If, after some years as a widow or widower, you’re sharing your life with someone new and possibly his or her children as well as your own, planning the Christmas holiday could be fraught with differences in expectation.
Your first Christmas together should be memorable and reflect the holiday spirit anticipated by both of you. There will be a lot to think about if you want things to run smoothly and if the pattern of Christmas-past does not hold the same appeal for either of you, then perhaps it’s time to look at your options.
Sharing this particular event for the first time, for both of you and your families, is an opportunity to combine ideas and create your own unique Christmas experiences. Some habits of course, will remain, because they are positive and fun, especially with young children in mind, as they will be expecting the same. Waking up to Christmas stockings and parcels under the tree are elements that I don’t think any of us would want to change. These are the magical moments that stick firmly in our minds and form part of our childhood memories.
If neither of you, or any other family members, are overly excited about the idea of all that cooking, then how about eating out? Hopefully, there will be a few restaurant options nearby, where you can anticipate a good feast and leave the dishwashing to someone else.
Integrating the old with the new can create a unique experience that will become your own special way of spending the holiday. Make sure that everyone, children included, is invited to make suggestions on what they would like to do.
Start as you mean to go on, and make plans for Christmas together. The shopping, and of course, the cooking, if you’re eating at home, are all tasks that can be shared in some way. If there are children around, get them to help, too. This will strengthen bonds and create a pattern for future years.
If two sets of children are involved, this is the perfect opportunity to harmonise the families. Ask them if there is something specific they would like to do, such as going for a winter outing or watching a favourite movie or TV programme. In our house we used to get the younger children to come up with an idea for a play. They would go off for a while and return with something of their own creation, which would invariably end up with a great deal of hilarity all round.
Anniversaries and holidays can often be a time of increased stress and emotional turmoil and if this is your first Christmas together you have to make allowances for this. One suggestion is sharing any upbeat stories of Christmas past; by doing this you are acknowledging that memories of your previous family celebrations are cherished. This should allay any feelings of remorse if you’re feeling guilty about celebrating a special holiday and enjoying yourself regardless of absent loved-ones.
A first Christmas together may not be the ideal time to include your bereaved partner’s parents and other family members, but if this occurs through necessity, then use the occasion to build as much of a rapport as possible. It is likely they will be as cautious as you with this arrangement, but it offers the opportunity for all parties to accept that change is inevitable. This will show that you have not forgotten their son/daughter and that any grandchildren will always be a significant presence in their lives.
If it’s just the two of you, then introducing something completely new could be a good idea and is one way of creating a unique seasonal significance to your relationship. Taking a trip to another city or planning a Christmas lunch with a difference are just two ways of breaking with tradition.
Ultimately, the holiday season is an opportunity for everyone involved to form lasting memories together. In time, these experiences will hopefully form the basis of a new chapter in your life.
If you’re single, but hopefully not alone at Christmas, do join in with family and friends and try and look to the future. There are many other widows and widowers out there looking for someone just like you and next year could be your year.
Have a happy and peaceful holiday!
If you’re a widow or widower, the prospect of seeking a new relationship brings with it the possibility of upsetting the status quo.
With this in mind you may need to tread carefully when you decide to tell your in-laws that you’re thinking of dating again. They might be pleased for you, of course, but they may also be hurt and afraid that they could lose you and the association they have with you. Worse still, for them, will be the fear that they may also lose their grandchildren, if there are any.
If possible it is better to wait a few months after meeting someone before you suggest bringing the in-laws into the frame. Tell them you’re dating by all means, but keep it loose and let it seem light-hearted. As time passes, if they see that you’ve developed a sound friendship and the new partner is restoring your happiness and showing a genuine interest in you and your family, they are more likely to accept the situation.
When you think the time is right to bring them together, introduce your in-laws to your new friend by their first names. Adding ‘my in-laws’ to the introduction will immediately underline that they are not only friends but they are also an integral part of your family. If they truly care about you, they will be pleased in the long term and if you have made every effort to make them feel included in your life, it will be easier for them to accept the situation.
It is inevitable that there will be emotional highs and lows at this time. There will be anniversaries marking particular events that you shared with your spouse and I doubt you will want to ignore these. Make it a special occasion where the in-laws and any children share the event together. Explain to your partner that it is important you have this time with your family in order to make every one know you have not forgotten their son/daughter. Over time this will not be so necessary as one hopes that your in-laws will have come to terms that there is someone else in your life. In the early days, however, I see it as being a good way to keep everyone on your side.
Should you find yourself in the situation where your in-laws just cannot come to terms with the thought of someone else usurping their son/daughter’s role, you will have to have a serious discussion with them, especially if you’re still young. Explain that you do not want to spend the rest of your life on your own. Try and assure them that your partner would have wanted you to be happy and that you are not trying to replace him/her.
Help them to understand that you are adding a new dimension to your life, which has been shaped by your marriage or partnership with their son/daughter. They will know deep down that they are expecting too much of you and will hopefully, gradually accept the situation. Whatever you do, avoid keeping the relationship a secret. This will make it that much harder for them to accept when the news gets out and will reflect very badly upon you.
If there are children involved, make a concerted effort to arrange visits to the grandparents and encourage all of them to keep in touch on a regular basis. Organising visits, meet-ups and easy interaction in between, is so easy to do these days.
Any changes going on in your life and theirs can be shared and mutually discussed and understood. If you have always had a good relationship with your in-laws, the chances are they will be pleased to see you moving on and if you make an effort to involve them they will be pleased to be part of your future.
There is no real code of conduct for introducing someone new to your in-laws after bereavement. If it has been a while since your partner’s death, then it will no doubt be easier than if it is seemingly too soon after. This could be a difficult time for your new partner as well, as he/she will be aware that the presence of in-laws in your life will be a constant reminder of your late partner. If he/she is kind and understanding with you, it is hoped they will be the same with your bereaved partner’s family.
Moving on after bereavement can be a difficult time for you: also for those close to you. Providing you’re not rushing into things, making new friends is healthy progress. Whatever direction you take, you will always have memories that can be with you forever but not necessarily restricting your passage as you go forward.
If and when you find yourself in a new relationship and choosing to take things just that little bit further, you might suddenly feel unexpectedly overcome with awkwardness. Having shared an intimate relationship with your previous partner, the prospect of opening up your life to someone else might fill you with dread and second thoughts. This, of course, is quite natural and could be a sentiment also felt by the person you are with.
If you do find yourself questioning your reasons for having started this relationship, then you must ask yourself why. If this is your first experience of a relationship after bereavement and the first time you have had to consider things leading on to something more intimate, then it is important to acknowledge that you are in this place because something has told you that this is where you want to be.
Experiencing a second love does not mean that it has to be second rate or in second place to your first. In fact, because we tend to idealize situations, it is quite possible that the memories of your first life partner could be somewhat over-romanticised. Losing a spouse does not mean that you won’t or can’t grow to love someone else and able to enjoy a loving, sexual relationship together; nor does it mean that you have to forget your previous life partner!
It is presumed that you are, by now, comfortable with this special friend and have allowed yourself to reach this situation with equanimity: so why the awkwardness? It might be that you’re making subliminal comparisons to your deceased partner or that you feel guilty accepting that you are ready to move on. Perhaps you’re worrying about what your family might think. Whatever the reason, it is important that you share this with your new partner. If he or she is sympathetic and understanding, then they are likely to be someone worthy of your affections.
So how do you deal with this? Unless you’re tee-total, a couple of drinks will help you to relax; and if the moment comes at the end of a day spent in each other’s company, and you have both been enjoying the experience of just being together, you may find that what comes next, comes naturally.
For some, the thought of baring all can be a daunting prospect. Again, it is likely that your partner could be feeling the same way. If you’ve planned this adventure; a weekend away perhaps, then you may have indulged in some enticing new underwear. A satin petticoat can be very alluring on any woman; an old pair of jaded underpants on a man, a probable turn-off!
Creating the right atmosphere is also important. It doesn’t have to be too contrived but perhaps a scented candle or two, low lights and some soft music could all help to set the mood.
Acting upon any advice that you might give to a friend, follow your own code of conduct. Safe sex is essential, and ensuring that you really want to go ahead, and that you are not under any pressure, is very important. Moving on at your own pace will make the experience much more enjoyable for both of you. Getting that first time over will also move the relationship on a notch, if that is what you want.
There are no hard and fast rules about this; you just have to be guided by your emotions and instincts. Make this time together special. Try and put all anxious or embarrassing thoughts out of your mind and determine to enjoy yourself.
What matters is that you both trust and respect each other, while continuing to build upon the chemistry that has brought you together.
So when is the right time, after bereavement, to introduce a new partner to your children?
Every situation is different and demands a unique decision, with the age of the children being fundamental. A mature son or daughter, who is also in a loving relationship, may be able to relate empathetically and actively encourage us to seek happiness with someone else.
On the other hand, a much younger child may be confused and think the new person is going to steal us away. They may also think we are trying to replace their mother/father. Explaining that this is not the case is an important step and must be done in such a way that they can fully understand the situation. Children of any age might feel threatened, angry and confused about your interest in someone new and it is obviously important to respect their feelings.
If you ensure, every step of the way, that no one will ever replace their mother/father, they will hopefully begin to come to terms with the idea of someone new in your life and theirs.
Taking things slowly and encouraging them to talk about anything they are worried about is the way to go: ‘What would mum/dad say if they thought you were going out with someone else?’ is a typical question and we must be ready with an appropriate answer. Older kids will hopefully understand that even in dire situations we eventually move on if we can, for the good of everybody.
Constantly reassuring our children that we love them, and that they are important, will help create the understanding that we are on their side and what you do with your life includes them and that they will always come first.
If your new partner also has children, it may be that all of the children are more interested in assessing each other rather than the new partner. Arranging a meeting when you can get together as two families might help younger children to understand that they are not alone in this situation. Providing some sort of treat like a meal out to a favorite restaurant or an outing that will provide a useful distraction, like bowling, for example, will help them to think of the new family in a positive way.
One last thought. Meeting someone new and feeling romantic and euphoric about the idea of falling in love again can be quite exhilarating and can lead us to behave differently. We must definitely not be overly tactile with our new friend in front of our children, or let ourselves be too distracted in their company when our children are around. Involve your family as much as possible with dialogue and down to earth conversations when you are all together. Eventually, when they see how happy you are, they will start to feel comfortable in this new scenario and hopefully come to terms with the idea of someone new in your life, and theirs, too!
Immediately following the death of a partner nothing you do or feel will seem normal. Every step you take will be out of the ordinary and your sense of loss will be painful and alienating.
Conversely, you may have moments of relief, especially if your partner has been ill and suffering and this could bring about a sense of guilt. The feeling that we could or should have done more for our partner is also a common sentiment. All of these feelings are new to you and will inevitably bring about despair and remorse. At this time you must go with the ebb and flow of emotions until such a time as you recognize them and know that you will overcome the moment.
Almost immediately there are key days and dates that follow: the early reminders, of course, like the day your partner died and the day of the funeral. These days are the ones you recall frequently because they are the most recent. They also bring you together with your partner, in a visceral sense. The heartache at these moments is welcome because it allows you the luxury of tears and reflection.
Life goes on and for practical reasons you bury your heartache in a place where it is increasingly under control. Hopefully, you will gradually allow yourself the comfort of celebrating these anniversaries in some way. Visiting his/her memorial and leaving flowers is, of course, something that you can do. A moment of quiet reflection at this time can work wonders. You are allowed the tears, but hopefully, by now, you are able to resurrect moments of joy and amusement that were shared with your partner.
A significant anniversary, such as a birthday, can be celebrated by indulging in something that you would have planned to do on this day. You could go with your family to a favorite restaurant that you both liked. Maybe watch a football game or go to the theatre. Something that you would have enjoyed together is the idea.
Probably the most difficult will be the anniversary of your wedding, or the day you moved in together. This is a good opportunity to involve friends and family and is, after all, a special day that you want to remember with warmth and happiness. A small gathering for you and those closest to you is a good way to do this and will encourage everyone to talk about your partner and how they are coping with their loss and moving on.
Mothers or Fathers Day can be difficult for your children whether they are young or old. Urge them to talk about the absent parent and share your thoughts as well. Seek out some golden moments that you all remember like the day he was showing off in the snow and fell off the sled or the special cake that you baked for a birthday and was unfortunately dropped on the floor.
Eventually the year will have come full circle and you will be a survivor. You will have discovered that you can live your life without that special person and that each day you are learning how to overcome the emotional hurdles you encounter. These hurdles do become less frequent and your strength and resilience will grow.
If you’ve been happy with your partner and their death has left you in an empty, unremitting state of ‘love lost’, then you probably shouldn’t be reading this. However, if it’s been a while and you’re starting to have feelings of loneliness, then perhaps the time has come to find someone new.
Finding yourself in a social situation where you are used to being part of a couple can be a very isolating experience. In particular, there is nothing worse than feeling like the third wheel in a room full of couples. I recall, only too clearly, the first time I ventured out to a social event. Most of the people were strangers to me. The only people I knew were the hosts who, although considerate of the fact that I was on my own, were obviously busy with their other guests. I only stayed for a couple of hours but spent that time riveted to the same spot, clutching a glass, with an inane smile on my face, wishing it was a respectable time for me to leave.
Similarly, whilst you like the idea of getting out of the house, you wish there was someone to walk down the road with. It’s quite surprising how the simplest of actions become major accomplishments when you have to do them on your own.
Gradually, your friends or your sub-conscious lead you to online dating and you find yourself sifting through a myriad of faces and profiles that present a problem of another kind. There are a lot of people like you out there who are also searching for someone and deciding who is the right person to make contact with can be quite a daunting experience.
Looks, of course, are important, but we all know that beauty is skin deep and someone who looks like a movie star may not have the right buttons for you to push.
By studying the profiles of potential matches you will know when someone could be of interest to you. In fact, in the early stages, there may be several matches that you find interesting. Exchanging messages online is a tried and tested means of communication and gives you the facility to get to know someone without any commitment or disclosure.
Having made the decision to meet a virtual stranger, you need to take things slowly. My own view is that meeting up with someone during the day for a coffee is a comfortable arrangement for a first date, rather than making it an evening event.
Be prepared to spend plenty of time together in situations that are not considered intimate. There is nothing worse than making what you think are the right moves at the wrong time.
Get to know each other well, and understand that you are both there for the same reason and it must be implicit that neither of you are making comparisons with your late partner. Remember, this is also an opportunity to put your life experience to the test. If you are genuinely happy in your skin and feel you have a lot to offer, then this should come across as confidence. Confidence, as we all know, is a very appealing characteristic and will make anyone feel reassured in your company.
It is important to get to know the other’s preferences and ask yourself how you feel about them. Could you live with another’s aversion to something you enjoy doing. Do you feel able to share someone else’s passion for an ideal or activity that you don’t approve of?
What will probably happen is that if the person is not right, you will drift apart and will have gained something positive from the experience. What could also happen is that you find yourself in a relationship that will not only fill a void, but will offer a new partnership. Hopefully you will enjoy this as much as, but in a different way, to your last.
The first thing to remember, is you don’t have to cope alone.
There are many resources out there, which can help you through this period and they are there to be used. Resource services have the information you need at their fingertips and can provide you with the contact details of organizations nearest to you.
Help that is offered by family and friends will also be invaluable. It is likely that some will have already experienced the grieving process and will have first hand guidance to offer. You may not always feel very receptive to their advice, but please at least listen to what they have to say.
An empathetic friend who delivers a ready-made spaghetti Bolognese and a chocolate cake for you and your family’s supper is a friend indeed. So, too, are the friends who collect your children from school or offer to drive your teenagers to-and-fro because you are dealing with other post-bereavement issues.
Having children at home will probably put you two steps ahead. You will need to put all your energy into letting them know they still have one parent, and that you are coping well. Letting them feel they also have an important role to play, will instill confidence and help them to feel more secure. Giving them a specific task that they need to perform on a daily basis will also help them to feel vital in what is going on. Washing up, sweeping leaves, or perhaps, keeping an eye on a younger sibling are small tasks that will mean a lot. Let them know they are really helping. It is reassuring for them if they have a sense of purpose and giving them responsibilities will help them appreciate the importance of ‘pulling together’. Knowing they are helping you and any siblings will make them stronger and they will be better able to see the wood for the trees.
The period following a bereavement can leave you feeling completely bereft and wondering if you will ever feel happy and whole again, and this is understandable. Your future happiness, it seems, was totally dependent on the existence of your partner, and for some this may be the sad truth.
However, we all have different thresholds, and after a period of time you may find yourself wanting to take a few positive steps outside your comfort zone. You can do this by asking yourself if there is any element to your life or lifestyle since your partner died that has improved. It may be that whilst he/she was alive you did everything together and although this was a joy at the time, there was little opportunity to explore pastures new. You may have been content and happy in this idiom, but having the opportunity to look within yourself at unexplored potential could launch a period of advancement and self-fulfillment.
When a friend’s husband died recently, her family were very concerned for her. She had been married for more than 30 years and she and her husband were absolutely devoted to each other. However, he did not enjoy eating out or having friends over to dinner and had little interest in things of a cultural nature. My friend was happily resigned to staying home with her husband and never considered how life would be if she could be a little more creative with her time. Suddenly, she is discovering a social life that had once only been the preserve of others. Joining a fitness class, meeting with family and friends for the odd meal out and planning visits to art galleries and other places of interest has really given her a new lease of life. She is finding her feet and with the encouragement of friends and family is discovering that there is life after loss.
If coming to terms with your new single state is really hard, especially if you have time on your hands and no children at home, then volunteering can be a good way to help fill this space. I would not recommend anything that could be a painful reminder. Helping out at the hospice where your partner died for example, might be full of sad memories. Something like volunteering in a charity shop can be fun and where you will meet plenty of other people. Animal charities always need extra help, as do organizations that make collections for charities. I have often enjoyed a couple of hours shaking a bucket for my favorite good cause, even in extreme weather conditions, always hopeful that I might exceed my last fund raising total.
However you cope with post bereavement blues, you must do whatever suits you best. If you choose to sit at home and reflect for a while on being a widow or widower, then that is also fine. In time you will hopefully feel like getting on with your life and be grateful that you have at least enjoyed the relationship you had with your partner and accept that he/she in the long run, would want you to be happy.
Whatever you choose to do and however you go about it, I hope there will be friends and family to see you through and that eventually you will feel like the true survivor you are.