Anxiety was shaking my body like a baby with a rattle, sending the contents of my stomach on an endless free fall.

I wasn’t sick, and nothing had happened, but it was Thanksgiving, and I was on my way to visit my late partner’s family.

The drive to their home had happened countless times without him, but it wasn’t any easier. Only different. I knew what to expect and that made coping better each time.

“I made it safe, Baby,” I said out loud as if he could hear me.

I parallel parked in front of the house, and everything looked the same: the holiday decor, the visitor’s cars parked in their usual spots, and the smell of the beach behind the house. Even the neighbor’s yard was unchanged since the last holiday. I walked inside and saw everyone gathered around with my normal seat at the dining table awaiting me. I greeted them with hugs and kisses—the family standard, and smiles and jokes followed. Everyone seemed so happy, but then a feeling of emptiness hit me, and I couldn’t figure out why.

“Someone’s missing,” I thought.

I took inventory: Uncle, check. Aunt, check. Mom and dad, check. Brothers? Check. Cousins, in-laws, babies, puppies? Check, check, check.

Then it hit me. Jay isn’t here. How could I have forgotten?

An intangible wave broke and flowed around my heart. Here we all were, together on this day of grace and gratitude—a time of being thankful for what we had, yet how could I be thankful? My life was different now.

…how could I be thankful? My life was different now.

All our lives were. It was hard to name what I had when who I had was no longer. My only connection to this family was gone, and the person I expected to be at the table most no longer could.

How I’m Really Feeling

I keep thinking about this as Thanksgiving comes up this year. 2021’s holidays will be filled with grief and loss and carrying it is hard. If you’re dreading or anxious about it, that’s completely normal. It’s a natural human experience.

Two years ago, my late fiancé was alive. I was a one-time widow, not two. Going into a holiday with an old grief and a new one is difficult, and regardless of who you have loss and how long (or short) it has been, it might not be easy. (Although I’d love for it to be.)

So, here’s how I plan to cope and how I have in the past.

  1. It’s okay to say no to a holiday. It’s been a few years since I was first widowed and one holiday season, I decide to cancel everything. No parties. No dinners. Nothing. Call me Mrs. Scrooge, but I felt more at peace not participating than being around everyone. Be careful not to isolate yourself, but if you aren’t feeling up to the holiday festivities this year, even if they are virtual, know that it’s OK. Your friends and family may not get it, but I do. You’re allowed to skip this one.
  2. Plan ahead by talking to friends. Last year, I told my friends and family that although I had my fiancé, spending time with my late partner’s family around the holidays was still difficult for me. It was enjoyable, but that “he’s missing” feeling doesn’t disappear. I told them that if I seemed a bit “off” and not as jovial, they shouldn’t take it personally. I said they were welcome to check in with me throughout the night. Setting others’ expectations of me was a huge relief for everyone and allowed me to be supported in the way I needed.
  3. Honor your loved one if you need. For the first few years after my late partner’s death, I wrote him a letter in my journal either around or on the actual date of the holiday. It gave the built-up emotions a home rather than hosting them 24/7 in my mind and heart. I wrote about the good times we had around the holidays and the good times I wish we would have had. I wrote down my anger and joy and frustration. I highly recommend doing this, especially if you lack support. (It can be done on a note on your phone too, and while you’re at a family event. Try it whenever you need a minute or two to “just feel.”) Writing your emotions down allows your love and grief to be acknowledged—something we all need.

Last few tips:

  1. It’s okay to stay off social media if you have to (or not). It’s also okay to share old pictures and stories of your person. It doesn’t matter how many years it has been. In fact, I share pictures of both of my late partners . . . even still.
  2. Sometimes you have to go with the flow. We can’t plan grief; we can only think about how we may best prepare ourselves for possible triggers. If you have to sit in grief, do so. No person who really understands grief would expect you to push it aside as if nothing happened.
  3. Be kind to yourself. If there’s one thing I can’t stress enough, it’s this. You’ve had a lot taken from you, friend. This road is long, and it isn’t easy. It’s challenging enough that others don’t understand the weight of your pain. Please be gentle with your hurting soul and mind. You deserve that much.
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