November rolls in with cooler weather, Daylight Savings time, and preparations for the holidays. Also around this time of year, people start encouraging one another to think about and share for what they are grateful. Sounds like a good idea, right? With Thanksgiving approaching, giving thanks makes a lot of sense…unless you are grieving.
How Grating Gratitude Can Be
When asked for what they are grateful, those in grief tend to bristle. For many, gratitude was brought up soon after their loved one died. Well-intended folks may have said such things like: “At least you still have two beautiful children living,” “You ought to be thankful you are so young because you will find another partner,” or “Isn’t is wonderful how much time you were able to spend with them before they died?” These statements communicate the speaker’s attempt to comfort and “fix” the grief by helping the person look on the “bright side.” It rarely does. Considering this, no wonder this time of year is so challenging for those in grief!
When we grieve the loss of someone so important to our lives, it often creates tunnel vision. This is incredibly understandable and somewhat desired. This person meant so much to us! How could we imagine a life without them. And, this also what makes it harder to see beyond the “fog of grief.” When in it, the fog of grief feels like it will go on forever. When I was in the fog, was I thankful for it? Was I thankful for the mushy brain, impromptu jagged sobbing and constant pain in my chest? No. I did recognize that feeling this intensity of grief meant to me that I had loved my husband immensely. In ways, suffering helped me feel close to him. And, yet, I also realized that I would not feel this severe side of grief forever.
Is There Anything Good in Grief?
Somewhere along my grief journey, I found myself intentionally trying to think positive thoughts. I made it a game because I knew I could think lots of negative thoughts. That was easy. Thinking of anything positive was really hard. I did this begrudgingly but knew that grief had flavored my thinking into more depressing, dark and somber thoughts. My concern was that this would impact my brain, make it too easy to come back to the negative and dark thoughts. I started small. I found the tiniest things for which to be grateful. For example, there would be days that I would think how grateful I was for the clothes on my back, for having eaten that day (or at least having access to food I could have eaten), or a bed on which I could sleep that night. I also thought about how grief had helped me to prioritize things and people in my life. This included myself. I discovered how important self-care was. These I counted as areas deserving of my gratitude.
There is nothing particularly special about the holidays that makes it easier for those grieving to feel grateful. So, by all means, do not feel pressured to join the masses in counting your blessings…unless you want to do that, of course. It may be more helpful to know that memories of holidays past may be more prevalent. It may be a good time to be more compassionate towards yourself knowing that this time of year can take more of your reserves than normal. And, if you would like to think of one thing about which to be grateful, honor the fact that you are doing the best you can in each of these situation, especially when it comes to the holidays.
Please treat yourself and others gently as the holiday season arrives. And, please remember, you don’t have to journey alone.