The first year of firsts without a loved one.

We all remember our firsts. Our first date. Our first roller coaster ride. Our first “A” on a report card. Nothing sears in our memory like the first time of anything.

And then someone hit the reverse button, and we’ve lost someone dear to us. And now every event is a first without a loved one.

Meaning the first year of every holiday and every event can be excruciating. Who’s gonna carve the turkey grandpa always carved? Who’s gonna make the divinity that Aunt Evelyn always made? And maybe a child’s first Christmas won’t ever happen. What do you do with those “Babies 1st Christmas” ornaments that will never be hung on a tree.

While I haven’t had every kind of loss, I have had my share. My parents died less than a year apart in the late 1990s. We buried my grandmother in January of 2010, and we buried my son Tim just nine months later. (Tim passed away in his sleep at the age of twenty eight).

My suggestion? For some it may be comforting to fall into the same routines, and for some it is helpful to start new ones. But I say at the very minimum…plan ahead. This is something you don’t want to wing.

If you are a new widow and your children are far away, maybe plan to travel to see them? Or even a neutral location. While it may be helpful to be with your family during this time but in a different surrounding might be smart.

As I would assume that turning the key in the door could be heartbreaking upon retuning home. So how about not decorating this year? I know that sounds radical. But it may be too painful to come home to items drenched in memories. Little own putting them out, and taking them down. As most will still decorate, if you’re alone, how about planning to have someone come and help you tear down? It’s not wrong to reach out, and it will be apart of your process.

Never push yourself, as doing it won’t make you ready. Some will tell you it’s a sign of depression to not decorate. It may be instead, being aware you have different priorities right now. Or self preservation.

You get to choose what is best for your grieving process. I didn’t want to celebrate birthdays for awhile, as it just didn’t seem important.

And for us we still don’t decorate. (I know, there are people gasping right now). But we usually go and visit our daughter wherever she is at. (She travels a lot) So am busy getting ready for the trip. And for me, it’s too painful to pull out his stocking I made him, or the silly ornaments he made in grade school. But I think coming home to them would be even harder. Little own putting them away in boxes. I would feel I was saying goodbye to him, all over again.

As I describe in my book “A Most Incredible Witness“, our first Christmas without Tim we flew across the United States to be with our daughter. From Southern California to Chicago. It helped to be busy finding Midwestern outerwear and packing. While it was challenging to take our dogs, it helped as finding the new normal is gentler with a few buffers. You’re not always going to want to talk about your loved one. It’s just a process we all get to figure out as we go along. If there is a script, I can’t find it.

I have one friend who went through trials in childhood. So for their family they have had Chinese takeout for thanksgiving many times. Some years it’s been lasagna. And I heard one year, they even did turkey. I think it’s stellar. No where does it say we have to do everything the way society does it.

We can be thankful with fried rice.

One year we celebrated in January. It was a group of holidays all in one and it was wonderful. I got our daughter her annual dachshund calendar for half price too! I just choose to not be so legalistic about it all. Sometimes it’s ok to let things go for awhile.

You will know what you can do, and what you can’t. So whether you choose to keep your usual traditions, or start new ones please be kind to yourself. God is. He is wanting to help you get through it, and I know from experience He is never in a rush, so nor should you be.


  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Be prepared…asking for help if needed.
  • Keep it simple. Pushing yourself could make it worse.
  • Dont look for a script.
  • Learn to trust God, as He has a plan just for you!


For my husband Bill and I, we were in agreement to try and move forward and to be open to whatever the Lord had for us. So, allow yourself to rely on what God has in store for you, as He shows up especially when we need Him the most. Especially during this first year of firsts.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Such wonderful information, Emily. So helpful for the many firsts those who have lost a loved one will have to endure. Blessings to you, friend! ♥


    1. Emily L. Pittsford says:

      Thank you…Well, I am practical. And sometimes we need permission to be different when we need to take time to heal.


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