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By: Jane Milardo, LMFT

Christmas DecorationsYes, it’s that time of year; the time of year when ads on television, radio, in magazines and newspapers all extol the bliss of family life. It’s the time of year when people usually look forward to Thanksgiving and the winter holidays with loved ones.

But not you, not this year, because you are now a widow/er. Chances are that the prospect of the holidays without your spouse is inconceivable, let alone tolerable. Even if you have adult children or other family members who want you to join them, you know it won’t be the same with that empty place at the table.

If you have younger children, you need to be there for them as they face their first holidays without both parents. It seems overwhelming to deal with your own grief as well as that of your children. It’s a good idea to speak to staff at their schools to see if there are groups available for children who have lost parents.

You feel sadder as the days go by, and you just can’t wait for the holidays to be over so you won’t have to worry about how you’re going to endure them. Every day you find yourself dreading them more and more. It doesn’t seem right; it doesn’t seem fair that everyone else is excited and happy.

Except that it’s not true that everyone is happy and in the company of loved ones during the holidays. It’s a myth. Many people like you have been widowed, others have been divorced, some feel trapped in unhappy marriages, and still others have never found anyone to truly love them at all. Many of these people are going to be alone, or with others but still feeling alone, during the holidays. They will cook the food, put on a happy face, and go through the motions, struggling, like you, to survive the holidays.

Nevertheless, the holidays are going to come, whether you want them to or not. May I suggest that instead of worrying and getting more depressed, you make a plan for something different that you can do?

For example, if you have been hosting Thanksgiving for the family for years, let them know that you have chosen not to do so this year, but that you will gladly join them elsewhere. If no one offers to host Thanksgiving, make plans with a friend to go out to a good restaurant for dinner. Many restaurants have wonderful homemade Thanksgiving dinners, you don’t have to cook or clean up, and the different location may help you enjoy yourself in the present instead of thinking about the past.

Town senior centers or community centers offer social programs like dinners, group travel, and activities you can participate in with others. You may find companionship in these types of social activities, as well as make new friends. These may be particularly good resources for widowers, who may have a harder time than widows during the holidays, as women are more used to social networking than men, and men are not as accustomed to expressing their feelings as women.

Letting the holidays come without planning how you are going to deal with them will make the season harder. Instead of dwelling on what you have lost, why not focus on those who have even less? Helping others is a great antidote for depression. Some people don’t have enough to eat because they’ve lost their job. Maybe you could volunteer at the local food bank or donate food. Some people are homeless during the winter. Why not volunteer your time or supplies like blankets or socks? Shelters overflow with people in need this time of year, people who need all the help they can get. You need to keep yourself busy.

It’s harder to feel bad for yourself when you are talking to someone who has less, or nothing. You’ll also find that recipients of your generosity can be incredibly grateful for your kindnesses. If you are part of a faith community, perhaps you could take charge of a project. You might also find volunteer work at your community center or local social services.

Make a plan to keep yourself busy during the holidays. Make a commitment to occupy your time, so you won’t have time to think about the changes in your life. Before you know it, you will find the holidays behind you. Make a plan for a way to help others, not just for them, but for yourself. This is the true spirit of the holidays: sharing our bounty and giving of ourselves. If you give of yourself, the holidays will pass more quickly, and the rewards will be great.

Questions in regard to life and family issues may be submitted to Jane at Pathfinder Magazine at widowedpathfinder.com/contacts/questions-to-jane-milardo, and she will make every attempt to respond to as many as possible in her column, Ask Jane.

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