Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Finding the Thanks

Thanksgiving is brutal on those who grieve because it demands that we be thankful. But in the beginning of grief, all we can see is what we’ve lost.

The traditional things to be thankful for on this day are food, shelter, and community.

If you haven’t recovered your interest in food, and cooking traditional holiday dishes seems wrong because of death, then this item is out. Most of us interpret shelter as home, and this year someone crucial is missing, so “home” is gone. Community means the people we gather with, usually family but also friends. This year we are painfully aware of who isn’t here.

Because people don’t want to talk about grief, especially on a holiday when we are supposed to be thankful, then we have nothing to talk about when we gather and we sit on the side of conversations. Or if we always spend Thanksgiving with just our partner, spouse, or significant other who died, then any activity we do on this day is not going to be a celebration.


Seven months after my wife died, the shock and numbness of early grief had worn off, but finding anything to be thankful for was hard. Nothing interested me, and I didn’t seem to be moving through grief, just sitting in a dead calm zone where not even the breeze was moving.

I felt like holing up in a dark bar each night after work, drinking beer after beer, and listening to Billy Joel, Billie Holiday, and melancholy saxophones late into the night until grief had gone numb and I could safely go home.

Thinking that I was grieving wrong, and grief’s movements were more subtle than I expected, I began to write in a journal each day to help me detect if there were any small indications of progress. Maybe I could stir something up. I was worried that if I shoved grief into a drawer, my despair would fester and morph into depression.

Then Charlene said she was looking forward to reading what I would have to say about grief because she liked my insights about nature in Yosemite. Now I had a purpose.

This was something I could DO — figure out grief’s place in life, and its larger context.

If I had to go through the hell of Ev’s death and the hard grind of grief, then something good was going to come out of it. Evelyn’s death wasn’t going to be for nothing.

As I wrote about my grief and shared it with friends, the unexpected happened. I began to care about life again. When I took time to smile at strangers and they smiled back, I thought that maybe the world was still an okay place to hang out.

Because my future plans were wiped out with Evelyn’s death, I was left with today. So I want to live today as well as I can, and not rush through it to reach tomorrow. I want to live with compassion for everyone who is suffering. Tomorrow may never come, and what tomorrow will be will probably change before I get there.

I have today to love my friends and do what I think is most important.

Today only a few trees still have their autumn leaves, but they are stunning, glowing in their yellows and reds with a deep blue sky behind. An early snow has feathered their branches. Rather than work on something, I take a walk through the woods. I am thankful for this.

Life is a fragile, beautiful thing.

My essay on trying to find something to give thanks for on the Thanksgiving after my wife’s death was published by Open to Hope Journal. http://www.opentohope.com/thanksgiving-darkness/

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