gratitude in grief
First Thanksgiving after Hurricane Katrina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Setting the family table for Thanksgiving gives a painful reminder of losing ones we love. Empty places… once exuberant with life. Especially during the early years after a death, holiday celebrations take intentional planning because our hearts pulse with grief.
But Thanksgiving is unique because it’s very nature calls us to be thankful during loss. After the harsh 65-day ocean crossing in the Mayflower and the brutal winter of their early settlement in Plymouth, the Pilgrims had lost nearly half of their 102 members to disease and death. Yet, even grieving the 49 losses in their beloved community, they still celebrated in 1621 when their harvest came in and added abundant venison, cod, bass, and turkey. The remnant looked to the future with hope.
So did the New Orleans families celebrating after Katrina in the picture above where their decorations related to life after the disaster, including an MRE package, cans of water, battery and cel-phone. Even the Phillipine parishioners gave thanks in recent Sunday church gatherings after their devastating losses. Each have discovered that digging deep for gratitude becomes a tool for resilience. But it’s not easy.
A friend told me of one defiant and truthful mother who told a counselor, “I don’t want to find blessings in a broken heart.” She may have been responding to friends trying to comfort her with the panacea of”counting one’s blessings” too early after a death, before she engaged in grief work.
But ultimately, the pilgrims clearly were on to something. Parents tell me they only entered peace and acceptance when they could eventually remember with thankfulness all the child meant in their life.
There’s a small book of poetry by Dom Helder Camara called A Thousand Reasons for Living that has been a companion during the years following our daughter’s death. An archbishop in Brazil, he was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the poor. He’d often rise at 2 a.m. to write brief meditation/poems that his friends collected into small books. His poetry, alive with awe at the wonders received if we stay open to each day, reminds me to stay both present and hopeful during difficult seasons.
A Thousand Reasons for Living Poetry
Don’t let yourself be torn
Live always and only
God’s today. 14 February 1964
I’ve written earlier about the healing power of nature and Helder Camara speaks to this too.
What a curious charm
Why do I feel so happy
as the leaves
when I know
they will soon be falling,
leaving the tree
stripped and bare?
My joy lies in the certainty
that life will prevail over death:
new buds will burst,
29 February 1976
Last night, as we celebrated an early Thanksgiving feast with our son’s near-by family before leaving for New England to visit our daughter’s family, I looked across the table. Though Krista is with us only in spirit, we cherish the wonder of Erin, our six-year-old surprise granddaughter who enlivens our life immensely. She reminds me of the joy in staying open to “new buds that will burst.”
Have you found it’s possible to have gratitude amidst grief?