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.

If you would like to be notified whenever I post something new, please enter your email here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Finding the Thanks

Thanksgiving is brutal on those who grieve because it insists that we be grateful for what we have. Yet in the beginning of grief, all we can see is what we’ve lost.

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

If we haven’t recovered our interest in food, and cooking traditional holiday dishes seems too happy because of death, then this item is out. Most of us interpret shelter as home, and if someone crucial is missing this year, then “home” is probably gone. Community means the people we gather with, usually family but also friends. This year our family and friends may be tired of us being dour with grief.

Because people don’t like to talk about grief, especially on a holiday when we are supposed to be thankful, there is little left for us to talk about, so we sit on the side of conversations. Or if we always spent Thanksgiving with just our partner, spouse, or significant other who died, then anything 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 after work, drinking beer after beer, and listening to Billy Joel, Billie Holiday, and melancholy saxophones late into the night until grief was numb and I could safely go home.

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

Then my friend 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 — share what I was learning with others.

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

As I wrote about grief and shared it with friends, the unexpected happened. I began to care about life again, and I found a small community of people who understood grief.

Because my future plans were wiped out with Evelyn’s death, I was left with today. So today I want to live with compassion for anyone who is suffering.

In my backyard, only a few trees still have their autumn leaves, glowing yellow and red with a deep blue sky behind. The image is stunning. Rather than work, I take a walk through the autumn woods, and give thanks for this.

Life is rather strange. And beautiful.


  1. Thank you for this post. I just lost my Mom to cancer, and facing the holidays is challenging. I just started writing about my experience in this loss. Perhaps one day I will share it, too. "Life is strange and beautiful" certainly describes well this time of grief.

    1. It was a long time, Cynthia, before I could describe life as either strange or beautiful. I had different words. It's also like saying life is sorrow but also joy. This first holiday season without your mom will probably be hard. Just keeping up with the holidays is hard. Writing helped me get through. May writing do so for you.

  2. I cooked the Thanksgiving dinner today. My brother, my SIL and I are having dinner at their place tomorrow. The reason we're having it early is because they will be out of town on Thanksgiving Day.

    Bonnie and I used to cook Thanksgiving dinner together. Both of us were excellent cooks and we enjoyed that sort of thing. We'd routinely cooked for one another, Thanksgiving of not. She died shortly before Thanksgiving, three years ago.

    The phrase, "Thankfulness is its own reward," has been going through my head for a number of years now. It is so very true.

    While some would be aghast if I said to them that I'm even thankful for Bonnie's death, in hindsight, it was the best thing for the both of us. It both ended her suffering and forced me to grow spiritually, which is something I very much needed to knock me off my high horse. Given my druthers, it is not what I would have wanted; I fought against her passing tooth and nail. However, in the end, though I miss her terribly, I realize it was a gift from God, the best thing that could have happened for all concerned.




    1. Even if it was the right decision, even if we had no choice in the matter, even if there was no alternative, it is still hard to let go of those we love.

    2. My wife, Sandie died two years ago, on October 12th. The last two Thanksgiving Days were spent with family. This year my daughter and her family are traveling, so I'll be alone. I was invited to someone's house, but I really don't want to go there. I'm not sure why, but I'd rather be alone. I plan to spend a lot of time talking to God, and I'll go to the cemetery with flowers. It was a special Thanksgiving in 2011 when Sandie said she would marry me, and I'm most thankful about that. I will also remember all of you who have lost a loved one, and pray for your healing.

    3. I like that you are honoring what you feel you want to do. This is not to say that it will be easy. I expect that it will be meaningful on a number of levels. May you go through the day mindful of both your sorrow and your joy for Sandie. May we all be mindful of the many who are in our community of grief.

  3. ...oh this ls very helpful..l just want lt to be over...but l also realize l am not the only one hurting and will be there for others who share my fresh grief..

    1. There are many who feel the loss of someone today, someone who should be here. Our's is a scattered community.