I tried to to stay positive over the holidays, but failed on Christmas day. I was alone for the day, my scheduling of activities for the cheerfully bereaved having failed when everyone else was busy. And once I get sad, it's really hard to pull myself out.
I was with my husband George for 32 years starting with my high school prom and ending with his death from cancer in 2010.
I have a really small family, and we don't have holiday gatherings.
I knew the holidays were coming. In the weeks ahead, I hosted a party, my first without my husband. I met with friends for meals or walks as often as possible. I went to many yoga classes. I got a part-time job in a bookstore. I spent time socializing with my boyfriend and his friends, reminding myself to be upbeat, not to talk too much about George. I tried to keep up my writing, offering to answer requests for advice on my blog.
But who am I to offer advice? I named my blog "The Hungover Widow" because I couldn't deal with all that writing that talks about widowhood like it's a course in self-improvement.
For those inevitable times alone, I revved up my fireplace and bought a bestselling novel. But in the book the husband dies. I guess they didn't want to put a big spoiler on the book cover. Although it does have my favorite quote for this holiday season, "Make me happy Frankenstein's monster pleaded with its maker and I shall again be virtuous."
My friends are traveling or busy with their own families, which I respect. My writing group has disbanded for weeks. I notice the couples buying gifts together at the store where I work and stare uncontrollably, wanting to tell them how lucky they are. This holiday season, for the first time in long while, I started wearing my wedding rings on my right hand to remind myself I had true love, I was not always alone.
Grief is not pretty.
It is loneliness at a primal level. Like some organ has been removed and you can't really breathe properly. It's waking up each morning where your first thought is this is another day without your person. And in that way, without the you that you were. It's going to bed alone each night without him.
So much writing about death is glowing pink, when the real color of loss is angry puce with red striations.
Small things set me off. Like being at a coffee house with my hands full with my iPad, handbag and mocha latte and having the guy ahead of me hold the door open for his date, then letting it go right ahead of me. Now that I'm alone, will I always be slamming my foot in the door because I don't have an extra hand?
If I'd rather not venture out alone for coffee, I have to plan it. There's no more husband to drag out the door with me. And the inevitable thought that were I to take myself out for a longer field trip, were I to vanish, it might be days before anyone noticed I was gone. My boyfriend would probably think I was just being moody.
I can't offer any advice. It's been two and a half years since George died and I haven't found any solutions. I have seen a couple of grief therapists, tried a bunch of social groups through meetup.com and tried online dating with the misplaced focus of the anal retentive, ex-lawyer that I am.
My modest suggestions:
1. Maybe stay off of social media -- it hurts more to see the celebrations of others. I, of course, can't seem to do this. Comparison may be the enemy of joy; Facebook rubs it in.
2. Have perspective -- many people have problems or are unhappy even though their lives look enviable from afar. A divorced friend coined the eight percent rule, saying that in her experience, which included much empirical research, just eight percent of married people are happy in their marriages.
3. If you descend into the pit of decadent take out and binge-watching Netflix,set a specific date to get out or call someone you really trust to ask for help. My date is Monday January 4th, but the 5th is looking more likely.
4. Don't order a large pizza when you're really depressed. You can only eat a small one by yourself. Really.
5. Don't make big, irrevocable changes between Christmas and New Year's. Selling your house and moving to another country may be hard to reverse.
6. Your friends and family do love you, it just might seem hard to tell right now.
Comment if you want, or visit me at my blog. I know what it's like and I do care.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.