On Grief & Gratitude

Thanksgiving always bring up memories of holidays celebrated at Grammy’s house. When I close my eyes, I can smell the turkey baking in the oven. I can picture forty people filling every nook and cranny of Grammy’s double wide mobile home and spilling out onto the porch. I can hear children playing and distant relatives laughing and catching up on each other’s lives. I can taste “the pink stuff.” Even though I never really liked that pink jello salad with its lumpy texture, it still stirs up nostalgic feelings because it was tradition.


Those memories are such a gift. They bring a smile to my face while tears simultaneously form in my eyes. This year, Thanksgiving will look a lot different. Grammy’s been gone for years. I don’t see most of those cousins and aunts and uncles anymore. I can’t remember the last time I ate “the pink stuff.” And now in the midst of a pandemic, we won’t be travelling or gathering with anyone. Thanksgiving this year will be the four of us with a non-traditional meal.


This holiday season is just another indicator that life is not as it should be. Whether due to pandemic restrictions, the passing of family members, broken relationships, or the tension caused by a contentious election, many of us won’t be experiencing the holiday traditions that we’ve held so dear. It feels a bit harder to celebrate a day of gratitude when the grief of acknowledging what should have been is this tangible.


I feel the tension of the grief and the gratitude. It’s difficult to hold those conflicting emotions. It's easier to cling tightly to one while disregarding the other or to try to stuff the emotions down altogether. Sometimes I feel the pressure to find the silver lining or to follow up any complaint with “at least…” After all, we’re supposed to give thanks at all times, right?


But maybe we don’t have to feel the need to tidy up our pain. We don’t have to cover up our grief with gratitude. Instead, we can let the two intermingle and coexist. There’s space for all of it.


Look at how the flowers in a field grow. They need both the rain and sunshine to exist. Plants that get too much rain can’t breathe and end up drowning. But plants that get too much sunlight end up depleted of energy and burnt out. They need that balance of sinking their roots into the muck and mire and reaching their leaves to face the sun.


Maybe we’re not so different from the flowers. Maybe we, too, need to sink our roots down into the mud and let ourselves soak up the falling tears just as much as we need to turn our faces to bask in the sunlight. We need to get comfortable with the grieving even as we hold onto the gratitude.


There is space for the whole range of emotions, and we can let ourselves feel them simultaneously. One doesn’t cancel out the other. When we learn to hold the tension, we understand what it means to be human in a broken and beautiful world.


This Thanksgiving will be a lot quieter than usual. It will probably feel more like a normal day than a holiday. It won’t contain much of the tradition that we’re accustomed to. There won’t be any pink stuff, and we probably won’t even eat turkey. We’ll miss out on the laughter and joy of being with extended family. I’m letting myself feel the weight of that grief even as I celebrate all that we have to be thankful for. There’s room at the table for all of it.

What are the conflicted emotions that you're holding this holiday season? Do you tend to hold tightly to one and disregard the other or do you stuff it all down? How can you make space for all the emotions you're feeling?


Featured image by Chris Lawton at Unsplash


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