Dear Family Advisor

I'm a new widow who wants to skip the holidays this year "“ but my grown kids want me to be with them.

Last updated: Dec 10, 2009

I'm grieving the death of my husband, who died in October after just a six-week illness, and would really prefer to just skip the holidays this year. It's my first holiday season without him, and it's hitting me hard. Honestly, I don't want to celebrate the holidays in any way, shape, or form. Work is the only thing that keeps my mind off my sorrow.

My children -- a daughter and a son, who live five hours away -- want me to take time off at Christmas to "be with the family." I'd rather stay here and work. It would be easier for me if I just acted like Christmas doesn't exist this year. Is this selfish? Should I try to "be there" for my kids? I know it's hard on them, too. But celebrating without my dear husband feels like more than I can bear.

Grief, especially around the holidays, isn't easy, and it's definitely messy. You've been hit a devastating blow -- no wonder you don't feel like celebrating. Your feelings are normal and healthy, so don't feel guilty for humbugging it this season.

Your children aren't planning to go anywhere, so give yourself a break and see how you feel in the coming days about joining them. Grief can cause our emotions to swing from one extreme to another. Tell them you'd like to figure out how you feel when you get closer to the date. Even though your kids lost their dad -- and that's a monumental loss -- the death of a spouse is a whole different level of grief.

Reassure them that you love them and tell them that if you end up deciding it would be better for you to stay home for the holidays, you hope they'll respect your decision. They may just be making sure you're not getting too lonely and depressed. It's hard on them, too, so try to be sensitive to their feelings. But most of all, honor your own needs. You may have to let them find their own inner strength --- and trust that yours will return in time.

Listen to that quiet voice inside to guide you. If you don't usually suffer from crippling depression when not dealing with a tragedy, trust that your passion for life will eventually return. Grief can feel scary. Your emotions are probably on a wider pendulum swing than you've ever experienced, and you're still in shock. Your husband's illness came on fast and hard. After our bodies and emotions exert themselves during times of great stress, there's a fall-out period. We tend to crash, get sick because our immune systems are shot, and snap at others because our emotions are so out of whack. We can dip into an all-time low.

Some people choose anti-depressants or sleeping aids, while other cope au naturel. Do what seems right, but be aware of any crutch that grows over time (sleeping too much, drinking, prescription meds). While it's fine to have a glass of wine, if it grows to a nightly several, then it's time to ask for a little help.

Gathering with others who are going through something similar in a bereavement group is one way many widows and widowers find it helpful to process turbulent emotions. Many places of worship, hospice organizations, and community centers have such support groups; check out several until you find a good fit. Also consider seeing a counselor or spiritual advisor. Losing those we love affects every part of us. We have to redefine who we are without them. We have to figure out how to go on when nothing in us wants to.

I'm sure you know that long-term isolation isn't healthy and can even be dangerous. You mentioned you're still working, and that's a good sign. After my mom passed, I, too, found a surge of energy. I exercised like crazy, returned to college, and seemed to do ten things at once -- and then I'd crash and not be able to do anything but hit the remote control on my TV for a few days. Maybe it's about the need to reconnect with life or to try to drown your sorrow, but both are natural reactions to grief.

Whatever you do, refuse to get sucked in by guilt! You don't need to feel bad about feeling bad. Your children may think being there during the holidays with the tree and the kids and all those wonderful things will make you feel better, but you may have to firmly explain that if you can't, then you can't, and that's all there is to it. You'll have many other times with your family, so you're not a bad mom or grandmother if you skip Christmas. It doesn't all hinge on this one day.

A dear friend who lost her husband and recently her son shared with me that profound grief is like a window left open in your heart. Sometimes, for minutes or hours at a time, you're OK -- and then a big gust of grief sweeps in, takes your breath, and knocks you to your knees. It comes when it comes, but in time, it comes less. Until then, do the best you can, moment by moment.