holidays during loss

Tender Thanksgivings after Loss

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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.

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon G...

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930). The First Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth in 1621. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

between yesterday

and tomorrow.

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

autumn has

for me!

Why do I feel so happy

as the leaves

turn golden

or red,

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,

new leaves,

new fruit.

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?



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About Linda
For everyone, life sometimes brings shipwreck moments.

Ours happened when four friends woke us one beautiful May dawn to break the news that our 25-year-old married daughter Krista had died 7000 miles away while volunteering in Bolivia. Our hearts shattered, much like the shards of her bus that plunged over a mountain cliff.
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Desperate. Determined. Unwaveringly confident. In 1896, a Norwegian immigrant named Helga Estby dares to cross 3500 miles of the American continent to win a $10,000 wager. On Foot. BOLD SPIRIT: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk across Victorian America introduces readers to this fascinating journey of an audacious act of courage and love of a mother trying to save a family farm.

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Support for Parents

+ Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors On-line forum and website

+ American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) (Formerly Candlelighters Childhood Cancer)

+ Compassionate Friends

+ First Candle: Support for Stillborn and SIDS deaths

+ Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide (LOSS)

+ MISS Foundation (also in Spanish) On-line support groups : Infant & toddler death and advocacy

+Parents of Murdered Children

+ TAPS: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors: 1-800-959 3277 for survivors of military deaths