Stronger holidays

My primary goal for 2020 is to be a stronger and more confident me. But if I’m honest, it’s a goal that I have been heading towards for the last few years as I hone the practice of “moving forward” in my grief. And this past holiday season has been one of those events that have helped to show me just how far forward I have travelled in the past 10+ years.

Regular readers will have (hopefully) noticed that my struggles have changed over the past decade as I’ve grown more and more accustomed to my (relatively solitary) life as a widow. But whilst I know I am stronger now than I was a decade ago, I also know that there are bound to be moments, days, or (more rarely) weeks when I am beside myself in grief. However, experience has taught me when I can most likely expect those moments, which helps me to mitigate them – or to be prepared with enough handkerchiefs should I not be able to stave off the tears and upset.

Part of what I have learned over the years is how to anticipate my grief in a way that allows me to plan for avoiding and/or accepting tears when the time comes. And this is especially true during the holiday season when grief and loneliness play such a large part in so many people’s lives.

For me, I have found the best way to cope with the holidays is to spend them (mostly) alone. I have spent a couple of holidays with others and, whilst it has been lovely, I find that watching other people enjoy their families on Christmas day makes my own lack of a family* more painful. And so, I have developed my own traditions that combine elements from Christmas and New Year’s celebrations from my childhood, my marriage, and my imagination.

These “RyanCentric” traditions are now a part of who I am, and because of that, I find comfort in them. They are traditions that I enjoy and that I have moulded to fit my world.

That doesn’t mean that the holidays are without tears. Instead, I have developed my traditions in a way that accepts that tears are inevitable. And I have built-in ways of coping with the tears when they come. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I want the tears, it just means that I am (generally) prepared for them. And because I have planned for the tears, I don’t end up feeling like I have “failed” because of them. They are just a part of the holiday season!

But this year was a bit different. This year, there were fewer tears! And that’s how I know that I am getting stronger, even if only by a margin.

I had a pretty bad hit of Homesickness and widow sadness in late October and November, which meant the holiday season started a bit slowly for me. That’s because I entered December with a bit of hesitation, fearing that the Christmas season would re-ignite the horrible feelings of missing my parents and my late husband.

Early on, I decided that I would save myself stress by avoiding triggers whenever possible. Also, I decided that when I was in town shopping, I would leave as soon as I started to feel overwhelmed with the crowds of “happy people”**.  For example, on the day I went to town to mail Christmas cards and run a few other Christmas errands, I realised that I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with the crowds, so I made the decision straight away to avoid the Christmas Market – despite an initial plan of going for a mulled wine after I finished shopping. Later that day, I realised that I had managed the entire day of stress without a tear.

Later in December, as I was getting ready to decorate the cottage, I realised that I was too busy with non-Christmas stuff to do all of the decorating I had imagined I would. So instead, I scaled back the decorations. I still kept my tradition of decorating whilst enjoying mulled wine and mince pies; I just didn’t put as many decorations up.

As the month continued, I realised that I wasn’t feeling as anxious as I normally would. But it wasn’t until I managed to get through my last day of Christmas shopping that I realised I was stronger. Yes, on Christmas Eve Eve, I went shopping for groceries surrounded by more of those happy people. I had a list of things I needed to provide me with the exact Christmas dinner I wanted, and I needed everything on the list for the meal to be complete.

When I realised that a couple of the items would need to be substituted, I was mildly disappointed, but not upset. But when I realised that two of the “most important” items were not in stock, I was OK. I was disappointed, and I had to have a wee talk with myself about how and why this was not a big deal, but that was it. My disappointment didn’t turn to upset. There were no tears.

There were no tears!

This was the first year since my husband died that I have managed to make it through my Christmas grocery shop without tears – despite not being able to get everything I wanted. I knew it would be OK, even if I was missing my pigs-in-a-blanket and stuffing balls come Christmas dinner.

Note: When I woke up the next morning at 5.30, I realised that Marks and Spencer was open at 7 for the last-minute Christmas shoppers, so there was enough time to get a bus to town for the pigs-in-a-blanket and stuffing balls – with plenty of time to spare before going for a hike with my housemate. So, I won in the end!

The “win” of not crying made me feel instantly stronger and more confident, and that carried into my Christmas Day celebrations, which carried into my Boxing Day celebrations, which carried into the rest of my holiday celebrations.

And because I had invited someone to celebrate New Year’s with me, I was hoping that the strength would carry on a bit longer. (It did!)

Yes, there were a few tears here and there throughout the holidays. But only a few. And no sobbing! Just a few moments of my eyes welling up as I realised that I was alone and lonely.

Alone and lonely… but stronger. Definitely, and without a doubt, stronger. And that has helped me to feel a bit more confident about the future and my ability to grow even stronger still.

So, here’s to stronger holidays… and to a stronger, and more confident me in 2020!

* Yes, I know I have a family; my family of origin. But I don’t have “my own” family; the partner and/or children that are still the “norm” for adults in the Western world.
** I know that not all families are happy and that not all people who appear happy are, indeed, happy. But those smiling couples/families serve as a reminder of what I have lost, which makes my soul ache.

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