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In my family I have a bit of a reputation for writing self-deprecating Christmas letters. It started on a whim a dozen years ago after I had gotten a holiday letter from an acquaintance who had listed month after month of things like: “In January we spent several glorious weeks on the French Riviera where we ____.” (Fill in the blank and let your imagination run wild when you do. She claimed to have done just about everything a tourist could do and then some.) By the time I got to December my eyes were crossed from reading about her “fabulous” travel adventures, her “fabulous” new house and her “fabulous” fashion finds. I can’t say I was jealous---that’s not in my nature---but I did find the comparison between her life and my newly acquired caregiver life to be laugh-out-loud funny. So I sat down and dashed off a letter that went something like this: In January we were pleased to host a gathering of red cardinals at our bird feeder and in February we were SO excited that we were able to get the oil changed on the Blazer then dine across the street at Burger King.


I sent off copies of that letter to a few people in the family who I knew had a good sense of humor and thus my annual holiday letter was born. My mailing list, since then, has grown every year and I didn’t even miss sending a letter last year, my first Christmas without Don. I duped that letter’s theme to be: "sharing what I’d learned about widowhood." I won’t reprint the whole thing here but the next paragraph will give you an idea its tone:

“I’ve also learned that many widows have an overwhelming need to review their entire relationship with their dearly departed and to talk endlessly about their suddenly single challenges. And since so many people around us get alarmed (or bored) when we appear to be locked in the past and/or locked in the process of grieving, we either start bottling our words up inside or we talk to ourselves or we write. I did the latter and started an online, public blog/diary titled The Misadventures of Widowhood. Okay, correction aka confession here. If total honesty is required in Christmas letters---and I think it is, Christmas being a holy holiday and all---I’ll have to admit that I also spend a great deal of time talking to myself, to the dog…and to Don’s ghost. Yes, call me a crazy lady but I do think he’s haunting the house. How else do you explain things like a battery operated candle that sometimes turns itself on and, no, it doesn’t have a sensor eye to activate it. I’ve looked for one a half a dozen times. Maybe a vibration from a truck going by causes the battery and bulb to make contact? I don’t know but why accept logical explanations when ghost guessing is more fun?”
Back to 2013. For contrast and tracking widowhood progress, here’s a short excerpt from the letter I mailed out a few days ago with my Christmas cards, my second holiday season without Don in my life:
“Summer put me in overdrive trying to find a social life that didn’t involve coupon clipping and double checking the thread count in my bed sheets. I went on several day trips through the senior hall where no one really cares where we’re going so long as the bus has an on-board bathroom. I joined the Red Hat Society, the Sculpture Park and Gardens, the Historical Society, several senior hall groups including the Movie and Lunch Club, the Life Enrichment Lecture series and their monthly luncheon/entertainment programs, plus I joined the Crusade Against Injustice for Fruit Flies.”
Christmas letters are a little like "literary fruitcakes." They aren’t everyone’s cup of tea---to write or receive. I don’t blame any first year widow who doesn’t want to send out cards, let alone include notes or letters inside. You have to be true to yourself. If you can’t do it, don’t. But I’m a letter writer by nature and last year I felt like doing a little sneaky educating about the grieving process---at least about MY grieving process. And you know what, I think it made a difference to let my family and friends know that it was perfectly okay to mention Don around me, that I actually craved those conversations. Over this past year, no one treated the topic of Don like an elephant in the room nor did they look at me cross-eyed or with pity if I brought him up like so many other widows report happens to them. And that was a wonderful gift I accidentally gave myself via the power of a widow's Christmas letter. ©
My other blog can be found here.

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Comment by Blue Snow on December 17, 2013 at 3:34pm

Diane, I agree. My caregiver years taught me so much about myself and my husband---our strengths and weaknesses. I grew into a better person having gone through all that we did. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Comment by Patience on December 15, 2013 at 5:41pm

Reading this made me feel better. Yes, when I was a full time caregiver, my husband's cousins were full of stories about Ireland, Paris and all sorts of ...things...  I wouldn't trade the time spent caring for my husband, the lessons learned, people we met, the journeys we traveled for anything. 

Comment by Blue Snow on December 13, 2013 at 4:22pm

I like your two part letter idea, Lori. Thanks for the comment!

Comment by Lori on December 13, 2013 at 9:04am

so true and finding the humor and grace to convey what you are going through does help us all.  I used to write Christmas letters and then to those in the know I'd do the "rest of the story"  the first half being a typical we spent 2 weeks at our vacation home, the rest of the story would tell all, that our vacation home was the hospital or dialysis center.  you are an inspiration.  Thanks for sharing.

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