When you lose someone you love, Thanksgiving Day feels burdensome and painful. When a brain tumor took away our precious Katie's life I dreaded that holiday. For seven years we served no rutabagas because they were Katie's favorite vegetable. The thought of their seasonal aroma wafting through our home without her in it was simply too much to bear.
I don't share this part of me today to make you sad. I share it because you are my extended family and I am yours - we are all fellow travelers. During our lifetimes we will lose people we love or they will lose us because that's just the way the cycle of life goes. But when we suffer loss we question if we will ever overcome the pain of its paralyzing grief. We think we won't survive and we doubt we can ever feel happy again. Even poor Charlie Brown had doubts, "I think I'm losing control of the whole world," he once sighed. Giving thanks seems counterintuitive, too, when we only feel like crying. But we can give thanks and we can go on. Here are a few suggestions on how to go about it.
- Make the conscious decision to live. That means you get out of bed every day and put your feet down on the floor. "Thank you for my feet" even if they don't feel like walking.
- Allow yourself private time and space to quietly listen to songs that were important to your loved one and cry some more; sigh some more; but then, switch to a different kind of music to distract yourself.
- Do something active such as taking a walk and meditating on your specific pain. Have a little talk with the beloved person you lost and allow your tears to flow; they are healing you.
- Write your longings for your beloved in a private journal; expressing your feelings is crucial for your journey through grief and sorrow.
- Go to someone else's home or to a movie instead if you don't feel like cooking - normal has been redefined for you. If you have children or grandchildren, hug them. Children don't always understand death but they understand life and it will rub off, I promise.
- Turn toward your mate or friends for consolation not against them. Seek spiritual guidance as often as you feel the need.
- Remember, the stages of grief and loss - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are particularly intensified during the Thanksgiving holiday, so consciously reflect more on your many present blessings and less so on your sorrow and losses. Our Katie told me more than once that someone else always has it worse and she was right.
- Pray for the strength and courage to accept your now life then pray some more. Do a little yoga. Yes, I know it's hard, I am not speaking in the abstract here; I am with you every step of the way.
- Consider all the other people in your life who love and depend on you. They need and want you there physically, emotionally and spiritually this Thanksgiving even if you are sad. Why? Because they love you and they want to give you an extra hug. We all need those extra hugs when we are hurting.
My friends, the Creator has planted an abundance of love and mercy in your heart for your loss. And while yes, we must surrender to the physical absence of our beloved, we also trust with all our soul that they are at peace now and we will be given the grace to find peace, too, and the courage to make this Thanksgiving Day and Every Day Matter.
Mary Jane Hurley Brant, M.S., CGP
Author of When Every Day Matters: A Mother's Memoir on Love, Loss and Life
Sarah Ban Breathnach and Simple Abundance Press Publisher