A viewer asks: The W I’m engaged to is steeped in holiday traditions for he and his kids. Between the two holidays lots of other activities and parties he wants to attend, I feel that there’s no time for us to make our own memories. What can I say or suggest to make the holidays a special time for both of us?
From the inbox comes the following question:
A post came across my Facebook feed that suggested that when working through a loved ones' death, you start a new holiday tradition in their memory. My widowed boyfriend has asked for my help in thinking of a tradition that will honor his late wife and respect me at the same time. I was friends with his late wife, so I know some things she would have liked, but am not sure what kind of holiday traditions we could do.
We have been dating for about a year, something that neither of us ever thought would happen. He tells me that his love for her does not at all diminish his love for me. We have talked through concerns about building our relationship while honoring his late wife. Last year he wanted to hang only the ornaments that his mother made, on my Christmas tree. This year, he put up his own tree. Please help me think of a tradition that we could do together.
As a rule of thumb, the two of you should only be involved in activities and traditions that bring the two of you closer together instead of pulling you apart. Coming up with a tradition or activity that will honor the late wife doesn't do that. It also doesn’t respect you. Activities or traditions that “honor” the late wife pull widowers back into the past and drive a small wedge between him and whomever he’s dating at the time.
The best way a widower can honor his wife is to move forward with his life and be happy. That doesn't mean he forgets about her or the life they shared together but it means he rebuilds his life in such a way that he’s not burdened by sadness or regret. It means he can wake up in the morning and spend each day living in the present and look forward to the future instead of being held back by the past.
If you and your widower want to strengthen your relationship this holiday season, start some new traditions that honor the life the two of you have together. It could be as simple as some new ornaments for a Christmas tree or taking a trip to see some Christmas lights. Maybe it’s a special gift that means something just to the two of you or taking an annual holiday trip together. Whatever it is, make it unique and meaningful to your relationship. Spend some time together and talk about it and see what the two of you can come up with. That way this time next year you’ll both have something to look forward to and be able to look back at this Christmas with smiles and warm hearts.
Last week I received seven emails from women who were all worried about the same holiday issue: how to deal with the widower doing something to commemorate the late wife during the holidays.
One lady wrote to me concerned that the Thanksgiving dinner she was attending would include a toast to the late wife. Another woman was worried about her widower wanting to scatter her ashes on a ski slope Christmas Eve. A third was worried about the widower who insists on visiting cemetery Christmas morning and how that might affect his attitude the rest of the day. You get the picture.
Holidays can be tough on anyone who’s lost a loved one. Generally, the first holiday season (and the first year for that matter) without the late wife is the hardest because the widower’s learning how to adjust to life without his wife. Once someone’s made it through their holiday without the late wife, the holidays become the second, third, and fourth time around.
My suggestion on how to handle these situations depends on 1) how long ago the late wife died and 2) how the widower acts during these events. For example, I didn’t have a problem with the Thanksgiving toast because this was the family’s first holiday season without her. Instead of focusing on the toast, I suggested she watch on how the widower treated her during the time before and after that moment. Did he seem focused on the late wife and the past or her and the present? Was he introducing her to friends and family or letting her fend for herself? Was he doing his best to make the day festive or did it feel like a wake? So long as the widower was doing his best to make the day special for her and treating her like number one, I didn’t see a problem with the toast.
I was a little more concerned with the widower who wanted to scatter the ashes onChristmas Eve. First he brought up the scattering the ashes after the two of them had already booked their trip. Second the wife had been dead two years and I found it odd that he was choosing their trip to do it. Sure, it might have been his way to saying good-bye and move on, but doing it during a trip that was supposed to create new holiday memories with another woman seemed like awfully bad timing. My suggestion was to talk to him and see what the reason was for doing it during their trip and there was a better time to do it that wouldn’t distract from the fun trip they were to enjoy together.
I was really worried about the widower who wanted to visit the cemetery on Christmas morning. The day held no significance in their relationship aside from the normal holiday stuff. They weren’t married on that day, she didn’t die on that day, nor did any special event in their marriage happen on that day. It’s just something he had done every Christmas (and every other major holiday) since his wife died five years ago. The woman said that after he visits the cemetery he’s comes home quiet and moody – not exactly the best way to usher in the spirit of Christmas. Where the wife’s been dead five years and he won’t go the day before or after Christmas to visit the cemetery, it appears like he’s still grieving and not ready to move on. I suggested that unless the widower was willing to forgo or delay the cemetery visit, it would probably be best if she spent the holidays elsewhere. In the meantime she might want to think about whether the widower is ready to start a new life with her.
Holidays without a spouse can be tough, but remember that once a widower has made the choice to enter a committed relationship with you, your relationship—not his grief—should come first. While there’s nothing wrong with remembering the past, living in the present, counting our blessings, and creating new memories with a new love is a much happier and productive way to spend the holidays.
Thanks to everyone who sent in their holiday widower questions. I’m working on answering them all of them personally while addressing the most common topics on the blog.
By far the most frequent holiday that found its way to my inbox was about widowers who get sad, depressed, or moody during the holiday season. One woman wrote that she was dating a man who had been widowed for two years and felt like the entire holiday season was going to be spoiled because he’s become more distant and doesn’t want to participate in planned holiday activities.
I want to have empathy for these widowers. I really do. I know that holidays can feel empty without their wife by their side. I couldn’t wait for my first Christmas without her to be over because all I could think about was that she wasn’t around.
The problem is that these widowers have willingly become involved in a committed relationship. If they’re willing to commit to someone, they need to man up and make the holiday season enjoyable for the new woman in their life. That might mean trying out a new tradition, spending a day with her friends and family, or just enjoying some alone time with the new woman. It doesn’t mean sitting at home sulking or becoming withdrawn and uncommunicative.
My gut says that widowers in a committed relationship who become overly withdrawn during the holidays or other special occasions aren’t ready to move on. Talk to the widower about what’s bugging him, but unless he can find the strength to man up and make you number one, plan on having more holidays and special occasions ruined.
When Marathon Girl and I moved into our home five years ago, we went through the inevitable process of receiving mail that hadn’t been forwarded to the previous owner. We had her new address and forwarded the mail on to her. After a few months, we stopped getting her mail.
Then Christmas came. Holiday cards arrived in our mail box not only to her but two cards address to the Johnson Family. We had no idea who the Johnson Family was but figured it was the owner before the woman who sold her house to us. We Return to Sender on the cards for the Johnsons saying they were no longer at this address.
We forgot all about the Johnson Family until the next Christmas. Once again two Christmas cards arrived for the Johnson Family. And though Marathon Girl and I weren’t 100% sure, we were fairly certain that they were the same two families that sent cards the year before. Once again we sent them back and went about with our lives.
We’ve now spent five Christmases in our home. And each year two cards arrive for the Johnson Family arrive from the same two families. The last two years we haven’t bothered returning them. Whoever sends these cards either don’t get the cards back in the mail or have lost touch with the Johnson Family to the point where five plus years have passed and they have no idea where the Johnson Family lives. If it’s the latter reason, I’m somewhat surprised. In an era of email and social networking, it’s not hard to keep in touch with people or, at the very least, notifying them that you’ve moved. Our lives take us in a hundred different directions making it impossible to keep in touch with everyone. But you’d think after (at least) five years, you’d either find a way to contact them or hear through the grapevine that they moved.
As a writer, a collector of stories, and one who is fascinated by human choices and behavior, I want to know who these families are and what their ties are to the Johnson Family. Were they neighbors? Childhood friends? Casual acquaintances? Ex-lovers? There's a story here and the storyteller in me wants to tell it. But the Johnson Family is just a name on an envelope. With no forwarding address, their story will never be told but maybe, just maybe, the seeds of a book have been planted.