How to Survive Thanksgiving When Your Heart is Breaking from Grief

from Anne-Marie Lockmyer

Thanksgiving.

A day meant for families, friends and traditions, great food, memories and celebration. But it sure wasn't like that for me after my husband died. That first Thanksgiving was like a knife in the heart turning round and round. I was already hurting but the holiday season just made his absence even more apparent. I couldn't escape it.

The messages of thanksgiving, family, happiness and gratitude were quite a contrast to my reality.

SO HOW TO YOU GET THROUGH IT?

SKIP IT:    Yes, I am giving you permission to skip Thanksgiving. If you really want to and you don't have children to create a special day for, then you can decide not to do Thanksgiving this year. Tell people you are just not up to it . BUT, if you decide to do this, have a plan on what you want to do instead.

LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS: Keep in mind that grief drains us emotionally, physically and mentally. We need to lower our expectations of what we can realistically do.

MAKE IT SIMPLE. Go out to a restaurant or have a pre-ordered meal so you can have the celebration without all the work.

DON'T FEEL YOU NEED TO BEHAVE HOW OTHERS WANT TO SEE YOU BEHAVE. I felt like I had to pretend that I was okay when I was anything but. I should have told people that I was having a tough time.

TELL OTHERS WHAT YOU NEED: My big mistake the first Thanksgiving was that I didn't tell people what I wanted so they had no clue. I wanted a place setting at the table for my husband and a special toast. I wanted him to be acknowledged. BUT I didn't tell anyone that! And they were too uncomfortable to ask me what I wanted. Who could blame them? Grieving people can cause others to feel awkward. They are afraid they are going to say or do something wrong and upset us. If I would have told them what I wanted, I know they would have happily done it. Do you want your loved one to be acknowledged? Would you rather not talk about them? Do you need to come late or leave early because it is too much for you? Please tell them!

COMMUNICATION IS THE KEY TO MAKING THE DAY AS SUCCESSFUL AS POSSIBLE.

Friends and family are usually desperate to help you if they know what to do.

If you're the one grieving, TELL people what you need.

 If you're hosting someone who is grieving, ASK them what they need.

AS A FAMILY, TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT. Get the children involved as this is part of the healing process for them too.

TALK ABOUT THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM. I always recommend that on occasions like this, sometimes the best thing to do is just gather everyone together at the very beginning and just say "Okay, let's talk about it. Uncle Mark is not with us today and we are all sad and missing him. His absence is so deeply felt." Have a toast, a group hug and cry and then get on with the day. At least this way it is acknowledged and it actually relieves a lot of anxiety and is also healing.

TRY TO FIND MOMENTS OF LOVE AND JOY if at all possible. Often, there are precious moments on these days if we are with friends or family. Enjoy them and try to find gratitude if you can. It really does help. And don't feel guilty if you do have good moments. That is not betraying your loved one. I thought if I was happy it meant I wasn't missing him.

The emotions of grief are complicated aren't they?

We may not be able to create the Thanksgivings of the past this year, but we can help this one be a bit better than it could be by planning , communicating and being realistic. Don't repeat my mistakes. Our loved ones would want this to be a good day for us.

And remember, you hurt much because you loved much.

If you want a list of ways on how to remember your loved one by deliberately bringing them into this holiday season, download the list of ideas here.

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