Holiday image for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley

Ask a Widow: “But We’ve Always Had Christmas at Grandma’s” (with holiday resources)


Okay, yes, it’s that time of year. No matter your background or how you celebrate, the holidays are often loaded for just about everyone. Forget it if you’re a widow. Then everything is loaded.

My first holiday season was BRUTAL. I mean, I think I cried every single day in the parking lot before school and every single evening after I put the kids to bed. How was my tree all lit up, how was I saying “happy holidays” to everyone I saw, how was I sending out cards to my family and friends…and Shawn was dead? It was all such an act. I didn’t feeling joyful. I mostly just felt taunted by the joy that surrounded me.

Worse still was that there were still so many expectations out there. My family and Shawn’s family were both wonderful (I got a lot of “do whatever you need to do”) and I know that I’m lucky in that way, because a lot of widows don’t have that level of support. But my kids still expected the magical elf Gingee to move around the house each night, the radio still played holiday music every time I turned it on, and random strangers wished me “happy holidays!” and damn all that just made me want to shrivel into a little ball and sob. I wasn’t supposed to be sad during the holidays. But wow, I was.

December 1st, the year prior, Shawn had been diagnosed with stage IV cancer. And then he just went downhill over the weeks that followed. Re-living those days made my first holiday alone that much harder.

But that was just my story. I know that other people have different stories. Maybe your kids are begging to go to Grandma’s, but you don’t think you can handle the 6 hour drive each way by yourself this year. Or maybe you don’t have kids, and you are all alone on the holidays for the first time. Or maybe you always celebrated the holidays with your partner’s family, and you just don’t know if you should do that again this year. (What are the expectations? What do you want? Do you even know what you want?) There are so many questions, really. Must you host that annual gathering at your house? Do you need to attend the staff holiday party, seeing as how you are the manager of the entire department? Is it better, or worse, to give yourself some space to be alone at the holidays?

I don’t have any answers, not really. But I can understand that things can get really tough at this time of year if you’re grieving, whether it’s from the loss of a family member or other difficult event. If you’d like to read a few things I’ve written on this topic, you can try this speech I gave about how I was surviving the holidays a few years ago, or this article I wrote in the Washington Post about how parents can maintain some holiday joy when times are tough.

And if you’d like to hear a bit more from me, I’m hosting a virtual event this Friday, December 3rd at 8 pm EST with my friend Kumar Dixit. We’ll be talking about loss, grief and the holidays, and we’ll be joined by two mental health professionals, Dr. Jen Yoon and Alexander Raspberry. It’s free, it’s online, and it won’t be all sad….I promise! If you’d like to register, click here.

And no matter what, know this: there are no perfect answers to anything during the holidays. If you cry, you cry. That’s okay.

And if you feel joy, you can feel joy.

That’s okay, too.


  • Judy carr

    This will be my first Xmas without my husband of 60 yrs ,He passed in Jan of this year l don’t think l can make it without him l don’t see any purpose to go on l am very lonely l only have one niece and she lives far from me l pray to god everyday to take me so l can be with my husband He left me a letter telling me howmuch he loved me.l am stuck in this grief l just want to go

    • M Brimley

      I know the feeling. I do. And also – please don’t think there’s nothing for you in this world. There is. If you’re feeling like you cannot go on, please do seek help…of course, there are therapists and other professionals, but I got a lot of support from religious leaders and friends. And just in case it’s needed, the National Suicide hotline number is 800-273-8255. I’m pulling for you. There is hope out there.