Courage for Christmas

It was well after Thanksgiving, and I was still sleeping in the living room. Stunned by grief, I just couldn’t imagine sleeping in the king-size bed now that the king was dead. My husband had died suddenly in early October and since then the floral sofa had become my sanctuary. Waiting for the courage to move back in to the master bedroom, I crawled on to the couch each night and gently wrapped myself up in a cocoon of blankets for comfort.

Deep down, I knew it was time to create a safe haven for my broken heart. But, deeper down, I also knew I couldn’t do it alone. I needed help. Asking for it felt extremely vulnerable, but equally essential. I was already raw with emotions and seeking help was the last thing I wanted to do. However, when Mike died, everyone had said, “If you or the girls need anything, just let us know.” It was time to ask for help.

To create my haven, the first step was to get rid of that oversized mattress. I wanted to find the bed a new home, so I asked a young newlywed couple if they could help by taking it. They came and hauled the king-sized bed to their honeymoon suite. They were thrilled, and I was relieved. Step one, done. I ordered a queen-sized mattress—I was still the queen!

After picking out spa colors, I asked my handyman friend to paint the walls. He also hung new curtains while I went shopping and selected the softest bedding I could find: rich, warm velvets and worn, handmade quilts. And lots and lots of pillows. This relocation project would require more than the usual number of pillows! I even splurged on new bedside lamps and several whimsical accents. Suddenly, the room felt magical.

I was ready to move back in and reclaim my space when I remembered the closet. Initially, having Mike’s clothes hanging on the opposite side of mine was comforting, as if he still lived there. The smell of his cologne lingered on his dress shirts and his shiny black shoes were all lined up as if he were ready to go to work. Eventually, the sight of these things began to hurt my heart. That’s when you know you need to do something. When what used to bring you comfort now hurts, something has to change.

Instinctively, I knew boxing up Mike’s clothes would be the final burial. Even though physically I could do the work, emotionally, I needed the support. I considered friends and family who could help until I settled on my sister-in-law. Melissa was a professional organizer and would be perfect for the job. Later that week, she arrived with an empty van and a full cup of coffee.

Relying on her expert suggestions, we created three categories: keep, let go, and just not sure what to do with. Diving in, we moved the things I wanted to keep to the closet in the guest room. The boxes of clothes to donate were loaded into her van for drop-off at donation sites on her way home. We bagged up the items I was still uncertain about and put them into storage to revisit at another time.

By noon, half the closet was completely packed up and my heart felt stronger. I knew I had done some of the hardest work a widow has to do. I was very proud of myself and extremely grateful for all of the help. None of us can do this life alone. We all need help at some point.

That Christmas, I gave myself the best possible present—a safe place to rest my weary body and ease my frayed nerves. But, more than that, I gave myself the gift of courage and comfort. I moved from the couch back into the bedroom. It was a journey of only 20 feet, but without help, it might as well have been a million miles.

After almost 25 years of marriage, Kristi Smith became a widow in 2011 when her beloved husband died suddenly. Kristi needed a simple “how-to” book to help her navigate the powerful emotions of grief, but struggled to find it. As she sorted through her “learnings,” as she calls them, she compiled the most profound lessons in her book, DREAM, A Guide to Grieving Gracefully. Learn more about Kristi and her book at


As the holiday season nears, there is a safe online community designed to help people process the various challenges of widowhood. If you or someone you know needs help, contact The Widows Project at or call 844-4WIDOWS (844-494-3697) for more information. The Widows Project is a faith-based non-profit headquartered in Everett.

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