Thanksgiving approaches and people think about all of the things they are thankful for: their good health, a good job and pleasant work environment, financial stability, their pets, love, and the people in their lives. But for those who have lost a loved one, it can be hard to be thankful at this difficult time.
All of the great grief theorists will tell you that for the first year, holidays can be very difficult without your loved one. They tell you to take your time and do what feels right for you, not what everyone else tells you that you should do. The reality is that life (and the holidays) never goes back to normal, even after the first year.
Kevin Schoedinger says, “Grief is like a scar. It fades over time but never goes away.” That’s about as truthful as you can get when it comes to grief and the holidays – over time it gets easier, but the feelings experienced by the loss never go away.
Here are some other comments by people who have lost a loved one about grief and the holidays:
“I deluded myself into thinking that after the first year, the holidays would go back to being normal and happy. 7 years later I now realize the holidays will always have some pain and, just like everything else, nothing goes back to normal.”
“The holidays are a reminder of the people who should be at the holiday table, but are not. Their absence remains, even as the years pass.”
“Thankful? I think not. My life is not full these days and to be thankful is beyond my grasp.”
“I realized that my grief for my parents was rearing its ugly head as it sometimes unexpectedly does, even after this many years.”
“I lost my faith and found it hard to be thankful for anything. Then someone suggested I set a place at the table for my husband. It actually made getting through the holidays bearable.”
There are many suggestions about how to get through the holidays. It is true that everyone grieves differently and this can be challenging when gathering with family for the holidays. Some may feel that it’s not right to feel happy during the holidays; some may feel that being sad dishonors the lost loved one; and others may want to avoid any interactions with family at all. It’s not easy. Remember, everyone grieves in their own way…and that is okay.
However, recently I read an article that just seemed to make sense for me (and may be helpful for you, too). The idea is based on 14 days of gratitude: each day for 14 days prior to Thanksgiving Day, write down one thing you are grateful for. The suggestion is to write it on a poster board or chalk board where you can see it every day. “I am thankful for the fact that my neighbor brought me soup when I wasn’t feeling well. I am thankful for the man who carried my packages for me when my foot was in a boot.” By the time Thanksgiving arrives, you will be able to see that there really are things for which to be thankful.
I hope this suggestion is helpful for you. You can find other articles that might be helpful in past issues of the Mourning Report, archived on our dedicated caregiver website www.thecaregivingtree.com.