And For This I Give Thanks

This will be the fifth holiday season without my daughter Nina here in the physical sense. I find that I am far enough along in my grief to find memories to smile about now, but still close enough to remember those first few years and the piercing stab of pain in my heart that went along with them.

Thanksgiving was one of my favorites; I liked the idea of family and friends gathering together with no other purpose other than stuffing ourselves with scrumptious food until you nearly exploded, and being thankful for each other and the blessings of the past year. No presents required, just the joy of family togetherness - and the knowledge that my children were here...all of them. On that first Thanksgiving the empty chair and place at the table seemed to scream out at me that someone precious was missing. And the message of this particular holiday was thankfulness? What on earth could I ever find to be thankful for? Some TCF parents have memories of being unable to choke down any morsel of food because they were continually trying to choke back tears that first Thanksgiving. Just wanting to curl up in a ball, pull the covers over their heads, and wake up some time in January after the last remnants of the holidays were cleared away. In all honesty, I cannot tell you even one detail of that first one: where I spent it, who was present, where I was, or if I cried all day.  I am sure the numbness factor of early grief shielded me from the memory of something that was so inconceivable...that my precious daughter was gone...forever. 

Almost five Thanksgiving's later, have I found reasons to be thankful? I asked myself this question and decided to put pen to paper. I was surprised to say the list was quite lengthy, so I will only share a few of them. I am thankful for:

- My memory, because now the painful memories are, more often than not, replaced with the beautiful memories of the past, and they were such beautiful memories.

- My life, for whom else will keep Nina's memory alive? Of course, my family, but they have lives, as they should. I am the self-appointed keeper of my daughter's memory.

- Nina. The joy of loving her, the privilege of being her mother. Though I wish it had been much longer, I wouldn't trade those 15 ½ years for anything.

- Smiling a genuine smile, laughing a hardy laugh, and finding my sense of humor again. I sincerely believe that Nina likes to hear me laugh and that she would want me to find humor in life again.

- My sight, because I commented--for the first time in five autumns--on the magnificent colors of the autumn foliage and the grandness of Minnesota's most sumptuous season. I didn't think I'd ever notice again. But I did.

- The Compassionate Friends, who showed me there is life after the death of a child; who allowed me to express my emotions, listened patiently, understood my pain, and welcomed me into their hearts. They helped salvage what remained of my sanity and I will be eternally grateful.

- The opportunity to give back. To bring hope to the newly bereaved by sharing the knowledge that it won't always hurt this bad, and that you will make it with the love and support of family and your Compassionate Friends. And, that there will come a time that you too will find things to be thankful for again.

I am told, by those who know, that peace is the light we are searching for at the end of the tunnel. Though I find myself still looking for it at times, those further down the grief road have reassured me it will come, maybe not this Thanksgiving or next, but that it will. And I believe them…

Cathy Seehuetter, Cottage Grove, MN - written November 1999

About the Author
Cathy began writing about her grief not long after her beloved daughter Nina Westmoreland was killed at the age of 15--on Cathy's birthday--at the hands of a drunk driver. Her stories have been published in Chicken Soup for the Christian Family Soul, Open to Hope, Tincture of Time, and the Best of Bulletin Board, as well as numerous grief publications including Living With Loss and We Need Not Walk Alone. Cathy has served on the TCF National Board of Directors from 2004-2010, and is currently Minnesota Regional Coordinator and St. Paul, MN's chapter leader. Since that time, her stepson, Chris, took his own life in June of 2012, and she hopes to write about her journey as a bereaved stepparent and the complexities of a loss by suicide. She is the proud mom of her three surviving children and five wonderful grandchildren.
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