Remembering Late Spouses During Major Holidays

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JLP Staff

Aging Well /

After you lose a spouse, holidays can become sources of grief and stress rather than joy. As much as you love your family members and friends, you might feel frustrated by memories that flood your mind at inconvenient times or find yourself unable to participate in once-beloved traditions.

Taking care of yourself and honoring your grief are essential throughout the holidays. There are ways to remember your late spouse without denying yourself the opportunity to enjoy other loved ones.

Externalize Your Loss

Image via Flickr by Markus Grossalber

If you want to honor your late spouse, experts recommend externalizing your sense of loss. Creating a physical reminder of your lost spouse can help you focus on happy memories and allow you to acknowledge your sense of loss. You might light a candle in a special place in your home, for instance, or keep a picture of your late spouse nearby.

You can also celebrate your late spouse with family and friends. When you gather around the table for a holiday celebration, for instance, invite everyone to share a funny, happy, or particularly memorable story about him or her. This exercise allows you to share your grief and celebrate the person you lost.

Sift Through Memories

The holidays offer an opportunity to reflect on the life you shared with your late spouse. Whether privately or with other loved ones, pull down the box of mementoes you keep on the top shelf of your closet or pull up the folder of family photos that sits on your computer's hard drive. Spend time with your spouse just as you would if he or she were still here.

Sifting through memories can prove painful, especially in the years following a spouse's passing, but they can also help you focus on the good times. The more you honor your late spouse's life, the less you focus on the loss. If possible, return to those memories several times throughout the holiday season. The more often you expose yourself to them, the less they will hurt, and you might find yourself looking forward to those experiences.

You can also ask your friends and family members to share with you any mementoes, photographs, or other items that remind them of your late spouse. Making it a communal activity can help inject laughter and joy into the experience without tempering the love you feel for your lost mate.

Transform Your Traditions 

It's difficult to maintain old traditions after your spouse passes away, especially if the loss results in other major changes in your life. You might move to a new house (or even a new city), and your social circle might change as you adjust to your new life without your partner. If you try to force yourself to honor traditions, you might find yourself disappointed and frustrated.

To avoid this, Jeanie Lerche Davis of WebMD advises widows and widowers to look for ways to change old traditions or to build new ones. Use your comfort level and your stage of grief to inform this process. You can honor a beloved tradition without observing it entirely; for instance, if you've always gathered with family members on Christmas Eve for a big meal and gift exchanges, you might modify it to include a brief brunch earlier in the day so you can have the evening to yourself.

Take a Trip

Did you and your late spouse talk of visiting a destination that you never got to see? A change of venue can prove helpful over the holidays, so consider remembering and honoring your late spouse by visiting that place. You'll remove yourself from your familiar environment, which can make the holidays easier to manage, but you'll carry with you the knowledge that you're fulfilling a goal that you shared with your late spouse.

Spend Time With Children and Grandchildren

If you and your late spouse had children and grandchildren, devote the holidays to them. They represent a connection you had with your significant other, so their presence can provide comforting reminders as well as welcome distractions. Since Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day, and other holidays are often more fun with kids in the mix, you'll enjoy yourself more if you practice gratitude and focus on your loved ones' happiness.

Find Support

If you struggle to make it through the holidays after losing a spouse, don't feel ashamed to ask for help. You can find support in a number of ways, such as:

  • Support groups: Find comfort in the stories and experiences shared by others who have also lost spouses.

  • Friends and family: Ask someone you love to remain "on call" throughout the holidays. If you need a shoulder to cry on or a friendly ear, give that person a call or set up a time to meet.

  • Therapy: Consider meeting with a therapist.

The holidays are often the hardest time after losing a spouse, but you'll make it through the holiday season by honoring yourself as well as your partner.

Categories: Aging Well
About The Author
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Joan Lunden’s in-house research and writing team works with Joan to create content that complements her focuses and the interests of her fans. The team is dedicated to creating a thriving community through content and conversations, and hopes their work, like Joan’s, can make a difference in the lives of her readers everywhere.

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