Every new bride dreams of the first Christmas to be shared with her new husband. She wants it to be perfect, special, and wonderful. She conjures up images of snow gently falling in the moonlight upon the earth below, while a fire roars in the fireplace, as her new husband and she merrily decorate their freshly cut Christmas tree with ornaments they have purchased together or been given in their honor, each one with a heartfelt meaning attached. They gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes, knowing this is a unique occasion that has never been and will never be repeated. Their minds are focused only on the other, and how blessed they are to have found one another.

We WOWs (Wives Of Widowers) also want a special holiday that will burn into our memory for years to come, too. And while we can have all these special moments, there are a few glaring exceptions and challenges, with the biggest issue being dealing with the Ghost of Christmas Past (or in other words, the late wife).

My First Christmas Experience

The first Christmas season my widowed husband and I shared together early in our relationship was a turning point in his grief journey. I recall floodgates of tears as the “Ghost” made her appearance in the form of “their” significant mementos and unabashed memory-sharing. He was nearing his third year of grief, and had not had a significant other with whom to share his holidays since her death. As each of “their” ornaments made its way out of the storage box and onto his tree, my husband regaled me with story after story of “their” Christmases and what each bauble meant to him and to her.

While I truly wanted to be the supportive and sympathetic partner, my heart was breaking. It seemed as if there was nothing special left for us to share that would be wonderful in his eyes, since he had already shared it all with “her”. Selfishly, I felt as if my presence meant nothing to him, and I began to wonder why I was even there, trying to revive his otherwise dismal holiday spirit. I worried, “Would all our holidays be like this – full of only “her” memories and his sadness?”. But, I persevered, hoping once we got passed the decorating, things would improve.

No such luck.

On that Christmas morning, I eagerly sat next to him on “their” couch, in “their” house, in front of “their” tree, with “their” Christmas CDs playing in the background, secretly hoping that my gift from him would be so thoughtful and so beautiful that my insecurities would be washed clean and replaced by wonderful new traditions and memories of our own. Imagine my shock and disappointment to open my gift and find a pair of flannel pajamas with a snapped drop-bottom in the rear! Unromantic, to say the least. But a bigger disappointment than that was knowing beforehand that the late wife’s first gift from him was an opal ring with diamonds and a greeting card that dripped with sentimentality and hopes of their future together… and I got a union suit!!

This was not the one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry that signifies a man’s deep desire to make his woman happy. This was not the sentimental, “I know her so well” gift that every woman dreams of receiving from the man she loves.

Oh no! This gift didn’t even come with a lousy greeting card! THIS, my friends, was a gift that said, “I’m still not sure of my feelings for you, and I’m still so deep in grief that I’m not so sure I’ll ever NOT be”. The Ghost of Christmas Past had done what she came to do… and I wanted to hate her for it.

The Ghost Of Christmas Present

Dinner that evening was to be enjoyed at the Ghost of Christmas Present’s house, also known as my mother-in-law – a kindly widow of age 69 who welcomed me, loved me as if I were her own child, and was happy I had come into the family fold, but even more so into her son’s life. This was a woman, although sweet and petite, to be reckoned with, for she took no prisoners, even her own children, when she was crossed. Tonight was to be no exception. Having noticed her son’s gloomy behavior all through dinner and throughout the evening, I discovered years later that this wise and wonderful lady, while I packed the car with our gifts, took her son aside and sternly spoke a reasonable facsimile of these words, with a mother’s love and a widow’s heart:

“Holidays have always been a little hard for me since your father passed away, son. But you’d never know it, would you? You only see me smiling and enjoying my family. That’s because what happens on each Christmas day is more joyful, more wonderful, more special, and bigger, than the grief I bear. And do you know why? Because life is for the living – and I’m not through living mine yet! And YOU, my dear son, need to remember that you have just begun to live yours. I have so many children to love and grandchildren to watch grow. My past is bright with memories, and my future will be, too, as long as I remember that TODAY is my gift – the most precious gift of all – and the people you love and who love you today are what makes Christmas wonderful.”

Make It Your OWN!

I believe that every day of life is a gift from God, and to live for the present is to show your appreciation for such a gift. Those who live life to the fullest and embrace with love the special people around them for the joy that they bring will never grieve so badly that the Ghost of Christmas Past ruins their holidays. They will laugh, love, share, and be happy, even if the Ghost makes an occasional appearance.

I wish I could say that from that day forward, I received from my husband the best sentiments that Hallmark™ had to offer, jewelry to adorn a queen, and never again had to face the Ghost of Christmas Past. But, I CAN tell you that I have always received flannel pajamas each Christmas, because they represent a special, funny tradition, unique to my marriage and no one else’s… and I couldn’t be merrier.

I now experience Christmas as it should be for every married couple… snow gently falling in the moonlight upon the earth below while a fire roars in the hearth, as my husband and I merrily decorate our freshly cut Christmas tree with ornaments we have purchased together or been given in our honor, each one with a heartfelt meaning attached. We celebrate life in “our” home, open gifts on “our” couch, with “our” CDs playing in the background. We gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes, knowing this is a unique occasion that has never been and will never be repeated. Our minds are focused only on the other, and on how blessed we are to have found one another.