Losing a spouse is a life-altering event, with long-lasting emotions. But one must keep living, allow others to keep living, yet honor the beloved who has passed. The first anniversary of that death can be one of the toughest milestones to reach and process through.
While supporting a friend, I visited grief support group sessions earlier this year. I heard of a few ways widows processed the first anniversary of their husband’s death. (Alas, there weren’t many men in the group each week, so I secured some of their insights after my last post: “Widowers: One Year since Death: Now What?” http://bit.ly/2dDLY2u)
Noted grief blogger, Mark Liebenow (http://widowersgrief.blogspot.com), who enjoyed being married, told me “I had honored my wife by mourning for a year and thought I would be done.” He wasn’t; so his plan to mark the late wife’s death was “to fast…and keep the curtains closed.” But a “friend suggested I celebrate the ‘birth of her spirit.'” He did: he hiked Mount Tamalpais in the Bay Area; there, celebrated her spirit, celebrated nature, then returned home and fixed one of their favorite dinners.
How do, or did, you mark the first anniversary after your spouse has died? I’ve heard from other widows and widowers, what activities they employed. Some might be helpful to you and your friends who are on this journey. A few suggestions are:
- Gather close family and friends at the gravesite for a brief memorial. Say a prayer. Release butterflies, bubbles or doves to honor the flight of their spirit.
- Invite friends to your home. Ask them to come prepared with a favorite story about your departed. It can be whatever they want, but perhaps suggest something light and funny that will brighten the mood. One person’s funny story might trigger another’s. Yes, there will be sadness, but humor and laughter will be good, as well. Try to end the day with joyful memories and feelings; joy for the life they gave and shared.
- Play your late spouse’s favorite music, if you can do so without it making you sad. Not everyone is ready for this suggestion. If so, good.
- Perhaps have the gathering be “pot luck.” You might not be in the mood to cook a lot of food. Friends would like contributing to your special day of remembrance.
- Consider what your late spouse enjoyed: Sailing? Bowling? Volunteering? Singing? Craft a few hours that incorporates that activity, and feel their presence. When my beloved Godmother died (in the bowling alley, mind you!), one year later, I marked her death by bowling a few games in her honor.
Clothes and Personal Effects. This can be tricky and tough: When and how do you dispense of the late spouse’s clothes and personal effects? Do you do this before the one-year mark? Just after? Or hold onto them for an indeterminate period of time?
After my last post, most who emailed me said they donated or dispensed most or all of the late spouse’s clothes within two to three months; some at four to six months. Two widowers said they still have not touched them and don’t know when they will.
One gent was approaching sixteen months, but his daughter is “really pushing” him closer to doing so: “These things should be out of here by now.” She already boxed some of the clothes and set the boxes in the closet, awaiting her dad’s “okay” to move them from the premises.
Liebenow said what I think many feel: “Getting rid of her possessions felt like I was dismantling her life and erasing her presence.” But at two months in, he successfully began donating her items to Goodwill and other agencies, as well as gave some to friends.
The late spouse’s presence will always be with you, even after the clothes are gone. Dispensing the clothes must be done. For one, you can’t use them, so they will just hang in the closet, or lay in drawers when someone could be putting them to good use. Also, by holding onto them, you may not be allowing for newness to take residence in your home and heart.
- Goodwill. Homeless shelters. Community centers. Churches. Domestic violence shelters, and Dress for Success are all wonderful places to donate clothes. (Dress for Success collects clothes to provide to people in need who seek employment.)
- If near the holidays—Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s—those are perfect times to donate items to people in need.
Preparing the clothes to be dispersed may be hard. Is there a close friend who can, with purpose, fold, box and label the items? “Women’s blouses, size 10” “Women’s Business suits, size 12,” etc. Hopefully the person who does this can do so without grieving over every article of clothing.
By all means, keep a few items that hold special meaning to you: Maybe a sweater or blouse worn on your last trip together; or her favorite brooch. Get a small box to store just a few items because, yes, you may wish to revisit them, see them, and yet smell them while any scent might remain. That’s okay.
But advance your loved one’s spirit forward by having others make use of dresses, suits, blouses, purses and more. Even night gowns/pajamas, underwear and bras—homeless shelters will be happy to provide clean undergarments to those who have none.
Holiday traditions. As I write, Thanksgiving, Christmas and new year’s are soon approaching. Consider:
- Volunteer. If your spouse volunteered for a “Feed the Hungry” event on Thanksgiving or Christmas, gather friends to do so that first year.
- Christmas celebrations: Christmas and the holidays are a time for parties, especially dinners and tree-decorating parties—sometimes with multiple trees. Some people have traditions of a Christmas tree on every floor. As a widower or other family member, you might not want to continue that tradition, especially if you did most of the work—setting them up, taking them down.
- a) Consider having friends and family to the house for a Christmas/holiday dinner and a tree-decorating party. All can pitch in to decorate one tree.
- b) In a nearby room, on a table, display all the other ornaments and garland previously used, and let each household take 3-4 ornaments that they can hang on their tree—in their home, each year going forward—in honor of the late friend. That can be their tradition for their home; but it need not continue to be one in your home, especially if you don’t plan to have many trees in your home each year. Having this “ornament giveaway” will also kindly let friends know that that was then; this is now. You’re releasing that tradition, but are sharing mementos with everyone to enjoy in their home. [Alternately, get decorative boxes or gift bags from (yes) the dollar store; wrap a few ornaments with colorful tissue paper; place 3-4 ornaments in each box, tie with a colorful bow; and have the boxes ready to go, as people leave your home.]
- c) Also, check with shelters and churches for people in need. Some people may not have a tree for their children to enjoy. If you’ve got extra Christmas trees and ornaments, why not donate them to people and places who need them, and do so before the holiday, so they can be put to use now—this year—not wait until yet another year has passed? Share the spirit of the season, and do so in memory of your late spouse.
One story (from a friend): Not at twelve months, but fifteen months after a friend’s husband died, I and others were invited to a “‘Moving’ Party,” as we knew she was putting the house up for sale.
After all had gathered, we were given a placard: “Moving Away…Moving UP…and Moving ON!!” “Carol” spoke of how she had stopped visiting her late husband’s grave so frequently: “Why am I going there? He’s not rising up and saying anything! He’s right here if I need to talk to him.” [Mind you, she did this with humor, so it made all of us relaxed.] She also had cleared and donated his clothes from the closets, and had what was “his favorite chair” that she “always hated” donated to Goodwill.
We had dinner, then went to every room in the house; said a toast to her late husband—especially to his empty closet—and she told all of us to “Let him go. He is dead. It’s over. We had a great life ‘most years,’ but it’s time to move on!” She then told us that, next we saw her, if she showed up and had a man on her arm (because she’s ready to not be alone), to not look at her as if she’s doing something wrong. “I am free to be, so let me! I’m moving on; you must move on, too!”
We were surprised by this ‘event,’ but it was great! She’d been praying, and journeying through. Yes, there will still be some sad days. But she knew he would not want her to be wallowing in grief, so she allowed herself to move on, and encouraged—no, ordered—us to do the same. This was freeing to all of us! We went home happy, not sad.
I welcome you to post in the ‘comments’ section what you did, or consider doing, at the first anniversary of your late spouse’s death. It is a tough time, but with support of friends and loved ones, you can and will make it through.
Copyright © 2016 Dr. Melody T. McCloud. All rights reserved. Feel free to share this post on your social network pages, with author credit and link to this page. Bitly: http://bit.ly/2dl4PPc . @DrMelodyMcCloud