Learning To Celebrate the Holidays After My Husband’s Death – My Way

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My husband passed at the beginning of the year, so this is my first year celebrating the holidays since. Actually “celebrate” is not the word for it. How about…the holidays are here and my husband isn’t so I’m going to get through it the best that I can?

Thanksgiving came along and that was pretty much a trial run for Christmas. And I failed miserably!


Every year prior to my husband’s death, Thanksgiving dinner was held at my home. My husband loved to cook. He planned the menu weeks in advance and did all of the grocery shopping. My only job was to clean the house for our guests. We were a great team. After dessert, my husband would build a bonfire in the backyard. Everyone was free to stand around the fire, have a few drinks and laugh as long as they wanted. We would often have our nieces and nephews sleeping on the couches and granddaughters sleeping in our bed by the end of the night.

This year my mother-in-law insisted that we have dinner at her home. Part of me still wanted to host dinner, but I figured if she wanted to I should let her. Maybe it was time to start a new tradition.

Boy was I wrong.

From the moment I opened my eyes on Thanksgiving morning, it didn’t feel right. My husband would always get up at 5 am and put the turkey in the oven. He would start preparing a few sides, and then stop everything to make breakfast for the family. The kids and I would always wake up to the smell of bacon and Christmas music blasting from the speakers. That was my husband’s alarm clock for us.

This year there was nothing. No smells. No music.  I got out of bed and started making my side dish, southern barbecued green beans, a recipe that I discovered for a 4th of July party that was a big hit and family keeps requesting it.

That was it. That was all I had to make for Thanksgiving. There was nothing else for me to do. I was so lost. I passed the time by going to the gym. I picked up some donuts for my kids for breakfast. Two hours later we headed over to my in-laws apartment.

That’s when things, unfortunately, got worse for me. My mother and father-in-law had just moved into a new apartment. They were still in need of some furniture and, since it is new to them, it is also new to all of us. It didn’t have that comfortable, homey feel to it yet. Since the family was now gathered in a one-bedroom apartment, it was kind of a tight fit for us all. Most importantly, there would not be a backyard bonfire this year.

I wanted to save a place at the table for my husband, but there was barely enough room for all of us at the dinner table. I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone by leaving a spot open in his memory. I wished for a bonfire and a few beers in my husband’s honor. Even though I was with his family, there was nothing there to acknowledge him on one of his favorite days of the year.

As nice as the evening was and as pleasant as my company was, everything was oh-so-wrong. I was lost and feeling like a fish out of water. I was kicking myself for not hosting dinner at my home. Would I have been overwhelmed and paralyzed with crazy emotions? Maybe? Possibly? Who knows? But I felt sadness and depression at my mother-in-law’s dining room table. I wanted to leave as soon as I took my last bite. But I didn’t. And maybe I should have.

Once I left her house, I went straight to bed (and it was only 6 pm). I laid in bed and cried. And cried some more. I cried myself to sleep. I woke up the next morning and just couldn’t stop crying.

I don’t think I was ready to begin a new tradition so drastically. I should have had Thanksgiving in my home where I would have at least felt comfortable.

I learned my lesson. At this point in my grief journey it is best to stick with my gut. My natural instinct is my best guide right now.


I have decided not to spend Christmas with my in-laws. They are going to my brother-in-law’s sister’s house (say that a few times and you’ll figure it out) and I barely know her. I am sticking with my gut, which is telling me to spend Christmas at my best friend’s house. Our husbands were the best of friends, their kids call me “Aunt” and I call their parents “Mom and Dad”. Plus, my husband and I always ended up at their house on Christmas evening anyway. They have a fire pit and wood ready for our bonfire in honor of my husband.

It is where I will feel most comfortable and, if a cry, I know they will cry with me.


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