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How To Practice Gratitude When There's Grief At The Table

Thanksgiving can be all about joy, but what if loss makes it hard to be thankful?

Inspiration

The holidays are widely known as a time for celebration. It is a time when many people gather together to engage in community, cultivate connection and experience the joy of togetherness. Hallmark movies play on most TV screens and the dinner table is spread to serve people in abundance. A season that is often widely known for joy, can simultaneously be a season of grief for many. There are folks who will go through this holiday season with someone they love missing from the dinner table. A stocking that would usually be found hanging over the fireplace will be out of sight. No one talks about the heaviness of death and loss during the holidays.


Losing a loved one is a deeply complex and difficult experience to navigate. We are all wired for connection, and when the thread called life that ties us together is severed, it brings forth a multitude of emotions, many of which are painful, and rightfully so. The first year after a death is often the most painful because it elicits the shocking reminder that the person you love is gone and all of the traditions you hold will look different compared to the past.

Grief is an emotional response to loss, and as we approach this holiday season many people find peace and healing in shifting their attention to gratitude as a way to manage the heaviness of their loss. Gratitude is a way to honor those who have passed and celebrate the life they lived as well as the memories that were shared.

Here are a few tips to help you make space for gratitude after losing a loved one this holiday season:

1.Manage anticipatory grief.

After losing a loved one, the thought of the holidays approaching can actually be more triggering than the holiday itself. The anxiety of it all may make people decide to cancel their holiday plans, not make any at all, or become filled with dread when it comes to planning. When we are grieving, it is normal to hope for things to be the same, but when a loved one passes away, things will be different and that’s okay too. Consider the things that are making you anxious as you begin planning and find ways to meet yourself where you are by focusing on how you would want to honor your loved one.

2.Honor the duality of your emotions.

As people, we often get stuck in black-and-white thinking which causes us to shrink the complexity of our humanness. It is important to remember that we are people who are capable of holding space for many feelings at once, which means as you make space for joy and gratitude, it is okay to honor and own that you are simultaneously feeling anger, sorrow, sadness, and more. We do not have to pick one over the other, we are allowed to let our feelings co-exist. Give yourself permission to feel all of your emotions, not just the good ones.

3.Stay connected to family and friends for support and comfort. 

Grief can be so painful to manage it might cause us to withdraw or isolate ourselves from others, but that only worsens the pain. Making space for gratitude can look like being connected to those you love and having an understanding of the grief that you are going through. The loss of a loved one doesn’t just impact you alone, it impacts the family system and others who are connected to it. Use this time to gather together with others and share memories and stories that honor the dead but also creates an atmosphere of support and comfort.

4.Make space for gratitude by finding ways to honor your loved one.

A beautiful way to tap into gratitude this holiday season is by honoring the person who passed on and the impact they had on your life. Actionable ways to honor them can look like cooking their favorite dish, using one of their special recipes, sharing stories about them, or even reflecting on the impact they had on you. Some reflection questions to think of include:

  • I am grateful to have known this person because…
  • This person positively impacted my life by….
  • I want to honor their legacy by…

5.Create new rituals/traditions to cope with the loss of your loved one.

When a loved one passes on, it can be painful trying to keep the same routine or tradition so starting a new one might be a way to express gratitude for what was, as you make space for something new. New traditions can look like assigning new roles to people who may be assisting with hosting, prepping dinner, etc. opting out of cooking all together and going out to a restaurant, or even trying new recipes to avoid being triggered by that dish your loved one always used to cook.

When dealing with grief, it is always important to remember this: You are allowed to grieve and express gratitude without feeling guilt. There is nothing wrong or bad about focusing on good things and positive memories. You get to decide what your heart can handle and remember that both grief and gratitude can co-exist.

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Featured image by Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

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