This week, millions of families all across America will be sitting down to share a meal with people they cherish. At nearly every table there will be turkey, pumpkin pie and a side dish of sadness. Almost every home will be missing something, or rather, someone.
I think of my own brother, on this 23rd Thanksgiving without him. I think of the hundreds of families I have worked with this year. The family who lost their brother to a heart attack, and then had their living brother diagnosed with cancer. I think of the family who lost their precious four-year old daughter to illness. I think of the parents whose son was murdered by his friend. I think of my young friend who had a brain tumor removed on Tuesday. With all these sad occurrences, I don’t know how any of us can even find the appetite to eat. It seems a harsh reality when your happiness has been so challenged.
As the years go by and we grow older, our lives become richer in meaningful experiences that encompass the entirety of our lives: joy and loss.
Some of us at the Thanksgiving table may have suffered terrible losses in the past year. How can we find room for thanks in our hearts? Others of us may be seated alongside someone who’s grieving and not know how to act.
What can we do? We can draw support from each other by looking for hope in those around us.
One of life’s greatest hope-givers is the innocence of young children who can still experience unbridled joy without realizing that what goes up, must come down. One day this summer I was sitting in my dining room working on my computer when I heard the familiar voice of the little girl who lives down the street wafting in through the open windows. “Hi Mollie! Hi Mollie!” she called out. As I looked up, I saw her cruising by my house on her bike. Dear Charlotte yelled hello to me every time she passed my house, whether there was any chance of me hearing her or not. Trust me, when I did hear her, my heart overflowed.
Children hold so much space for connection, and we need to truly appreciate that when life seems bleak. They forgive quickly and ask for love when they need it. Why don’t we? We hold onto past grievances like trophies and quietly wish that someone will notice our loneliness.
As we face the realities of life, including tremendous losses, we need to remember that it is possible to hold space for both joy and sadness. They can share the same table, and in an authentic world, they always would.
Holding space for sadness at the holidays doesn’t come naturally to everyone. But it is a loving choice you can make to show compassion and empathy for those you care about.
When you hold space for reality, you meet people where they are, rather than asking them to change for you.
On holidays when I am sad or grieving, I try always to remember this: What a gift it is to have time in the company of people I care for. This is the thought I try to hold on to. Being around children especially helps me appreciate that gift.
For those of us who haven’t suffered loss, and who have lots to be thankful for this year:
-Let the newly bereaved cry without making them feel like they need to leave the room. They are grateful today, too, and have counted every blessing hundreds of times. But their hearts are crushed.
-You don’t need to fix anything or cheer anyone up. The death of a beloved spouse, or a parent, or a child cannot be fixed. Connection is more valuable than cheerfulness. Meeting people where they are means connecting with them so they don’t feel isolated. Try saying something like, “I know this day is so hard without Michael here.”
-And most important: SAY THE NAME of the person who has passed. SAY THEIR NAME. SAY THEIR NAME! There is nothing that comforts the bereaved more than knowing their loved one is remembered on holidays when every family member should be present.
“I remember when Hannah ate the entire can of whipped cream on her pumpkin pie.”
“Theresa loved hosting Thanksgiving so much, it was her favorite holiday.”
“ I wish Paul was with us today.”
Hold space at the holidays for reality, knowing that a meaningful life encompasses both joy and sorrow. Gratefulness is hard to feel during times of deep grief, but making a choice to acknowledge every small blessing is the place to start healing your heart.
Even an avalanche begins with a single snowflake.
We invite you to learn more about booking a personal session with Mollie that has the potential to ease your grieving significantly.
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