. The first Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, the kids’ birthdays, the birth of our baby, our wedding anniversary, Father’s Day. If I could just make it through the first year, I thought I would be okay.

I was wrong. The second year without Steve turned out to be the hardest of all. I had to find a new “normal” for me and the kids. I had a new baby to care for, all by myself. There was no denying that Steve was gone and he would not be coming back. I had to accept this life that God had given me. I started dating again. The world expected me to be healed but I was far from over the grief of losing him. It has taken several years for me to feel as if I am healed. I made terrible mistakes during my grief. I married the wrong man because I thought that being married would make me a better mother. I dated to avoid loneliness. I drank too much to self-medicate the pain. My journey of grief did not end after one year.

Steve’s birthday was last week. It has been almost eight years since he died. When I reminded my son about his dad’s birthday, he said to me, “That’s gonna be a hard day for you, Mom.” My children have grown accustomed to my grief and they know that certain days of the year are harder for me than others. I am happy to say, though, that my grief has subsided into thankfulness for the memories, love and children that Steve blessed me with during his lifetime. I cried for a few minutes on his birthday but then I showered and got ready for work. Life goes on.

Goodbye, Friend

About three hours ago, one of my dear friends from church passed away. My friend had been in the hospital (the same one where Steve died) for over a week but I could not bring myself to go visit him. Although seven years have passed, some things are still too painful for me. The idea of visiting a friend in a coma in that very hospital filled me with anxiety. It seems crazy because the circumstances were COMPLETELY different. My friend was sick. Steve was in an accident. Nothing at all related. They didn’t even know each other!

Don’t get me wrong, I have visited others in the hospital during the past seven years. I have even been to THAT hospital. But, every time I do it, I am filled with anxiety. I have felt nauseous and sometimes even light headed. I don’t know if it’s the smell of a hospital or the look of someone I care about in a hospital bed, but I have never been the same since that October day when I lost Steve.

So, as I sit here on the Eve of Thanksgiving, I am taken back to that first holiday season without him. Thanksgiving was just a day to “get through” that year. Me and the kids had dinner with some friends like we usually did for Thanksgiving. I don’t remember much about that day. I guess I held myself together although I’m not sure. I just know that it was comforting to be with friends who let me be sad if I felt like it. I didn’t have to put on a “happy face” because I was still reeling from losing Steve a month earlier.

When Christmas rolled around, I decided to take the kids to Michigan (we live in Georgia) to spend the holiday with our family. As I was packing, I became overwhelmed with the feeling that I was leaving Steve. My mind told me it was irrational; he was dead so how could I be leaving him? But my heart just knew that he was in Georgia and we were going to Michigan. Steve and I had not spent a Christmas apart in over 10 years and we would most definitely be apart that year. It was one of the most difficult things I did in those early months. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, I know. I spent Christmas with family so how could it have been so difficult? The only answer I have is that nothing about my world made sense to me so leaving the home I shared with Steve didn’t seem right to me either.

I am happy to say that our holidays are now filled with family, friends and laughter. I will think of Steve fondly during the holidays and even get sad that he isn’t sharing them with us. But, I know Steve would be proud of me for making good holiday memories for our children rather than spending these precious days in mourning.

As I say goodbye to my friend, I will pray for his wife because she needs God’s extra loving care during this first holiday season without him. I know all too well how confusing it is when half of you is suddenly gone.

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