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How Can I Be Thankful?

“How can I possibly be thankful for anything anymore?” That’s what constantly raced through my head in the days before the first Thanksgiving after the death of my four-year-old daughter, Margareta, in September 2009. My husband and I had managed to skip Halloween completely that year, but the anticipation of the first big family holiday in the aftermath of Margareta’s death was overwhelming.

I discussed the anxiety with my grief counselor. What should I do? Should I accept my brother and sister-in-law’s invitation to Thanksgiving dinner? What if I burst into tears at the Thanksgiving table? Worse yet, what if I developed a full-blown panic attack? And there was no way I was going to participate in the tradition of going around the table saying what we were thankful for. NOTHING! There was nothing I was thankful for. In fact I was the absolute opposite of thankful. My daughter was dead…never coming back.

My counselor gave me helpful suggestions. She advised that I talk to my brother and sister-in-law and let them know that I preferred a small gathering over a big one. She said I should request that we not say what we were thankful for that year. She also suggested I sit in a chair closest to a door where I could quietly excuse myself and leave if I started to panic or cry. The advice alleviated some of my anxiety.

The first Thanksgiving went rather uneventfully. I managed to get through it unscathed. In the five years since, our family has often opted for non-traditional Thanksgiving venues. We’ve taken our other children skiing or to amusement parks. In those cases, Thanksgiving dinner was eaten unceremoniously at restaurants. Other times, we’ve participated in smaller traditional Thanksgiving dinners with relatives. We still don’t say what we’re thankful for. This year we’re going to have a quiet, smaller dinner at home.

I’m much better at dealing with holidays these days, but it is still a painful reminder that for the rest of my life, my daughter will remain missing from all our family events. While I am able to recognize many things to be thankful for in my life again, I will never be thankful that my daughter is dead. Ever.

I think the holidays get easier to handle as the years go on. The gaping wound has closed in the last five years, but the scar of a broken heart will last forever. Intense pain has been replaced by a quiet longing for my daughter. Rather than focusing on the devastating pain of her death, I’ll keep trying to learn to focus the joy her short life brought us – and for that, I am truly thankful.