Coping With The Holidays After Losing Your Partner

11/21/2016 01:20 pm ET Updated Nov 23, 2016

The holidays often seem depressing to us because they don’t look how they’re supposed to. And to those of us who have lost our partners, the holidays are never going to look how they used to. But we’re the ones who get to decide what things are supposed to look like. Not the Hallmark Channel.

I know women who are happy on their own. Their model for what they want their lives to look like does not have a man. A relationship is a possibility, but not a prerequisite, and it’s no less valuable if it’s impermanent. No buying into those bridal magazine layouts which, after all, are designed to sell you a bunch of stuff you’ll only use once. These independent women are fine this holiday season because they didn’t drink the mainstream media Kool-Aid. Are they happy overall? Yes. Ok, no holiday agony.

For those of us who have suffered the loss of our partners –- and it is just so hard -– the measure of recovery shouldn’t be are we dating again. Often, people think that healing means looking for a new person. They don’t ask “Are you happy?” They ask, “Have you found anyone new yet?” It’s just the wrong template. We’re healing ourselves to love our own lives again. We’re not salt shakers who need pepper to complete us.

I had 32 years with my beloved George before he died in April 2013. Now, I’m looking towards something else. I don’t know what that is yet, but it may not be living with anybody, nor combining my finances, nor answering to anyone else. I dated too much after I lost George, trying to tamp down my loneliness with new people. Moving past that neediness to become emotionally self-sufficient is my next step in coping with loss.

I look the same with or without a boyfriend. Signs of aging are not reduced by having a guy at my side. Damn. But, there goes that stress. I won’t be more attractive just because I am accessorized with an escort.

 

Many people have problems or are unhappy even though their lives look enviable from afar.

 

I used to be sad that my family is just my elderly dad and stepmom. Very little family. No real holiday celebrations.

Then I finally realized how lucky I am because my dad and stepmom are awesome. They’re supportive, available, super funny and encourage me to travel and take risks. My childhood home is open to me. It’s just not the version on the Hallmark Channel.

Life without my husband often still feels bleak and absurd. Like last week when the water main for my neighborhood broke, and my dishwasher flooded. The plumber said it might be the “solenoid,” but I think it was Beelzebub. George would have known what to do. There would be no accursed devil in the dishwasher, just a rational explanation. I wouldn’t have the plumber’s bill. Then we’d have gotten take-out Chinese food together and laughed about it.

But I did get in an evening yoga class and drinks after with a girlfriend. So, I had a lovely evening, just not the one I would’ve had.

I can’t get George back. I can ask myself what fulfills me and carry that into the holidays. A few modest suggestions for coping with loss this season:

Stay off social media. That whole “Fear of Missing Out” thing is a killer. Someone will post photos of an extravagant celebration with her (still alive) husband. Comparison is the enemy of joy, but Facebook really rubs it in.

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, just eight percent of married people are happy in their marriages

Treat yourself to things that cheer you. For me, it’s homewares, but I’m a nesting type. If I’m lonely, it may be yoga classes at the times I need them even if they’re not at my regular studio and I have to pay extra to go to them.

Recognize it’s better to be alone than with people that make you feel worse. I’ve decided I just can’t hang with a friend who is depressed about being single and talks about it incessantly. Widowhood has helped me see when people aren’t good for me.

Be outside. It just helps.

If you descend into the pit of take-out and binge-watching Netflix, set a specific date to get out or call someone you trust to ask for help. Don’t order a large pizza by yourself. You can only eat a small one. Really.

I am trying to keep a gratitude journal. I couldn’t do this the first three years after George died. But I can try now, just like we can get through the holidays if we stop comparing what is with what we think they’re supposed to be.

Please come and visit me at my blog, The Hungover Widow, where I talk about returning to life after losing your partner.

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