Thanksgiving is once again just around the corner, bringing with it all the pomp and circumstance of the holiday season. This time of year, everywhere you look, you’re reminded to be thankful for everything you have… Facebook friends sharing their “30 days of thankfulness.” Your pastor reminding you of the Reason for the season. Even just driving around your town and taking notice of those who are less fortunate than you can really cause you to take pause in a moment of sincere gratitude.
No one is arguing that this isn’t a wonderful reminder, of course. It’s a great thing to take a step back and examine all the good stuff going on in your life, at least every once in a while… caring family and friends, a secure job, a loving church family, or even just the fact that you have a roof over your head and food on the table. Being thankful has actually been scientifically proven to boost levels of happiness: https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier
But when you are grieving the loss of someone who’s recently passed (or maybe it wasn’t so recent), this annual reminder to give thanks for all you have can seem almost like an insult. Who is anyone to compel you into such feelings of thankfulness when you are in the midst of grieving? How can you even try to fathom this feeling of thankfulness when you are wrapped in feelings of sorrow and despair?
The more I think about it, the more I think that the reason it seems so impossible to do, is because grief is quite the opposite of thanksgiving.
No, I’m not saying that if you’re grieving it means you aren’t thankful. I’m saying that maybe it’s very difficult to be thankful for what you have now, when you are focused so much on what you no longer have (the person who’s passed away). I’m saying that maybe, just maybe, practicing thankfulness for what was, instead of what is (that is, the loss you are currently feeling), can help your mind turn its focus from the good that has been taken away from you, and refocus onto the fact that you once had that good. All the good times - all the good memories - you had with this person who was (and will always be) so very much loved. Does this make sense?
If you’re bereaved and struggling to find an attitude of gratitude this Thanksgiving, you are not alone. Don’t try to fight your feelings, just accept them and accept yourself for feeling them. After all, you wouldn’t be grieving if you’d never loved the person who has passed, and if they’d never loved you in return… as C.S. Lewis once said, “The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.”
So if all you can be thankful for this Thanksgiving is the memories, be thankful for that. Don’t try to fight your grief. It’s real, it’s the consequence of love, and you are allowed to take as much time as you need to sort through it.