Category Archives: putting away Christmas decorations

What it means to be a widow

There are tons of things that I thought I’d be in life. Being a widow is not one of them.

When I was a kid I had dreams of being a pro athlete. Then in college, I dreamed of becoming a college All-American in running, and that happened on a team basis.

Then I went on in life, becoming a writer, an artist, an environmentalist and a liberal Christian. Some of these things have earned me friends. In other cases, enemies. It’s only proof that there are some things we seek in life, while others come our way no matter what.

And yet, becoming a widow was not one of the things I ever imagined happening.

Not so early in life, anyway. Three years ago this March my wife passed away after eight years of chemotherapy, surgeries and side effects resulting from all those cancer treatments. Cancer finally migrated to her brain, for God’s Sake. That was December 26, 2012. She submitted to brain surgery and radiation, but the tale was already written. Bravely she stood before mortality and only briefly did she admit that might not work. Three months after that numbing, post-Christmas diagnosis, she passed away in her own home in the company of her two children and husband.

Survivorship

Thanks to her strength, we enjoyed eight years of survivorship together. However, I must admit that the first day we learned my wife had ovarian cancer was the day that I began imagining life without her. There is no way not to think about that. I remember crying in my car, sobbing after hanging up the phone, wondering if I’d have her a month, a year or a lifetime. The answer was: “All of the above.”

With each successive, concussive treatment for cancer, that reminder or her challenges got a bit stronger. As time went by, the cancer came back repeatedly. It was like a ping-pong ball bouncing on the table., Rap….Rap….Rap..Rap..Rap.RapRapRapRapRap…until it became evident we were not going to kick this thing.

So truth be told, my brain began to recognize that I would be a widow well before she ever died. That’s an unfair advantage in grieving compared to those on the outside the widow sphere.

However my active role and belief were different than that. We maintained hope despite this developing realization that the cancer was so persistent. After all, who was I to determine the length or outcome of her determination? Miracles do happen. Miracles did happen. Multiple times over. We were grateful for that.

Personal history

What you lose when a spouse dies is a big component of your personal history. A simple act like putting ornaments on the Christmas tree is not the same when the person with whom you’ve spent 25+ years is not there to corroborate their origin. You hang those ornaments with echoes of conversations past. Yet you live in the present. There is no escaping that.

So you carry on as a widow, because that’s what widows do. Initially that feeling of separation occurs on many fronts. You want to honor the memory of your loved one; parent, spouse, child or friend, and there are so many reminders in the first year or two of grief. Anniversaries and events. You especially want to respect and protect those memories for your own children, whose own unique and shared qualities are an extension of that life.

It’s as if there are Christmas ornaments hanging in every conversation you have with them. Sometimes they shimmer in the light. Some are fragile. Others are transparent. They bring laughter and joy.

Shared lives

It was not long after my wife passed away that I met a woman with whom I have forged a significant relationship. This was perhaps initially painful for the people in my life. My friends were immediately supportive, knowing that I enjoyed her company and we were both helping ourselves to new experiences. Yet, it was tough for people used to seeing me in the company of my wife of 28 years. These included my own children I’m sure, and my in-laws and family. They could not help be upset by the change.

Yet I know myself well, and at one point a year into my new relationship, my wife’s best friend, and former preschool director, turned to me at dinner one evening and said, “Did I ever tell you that Linda said she knew… that you would date if she passed away?”

That was like a Christmas ornament of its own. It was something my late wife never said to me. That was not really her style. But it meant quite a bit to hear it from so close a friend.

Ornaments

As I’ve taken Christmas ornaments off the tree this year and put them away as carefully as possible, it has become obvious that there is a dynamic at work in all our lives. We’re all widows in some sense. Memories are often attached to things, and things are attached to experiences. We lose grandparents and parents and people we love. We end marriages or relationships in love and work. Along the way we try not to misplace, damage or otherwise abuse the better ornaments of their memories. But it’s tough to do.

On a broader scale, being a widow is also like being an architect. You build these experiences in your life. That’s where your memories reside. But you must learn that it is not necessary to knock down one building to create another, nor should you.

After all, we don’t often live in the same houses all our lives. Yet we keep the memories of those homes in our minds, or feel them in dreams, our imaginations and ourselves. Because that’s the real place where we live. It’s a process of grieving the past while embracing the future.

And that’s what being a widow is like.

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Tackling the Christmas Closet

By Christopher Cudworth

Christmas Closet
Sorting through Christmas decorations can be a soul-searching enterprise. And that’s good.

A few weeks before she passed away from ovarian cancer, my late wife pulled me aside and said, “Chris, I’m sorry about the junk.” She was referring to the many things a couple collects in 27 years of marriage. Over the last year it has been an interesting and sometimes emotionally challenging process to make decisions about what or what not to keep. Some of it was hers, and hers alone. Much of her clothing went to friends and charity. Her jewelry went to friends with the exception of a few meaningful keepsakes saved in her favorite jewelry boxes. Room by room it has been a tour through our lives together.

But the Christmas Closet is the biggest challenge of all. Jammed tight with strings of lights and glittering ornaments, thick in boxes and wedged with holiday paper stock and more lights, that closet has been on my mind for nearly two years.

This morning seemed like the right time to pull everything out and take stock. I found a few surprises such as a box labeled “Christmas Lights 2015 Good” that would have saved a few dollars on lights for the tree this year. It seems that like most families, Christmas memories are something we treasure but also soon forget.

And one must be forgiven for that. The holidays as a whole tend to be much like the Christmas Closet at our house. A jumble of lights and half-wrapped presents and suddenly it’s over. Then we stash it all away for another year.

Only when you never attempt to clean out the Christmas Closet it becomes layer upon layer of half-utilized sentiment. And think about it: keeping a year-round closet chock full of Christmas decorations is a bit warped.

Out of Season

It’s tough to wrest ourselves free some such sentiment. In July when we’re yanking regular old wrapping paper out of the Christmas Closet to give gifts to our friends or relatives, all that Christmas stuff looks absurd. But once Halloween has turned over the mind turns to winter and Christmas lurks. First the colors brown and orange emerge for Thanksgiving. There’s plenty of that stuff in our Christmas Closet too. It tends to intermingle with the red and green of winter decorations. That’s what makes it so tough at times to decorate. It seems like the entire holiday season extends from October 15 through January 15th.

So I’ll be bold. Come out and say it. At some point, we have to clean out our Christmas Closets for our own sanity.

That means right now there is a living room full of boxes and…and strings of lights, and…and candles and you name it. Some of it has to go. Even my late wife would have to admit that. She’d several times promised to give that closet the once-over. Yet it never happened.

News of the Day

NewsThere were a couple surprises waiting at the bottom of the storage. The two newspapers featuring the election of Barack Obama were stashed there, still in the wrappers in which they arrived. She was excited about Barack. She read his books and liked his character. Before she died she wondered aloud why so many people chose to hate the man. “He’s trying to do the right thing,” she said with some irritation at the manner in which political opponents threw up absurd barriers to his policies.

Below those newspapers was another announcing the new Millennium as well. That was published before cancer entered our lives. Anyone remember what a big deal Y2K really was? It kind of makes you realize our fears and politics and ideologies really don’t matter that much. What matters is caring about others.

Soul celebrations

And that’s how it goes with things like Christmas Closets. It’s a holiday that rends our souls in so many ways. That is made so clear when watching movies such as “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The stuff that really matters lurks behind all the trappings and the snow and the trauma of family and work challenges.

So it helps in some ways to clear out our collective Christmas Closets and take a look at what our lives really mean. The junk we accumulate to celebrate Christmas is not the purpose of the holiday. Otherwise we could walk in that closet in April or July or September and pull out lights to get in the Christmas spirit.

The real meaning of Christmas is much, much simpler. It is in knowing our closets well enough to know what’s really in there. That’s the meaning of Christmas. It might help to realize that while you’re putting all that stuff away this year.

Christopher Cudworth is the author of The Right Kind of Pride, a book about character, caregiving and community. It is available on Amazon.com.