Moose ornament

Handling the First Holiday Season After Divorce

It’s late November. The Santa Claus parades have started to run every weekend, trees and lights are starting to pop up on every house on every street corner, carols and Christmas songs are inescapable, and it’s no longer considered completely crazy for retail stores to have entire aisles of green and red.

Love it or hate it (there’s no middle ground, it seems), but the holiday season is now upon us. To many people who are recently separated, divorced, or find themselves otherwise single, this time of year is incredibly difficult to get through.

I recall the year of my separation. It happened in September – the end of 17 Christmases together. The house was up for sale – he was sleeping downstairs, and I slept upstairs. We barely acknowledged each other and the tension was palpable. I was in a deeply depressed state. Crying, sleeping, and grieving in my bedroom was the limit of my daily activities. The doting mother and wife – the June Cleaver lookalike – was broken and unable to contain herself. I was locking myself away from the world and from the sadness that my once-welcoming home now encompassed. I couldn’t pull myself together for anyone, even the children that I loved so dearly. They were breaking and I was neglecting them as I was coming undone.

Their school Christmas concert came, and it went, as well as the Santa Claus parades, and I missed them all as I escaped my shattered life in my locked room. The smells of Christmas baking, the secrecy of hidden gifts, the sounds of Christmas music as we danced around the house, the spirit of anticipation – all was noticeably absent this year.
You gotta know, I was the mom who always made Christmas bigger and better every year – turkey dinner with all the trimmings on good bone china, Christmas bedtime stories weeks in advance, entertaining guests with Christmas desserts and rum eggnog, planning, prepping and buzzing around. I would wrap every aspect of every gift separately so that it looked like a mountain of gifts under the tree. Yet this year… I did nothing. I just couldn’t.

Several days before the “big day”, a friend begged me to at least attempt Christmas and to buy a tree. I didn’t have a single ounce of celebration in me, but I did it. It was crappy, and it was cheap – Charlie Brown would not have been envious. I threw some lights and ornaments on it, but not with the love and care that I was known for. I even scraped together some gifts and wrapped them. The blessing in all of this was my “tribe” – other moms who knew the journey I was on and knew I needed someone to break on. That Christmas, these few moms and their children spent their Christmas Day with me and mine. We opened a few gifts, and sat around my kitchen table as we ate a Christmas dinner pot-luck on everyday dishes. They helped me grieve and fall apart, then lift my head and see hope. They were my cheerleaders, pulled me out of my funk and pushed me to let my children have some semblance of a celebration. It was only through the grace of God and these friends that I was able to pull it off. It was a Christmas miracle of sorts.

My life would never look the same again – this would be our last Christmas in our beautiful home – and as I let the postcard image of sleigh bells ringing, and silent nights, and jolly vintage Santa Clauses fade from my vision, I saw love and support and hope poured out onto me and my children. It has become my most memorable Christmas because of that love – the true meaning of the Holidays.

I don’t even know if my children remember that Christmas – the year that I barely showed up – the broken Christmas. Today – 13 Christmases later – we celebrate each one differently, being open to new family members, grandchildren, and new traditions.

So, how do you get through it during your first holiday season in your new journey? I can’t begin to tell you how to survive your own first Christmas, but I hope I can offer a few suggestions to lessen the pain and the fear of the unfamiliar. Here are a few thoughts:

1. If you simply can’t put up a tree, sip eggnog and listen to carols, then don’t. Do what you can to get through the season – order Chinese takeout, binge watch the newest season of The Crown, soak in a bubble bath, paint your nails. Simply take care of you this holiday season.

2. Grieve the past, but don’t stay there. Instead, focus on where you’re going. There’s a reason I talk about “The Journey Ahead” – that’s where all the good stuff is! There’s nothing you can do about what has happened this year up until now, your mental health will thank you for looking forward to all the good ahead of you.

3. Seek out your “tribe” – the ones who know what you are going through. They understand! A voice that relates to you can sometimes be exactly what you need. You can also find support groups locally or online.

4. Keep perspective. This is only one Christmas. It will come and it will go and although it may feel like the end of the world in this moment, it will soon be a faded memory and it will simply be that “one time” that it didn’t happen. You still have 40 or even 50 more Christmases ahead of you to celebrate.

5. Volunteer somewhere. It’s like a temporary relief pill for your post-divorce holiday stress and one of the easiest ways to get out of your head is to serve others. It’ll bring joy to sacrifice a bit of time, and you’ll feel the appreciation when you put yourself out there.

6. Manage expectations, but keep them realistic. If you decide to move forward and decorate the home for Christmas, don’t overdo it. It could potentially taint it forever for you. It’s not going to be magazine article-worthy, and that’s ok.

7. Eat nutritious foods, go for a long walk, get plenty of rest. A burned-out, over-tired, hungry, tense person is not going to get through the season unscathed, and things will seem so much worse than they really are. If you have to, see your doctor for help with these items.

The first year is often the hardest. I hope you believe me when I say, that someday you will create new memories, new traditions, and feel stronger that you got through this, overcame it, and reached the other side. You’ll even learn to love the holidays again. It’s okay to give yourself a break this year, and be realistic for you.

And as always, remember you are not alone. I’m here to answer your questions, support you and lead you in the right direction. Contact me today!

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