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New Year’s Eve — No Pressure

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Ah, New Year’s Eve is coming soon. For anyone who has lost a spouse recently that simple thought may be simply dreadful. Reactions to any holiday may range from I hate this to Boy I’ll be glad when this is over. Holidays — especially the first ones you’re experiencing alone — can be nerve wracking, beginning with the decision to even attend any celebrations.

New Year's Eve champagne

Granted, you may not want to be alone while many are out celebrating. And you may want to go because you and your partner always went out. But that was then, and this is now.

So, here’s a thought: say yes to an invitation, attend and then, if you’re feeling miserable, simply leave. Wait, that sounds like incredibly poor manners.

Well, take it from Tammy, manners should be the last thing on your mind and, better yet, most everyone will agree with you. Who’s Tammy? She was a HOPE group member who faced her first New Year’s Eve as a widow and accepted an invitation to a party. Long before the ball came down in Times Square, she stood alone in her hostess’s living room surrounded by groups of people chatting and laughing. With a full glass of champagne she had not tasted, she quietly said to herself, I’ve made a mistake.

Without another thought, she called Uber, grabbed her coat and left without anyone noticing her slip out. The following Thursday she shared her actions in group and got a surprising response from two members. “I was at a party. I wish I’d had the guts to do what you did. I was practically having a panic attack.” “That’s exactly right,” another said, “I stayed because I didn’t want to hurt the host’s feelings.”

Now, how’s this for a follow-up. On New Year’s day Tammy’s hostess called her to ask if she was okay. Tammy, almost embarrassed, admitted what she had done. The hostess, in turn, said she’d done exactly the right thing — “You take care of yourself, I was so worried about you.”

The point is, your friends and loved ones care about you. Of course they’re going to understand if you feel you have to leave. Now, just give yourself permission to do so.

Have A Plan

High-tailing it out of a party may be an extreme example of tending to your own needs. So, instead of making snap decisions on the fly, how about thinking about things in advance.

First off, admit that you just might not want to be around crowds this year. That’s okay — it’s perfectly fine to decline invitations to any holiday gathering or celebration.

If you do decide you’d like to attend a party or family gathering, realize that your response is not written in stone. It’s okay to change your mind. It’s always polite to give the host or hostess a heads-up that you’ve decided not to attend, but your responsibility ends there. You do not owe anyone an explanation for your actions. While you’re at it, also remember not to beat yourself up over your change of heart. Don’t agonize over your decisions.

Finally, think in advance about your exit plan if you’re not feeling right. Grabbing an Uber and hitting the road is acceptable. But quietly pulling the host or hostess aside to say an early good night is — let’s admit it — a bit more socially acceptable way of leaving. It’s just a good idea to confront this possibility in advance and know what you’re going to do if you’d like to leave. Moreover, if they’re a friend and know your situation you’ll undoubtedly get a sincere goodbye and probably a warm hug.

With all the memories and the talk of the New Year holiday, it’s important to acknowledge that grief does not take a back seat during the holidays and can often be magnified. It’s important to acknowledge your feelings and not avoid them. You may experience both negative and positive feelings during the holidays while grieving, and that’s okay. Be kind to yourself and remember that all feelings can coexist. You can say to yourself, “I can miss my spouse and enjoy the holiday at the same time.”

The reality for many people is that the holiday season is not always as merry as we want it to be. It is normal to feel apprehensive about it and you are not alone in feeling that way. Remember that there is no right or wrong way to approach a holiday, especially New Year’s Eve following the loss of a loved one.  

As you stand at the door of this new year, feel the hope as you walk through and breathe a fresh breath of gratitude for each day. May this be a year filled with many healing moments.

By Evelyn Pechter, Psy.D.