by Cheryl Watters
Secretary/Treasurer, Women of Worth
Many people are alone and don’t have someone to spend the holidays with this year. They may be sitting at home longing for a phone call, a knock at their door, or perhaps a Christmas card in their mailbox.
When asked to write this article I thought to myself, "It’s been 13 years for me since my husband died but the raw feelings are still so close to the surface. I am not sure I can do this article justice. Those are wounds that are so deep and I don’t really want to rip those scabs off again. It hurts!" God assured me that He would help me write it, and that perhaps something I could say by my own experience may be what someone else needs to hear.
It was May of 2001 when Steve went to Heaven after being diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer just 23 days before his death. We had three children to continue raising. How could this be happening! At 42, I just couldn’t fathom ‘doing life’ alone. I begged God to heal my husband and allow him to remain with us. After all, we were going to grow old together. He could retire early due to the number of years in his shop and we loved to travel. We needed each other. God, in His infinite plan, did not see fit to answer my prayer in the way that I had envisioned, but chose to heal Steve by taking him to Heaven.
I remember someone telling me that people would surround me with their acts of kindness, phone calls, visits and conversations but that this would eventually cease to be the case in the future. I couldn’t fathom it. I thought, "Have I been guilty of that in my past? Will people really shun away from me or be afraid to talk to me? I have not changed! I am still ‘me’ so why would this be the case? Surely my case will be an exception." Sadly, this did happen to me. This is not a pity party but just stating facts.
It was difficult for people to accept the fact that Steve was not there when they came to visit, so they didn’t come over. It was/is hard for people to talk to me about Steve because they are afraid it will hurt me. I want to scream, "Talk to me! This is my soul-mate! The father of my children! I loved him with all of my heart! Talk to me!" It’s almost impossible to get across to people that you truly do want to talk about your spouse, parent, sibling or child that has gone on before you. A hurting spouse, parent or sibling wants to hear you reminisce of all of the good times you had together. They love to see the sparkle in your eye as you say how much your loved one meant to them too.
I remember the Christmas after Steve died (in May), telling my friend, Sue Arnold, "Oh, I don’t think I will put a tree up this year. It will be too hard to see the tree up because that was Steve’s favorite pastime – to just sit by the lit tree in the evenings and relax." She said, "Cheryl, your children need the tree up. You always put a tree up. You are going to put a tree up." I said, "Sue, I can’t! I can’t make myself do that. Besides, who will even come to see it? Steve’s not here!" She said, "I will be over next week and we are putting your tree up." If you know Sue, she was determined and showed up at my house and we went into the sunroom, where I always put my tree. I felt like my heart would break in two that night. I could hardly stand the pain associated with this event. I remember working a while, then stopping and sitting in the two rocking chairs, which were side-by-side at the time because of all of the boxes in the room, and just reminiscing. We talked of the good times. She let me cry. She cried with me. We talked of the good memories of Steve, and how he would have wanted me to put up the Christmas tree, and to make the best of my difficult situation. Was that
wise of her to do this to/for me? Yes, a resounding yes! She cared enough to step out of her comfort zone and help me work through my sorrow and pain.
Down through the years, there have been instances when I have felt like I couldn’t go to an event, whether it was a holiday gathering or a wedding and thought, "I just want Steve to go with me. I can’t do this alone!" I will admit, sometimes I have failed. I have sat at home, had a big pity party for myself, cried myself to sleep and felt rotten. Then there are times when I have picked myself up by my bootstraps and said, "Cheryl, get it together. Steve is not coming back. You know he is not coming back, so just go and enjoy yourself." Recent-ly, I went to a wedding and when the usher asked me if I had anyone with me, I nearly burst into tears as I said, "No, I am alone!" I ended up sitting behind my pastor and his wife and my pastor’s wife, Jody Johnson, asked me to sit with them at the reception. That’s compassion. When you are the third person in a party, you literally feel so out of place but when someone links arms with you and says, "Join us" it makes the event seem so much more enjoyable.
During the holidays I find that I love to go to the mall, as that is something that our family has done since we were married. It is a family tradition to go to the mall the Saturday before Christmas and just walk! Watching the people scurrying around frantically. Yesterday, I drove 12 miles to go to the mall, got there, drove into the parking lot, trying to find a parking spot, and had such an overwhelming feeling of loss that I turned the car around and drove back home. I couldn’t make myself go in. Some days are harder than oth-ers. However, if I have someone to go with me, it makes the trip so much more enjoyable.
I have started a singles group in Cincinnati and these ladies are becoming very close to me. We call each other and say, "Hey, want to meet for breakfast on Saturday? Want to go to a thrift store with me? I am planning an event for work, would you care to help me?" This type of interaction helps all of us. Some of us are widowed, some have never married and some are divorced. We all face the same struggles! I heard one of the ladies tell me the other day, "I don’t really have any Christmas presents to buy this year." That is sad. I hope she has somewhere to go for Christmas this year. I hope someone cares enough to say, "Would you like to join our family gathering this year?" Many times I think our worlds revolve around our little family and then when one of us are called to Heaven, we are all lost. We don’t know how to function. I think this is especially true if the family is young or there are young children at home.
It is wise to start new traditions when someone dies. It’s painful to do the same things without them. Af-ter Steve died, we changed the way we ‘did’ Christmas morning. We sometimes opened the gifts earlier or later than usual. When grandchildren started coming along, I found it easier to concentrate on the positives of having new life. I have always felt that my grandchildren were handpicked by Steve. I certainly have no proof that he even knows, but it just helps to ease my pain while going through this stage in my life.
Holidays are extremely difficult for people who have lost loved ones. If I could give advice to anyone right now, it would be to talk to people about their loss, show that you care, mention the name of their loved one and let them know that you loved that person, and you miss them too. Hugs are always helpful. People are so afraid to be genuine and transparent when dealing with the loss of a loved one and I know I always try to act like I have it together. I don’t! I remember going to a store and walking down an aisle and someone sprayed Jovan cologne. I was just walking aimlessly, heading toward the front of the store. As soon as I smelled that cologne I burst into tears. The person probably wondered what was wrong with me. I remember another time while at a store and the clerk said something, and I burst into tears and said, "I am sorry. I thought I was ready to come out in public but obviously, I am not." It’s hard after someone dies to go on with life as usual, but it is so much easier when shared with a friend. During this holiday season, make sure all of your friends and family are with someone they love. Don’t let anyone spend the holidays alone. Be a friend. You may need them someday.
- originally printed in Pilgrim News & Notes, the online publication of the
Pilgrim Holiness Church, Inc.