Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

The Holidays are here: Reflections on Grief.

with 8 comments

Grieving people are often wholly misunderstood, even by friends and family members.  And when holidays come around, that misunderstanding tends to become magnified tenfold, if not hundred-fold . . . simply put, oft-times the “advice” you get from the well-meaning is not worth the time to listen to it.

A case in point being the saying, “You need to move on” from your grief.

Move on to what, exactly?

I mean, here I am — I loved my husband with all my soul and all my strength, and I still love him to this day.  I will always love him, and I don’t see anything wrong with that — the only difference between me and another grieving widow is that it’s been six years and three months (plus a day) since my husband died, and by this time most widows don’t say anything about how much they still miss their husbands.  (Widowers, either, about their wives.)

Well, I’m tired of that unwritten rule, and here’s why.

When you love someone, you tell them.  Often.  You do good things for them.  Often.  You let others know that you care about your loved ones, as often as you can get away with it, and without pushing your relationship in someone else’s face, you do whatever you can to keep that relationship alive — a living, breathing thing.  And everyone understands that, so long as your spouse, or your family member, or your friend, or even your beloved pet, is still alive.

But once that person (or pet) is dead, all bets are off.  Suddenly, you’re not supposed to talk about the person any more, because he or she is dead.  Even though you love him or her  just as much as you did yesterday, and you appreciate his or her presence in your life for as long as he or she was able to stay, you’re now supposed to say nothing because “it’s not done.”

In fact, as a widow or widower, you’re supposed to take your wedding ring off, and prepare to date someone else, or there’s something wrong with you.  (Like Hell there is, but that’s another issue entirely.)

So now, you’re not only not supposed to talk about the person you love so much, but you’re also supposed to surrender your most prized possession — your wedding ring — because “it’s not done” to keep wearing it.

I have news for anyone who thinks this way: you are being ridiculous. 

I can’t make your decisions for you about how you grieve, nor whether you date again, nor how soon you date again, or anything else, because that’s all up to you.  (As it should be.)  But I categorically refuse to let anyone make my decisions for me.

My husband Michael was the most important, most valuable person in my entire life.  Bar none.  I refuse to stop talking about him — about his influence on me as a writer.  As a person.  As an editor.  As anything — because what we had together was priceless.  Invaluable.  And well worth remembering and honoring.

Holidays are extremely difficult.  I miss my husband with every breath I take.   And I want him back . . . oh, how I want him back.

But all I can do is continue on.  Keep trying.  Keep creating.  Keep his work alive, along with my own, and of course along with anything we started together.

Holidays, to me at least, are not entirely about spending time with family, though I do a good bit of that.  And they aren’t all about gift-giving (financially, that’s out), though I do think a great deal about those less fortunate than me and pray for the best outcomes possible.


Holidays, to me, are about remembrance.  Are about love.  Are about honor, and shared sacrifice, and about dreams becoming the truth — because, you see, Michael and I made our commitments to each other around this time eight years ago today.

And I would never, ever, wish to “move on” from remembering that.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 22, 2010 at 3:24 am

8 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Hi Barb,

    I am Likas’ fiance.

    you said a few things that I think you may have overgeneralized in your times of grieving.

    “Suddenly, you’re not supposed to talk about the person any more, because he or she is dead.”

    You may feel that is the gist of what people are trying to say to you when they say you should “move on”, but thsts the furthest thing from the truth of what they are saying.

    First I want to say I’m sorry for your loss.
    I cant imagine how broken Lika would feel if I died.

    Ok, moving on back to the subject of your blog.
    When people say you should move on, it is for several reasons.
    The most common is to offer that you should not have to become idle in your need for another significant other to be introduced into your life.
    Sure there is no way to replace Michael and nobody would expect you to feel that way.
    However, you do deserve to have somebody else come into your life and make you happy all over again.
    This is NOT a spiritual disgrace to Michaels memory.
    What do you think he would choose for you to do?
    Stay unhappy the rest of your life? or are you happy and just didn’t include that in your blog?

    You know how nice it feels to lay there with your head on your mans shoulder and your friends want to see you happy.

    Holidays may not be DESIGNED as a family thing but they became that way over the centuries and someday, you might just have another man to take to those family holidays or get togethers.

    Every person grieves differently and there is no “set time” for you to get over it and maybe you may NEVER get over it, but it doesn’t stop you from having another guy to love or love you back.


    December 22, 2010 at 5:37 am

    • Hi, Mike.

      Thanks for coming, reading my blog, and commenting. I appreciate that.

      I oversimplified things a little, yes. But you’d be surprised what widows and widowers hear, sometimes . . . let’s just say I get really tired of “move on,” because that’s ridiculous.

      Now, if you say, “go on,” I can handle that. Because all I can do is go on.

      Michael — well, he’d never want this for me. Never. Not in a million years. (Ask Lika. She’ll tell you. She met Michael and was highly impressed with him.)

      Still, I have to do what’s right for me — and just being with someone because I hate being alone isn’t good enough. I tried that _before_ I met Michael — now that I know a full relationship is possible, plus some — well.

      Someone would have to be extraordinary for me to take a look at him at this point, let’s just put it that way. (Not in looks. In personality, integrity, creativity, etc. And be a non-materialist. And not care about all the baggage I’ve got. That’s a whole lot of “ifs.”)

      Barb Caffrey

      December 22, 2010 at 3:05 pm

  2. “Suddenly, you’re not supposed to talk about the person any more, because he or she is dead.” Well, I definitely don’t agree with *that*. I think that all those (admittedly misguided) people mean is that, though the most important person in your life is dead, *you* aren’t. In some ways, that makes things worse. I completely understand your refusal to give up your wedding ring (and in your situation, I probably wouldn’t date again, either), but grieving is an active, exhausting process, demanding lots of time and energy that can’t/won’t always be spared. I think most people are stupid about grief because it is so debilitating–there’s no shortcut through it, nor is there a magical phrase that will make all the pain go away: there is no satisfactory answer for it. With time, I think, things get better, if only because you’ve had to adapt to life without. That adaptation can cause a whole slew of other problems, but don’t get me started…




    December 22, 2010 at 7:19 am

    • *Hugs* back.

      Thanks, Jenni.

      I don’t know — as I’ve said to one of my male friends lately, I have come away from the “I will never date again, ever, end of discussion” stance. But I now am only slightly off that stance, in a place that says, “If you can accept the fact that Michael will always mean everything to me, then maybe we can deal, because Michael’s part of me and that’s just the way it is.” I find it highly unlikely for most men to handle that; men, like women, want to believe they are the ultimate partner, the only one you want to be with, and that everyone who came before you was either not worth your time, or at minimum wasn’t as good as you are.

      In my case, I *cannot* and *will not* say that.

      All I can say is, a guy who wants to date me had better be a) smart and b) have a high sense of self-esteem. An excellent sense of humor wouldn’t hurt, either. 😉

      Barb Caffrey

      December 22, 2010 at 2:56 pm

  3. How DARE someone tell you, a smart, decent, sweet, loving, head-on-her-shoulders intelligent woman what she should or should not feel, or what she should or should not think. My birth Mom has been dead for 27 years and during the holidays my heart still aches so badly because I miss her so much. There are other times I miss her greatly, like seeing Baby Girl growing up, Baby Girl getting good grades in school, Baby Girl attending dance classes, my birthday, RB and my wedding anniversary. True it’s been so long since my Mom died, but I feel strongly in my heart that she would have loved me and accepted me no matter what, and if anyone so much as dared to speak against me then they’d feel her Motherly wrath come crashing down upon their heads. The only difference is you have at least a ring to still remember Michael by, and don’t you ever let anyone talk or intimidate you into ever taking that ring off until you’re good and ready, if that ever happens. If it never does happen then that’s perfectly acceptable too.


    December 22, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    • Bless you, Nicolas. And thanks. *hugs*

      I think it’s the phrase “move on” that got to me. As I said in my blog, “Move on — to what?” (I didn’t put it exactly that way. But with or without dashes, it’s a valid point.)

      I am with you regarding your Mom. I’m sure that wherever she now is, she’s happy that you remember her and think about her often, and that you’ve told your daughter about her, and that you’ve continued to do your best to remember.

      I don’t plan to let anyone tell me what to do — I never have been too good at that, as you probably are aware. 😉

      My Mom is like you, Nicolas, in that she often thinks about my grandfather (her father), and he died when I was only seven. She said that if anyone told her how to grieve, she’d not have been too pleased with them.

      At any rate, it helps me to remember how wonderful Michael always was to me, because that means I’m still alive — I know what the best part of my life was, and I honor it and value it and cherish it, and that’s all I can do at this point. (Maybe it’s all anyone can do.)

      Barb Caffrey

      December 22, 2010 at 3:29 pm

  4. […] that time of year again. It’s the holiday season, and as I’ve written before, here and here, it’s the time of the year when grieving people feel the most alone and […]

  5. […] I have written about this subject before, most notably here, here, and here. And I’ve also pointed out the many difficult problems when it comes to grief in a […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: