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Published December 23, 2013, 02:54 PM

Minding our Elders: Christmas intensifies grief for widow

DEAR CAROL: I dread Christmas. My husband died last summer and this is my first Christmas without him.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR CAROL: I dread Christmas. My husband died last summer and this is my first Christmas without him.

He’d been sick with cancer and then Alzheimer’s, and part of me is happy that he was finally able to let go. Other times, I’d give anything for him to be here, which is actually selfish considering his obvious misery.

I have wonderful children and friends and I have a church family where I feel I belong. Still, I sometimes feel angry that my husband left me alone.

It’s a confusing holiday season for me. Why can’t I remain grateful that my husband isn’t suffering? –Grace

DEAR GRACE: You’ve just been through your first Thanksgiving since your husband’s death. Your first Christmas is quickly approaching. The world out there is telling you that, since it is Christmas, you should take part in the holiday spirit. While your head may agree, your heart isn’t ready. This is completely normal.

Give yourself the gift of understanding. Right now, understanding means that it’s fine not to stay with one feeling or even be able to identify how you feel at all times, let alone feel consistently grateful.

In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published her groundbreaking book, “On Death and Dying.” In her book, she labeled the stages of grief and loss as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. While most of us have heard of these stages, many people don’t understand that grieving isn’t a linear process. In other words, you may feel on one particular day that you’ve reached acceptance, yet wake up the next morning feeling angry that your husband “left” you.

Additionally, people like you who have lost loved ones after much suffering have already gone through the grieving process many times. You’ve grieved with your husband over his cancer. You’ve grieved with your husband over his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Now, you must grieve again, by yourself, over his passing and the physical loss. The very fact that he’s not with you during the holidays adds another layer to your grief.

I’ve experienced some family deaths over the holidays. While after each death the first year was tough, I’ve since felt extra close to those people during the holidays. Each of them, when they died, left special memories for me and everyone else who loved them, just as your husband did for you.

Even as you move into the New Year, you’ll have days when you’re happy that your husband no longer suffers followed by days when you’d give anything to touch him. Selfish or not, that’s human. Eventually, you’ll find your way back to acceptance. If you continue to find yourself struggling after the holidays you may want to look into grief counseling.

Blessings to you, Grace, as you navigate this difficult time in your life. I’m glad you have family, friends and a spiritual home to help you.


Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.

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