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Grief and Thanksgiving: Finding gratitude

How grateful are you this Thanksgiving season? For those with a recent, or even a long-ago loss, gratitude may not be the first thing that comes to mind.

I often hear that Thanksgiving Day is everyone’s favorite: no gifts to worry about, no commercial hubbub, good comfort food, no 24-hour carols. Just a quiet, low-expectation day with people you love or at least like, if they are close enough by. If they are not, then we make do with a phone call or Skype visit. But what do we do if someone important is no longer with us?

I’m not one for forced gratitude around the holiday table, as having to manufacture something feels false and isolating. But I am one for digging a bit to see what you can find that you are truly thankful for, even in the face of your loss. It may be a very small thing, hard to notice until you look. So here are some questions to help you dig. In the end, it may not be necessary to tell anyone but yourself.

Who has been there for you since your loss? How have they helped?

What have you learned about yourself since your loss, or about life?

What memory of your loved one makes you smile?

Has someone who told you a story about your loved one that you had never heard? What a gift.

What do you think you added to the life of your loved one? Many of us fear that we didn’t do enough, but chances are we did plenty. What did you do for him that you can feel proud of?

Thanksgiving may be the perfect time to begin a practice of cultivating gratitude. Look for little bits of it in every day and collect them at the end of the day, to share with someone, or collect in a journal, or write on a slip of paper to put in a gratitude jar. Gratitude can coexist with grief, and soften its edges, if only we look for it, any time of year.

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