Thursday, November 17, 2011

Grief, loss and change at Thanksgiving

I wrote an article here last year about grief and the holidays and specifically about Christmas time. Thanksgiving time can be a pretty hard time to take when you're grieving as well. Long-time readers might remember that I grew up in a household with my mother, sister, grandparents and bachelor uncle. When my uncle died unexpectedly at the age of 55, my grandfather was heartbroken. Since my grandmother had already passed, my mother did the best she could to make it a nice Thanksgiving for us all, but it remains to this day one of the saddest Thanksgivings in my memory. Harder still was the Thanksgiving the following year when my grandfather passed away (on November 3) and the year my son was stillborn (on November 1).

 But there are other situations that can make Thanksgiving sad or even a little difficult. The first Thanksgiving after my only sibling's divorce was strange. We lost the fellowship with that complete family perhaps, for better or worse we lost an in-law and the dynamic changed. With re-marriage my family dropped down a little further on the extended-family totem pole.

 Looking ahead I see the other changes to what had become our typical Thanksgiving Day - the introduction of girlfriends and boyfriends, fiances and spouses for my own children. Right now I have two sons just with girlfriends and already the holiday has the potential to be fragmented in so many ways.

So here are some tips for making it through Thanksgiving during a time of loss.

 1. Don't set anything in stone. Life changes. A lot. Be flexible enough to change with and enjoy each season for the blessings that come with it.

 2. But some changes are just really difficult to make. If your loss has been so great that you just feel numb and traumatized, there's no law against having a smaller Thanksgiving celebration - maybe go out to eat instead of fixing a big spread, or maybe just a simple meal at home surrounded by things and people that are comforting. Maybe this is the year to just be quiet, be still and just let your body and spirit feel soothed.

 3. Or really change it up. Last year for the first time, three of my kids ran a race for the homeless on Turkey Day. It was a totally different kind of Thanksgiving Day than I ever remembered - it was fun and it was for a good cause. One year we helped out with Mobile Meals and that was a great way to change things up as well.

 4. A loss is a loss. You can't pretend it didn't happen nor should you. Find a way to memorialize a lost loved one, either through a special prayer (A very Catholic thing to do in November anyway!) or visit the cemetery to put down some flowers, light a candle, or maybe write a letter, play some special music.

5. Find something special for THIS Thanksgiving. Maybe it is going out to see the Christmas lights, or maybe a family hike, take pictures, or buy something special for the table, or something nice to wear or perhaps to give to someone less fortunate. Make this Thanksgiving Day count for what it is and celebrate it for that.

 6. Don't forget to offer a prayer of Thanksgiving. No matter how bad it gets, there is always something to be thankful for. Life itself is a gift.

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