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Your 3 Steps to Survive Thanksgiving Day Grief

by Lynne Houston

Thanksgiving Day can feel particularly cruel to those mourning the loss of a loved one. Not only do they find it difficult to feel appreciative during Thanksgiving, but the traditions and gatherings associated with the holiday intensifies the loss.  If you’re grieving the death of a loved one or know of someone who is – my hope is that these Three Steps will offer some comfort and help you cope with the Thanksgiving Day holiday.

Step 1: Take Control of Your Fear

Often, those mourning a death wonder, “How can I avoid thinking about him/her during the Thanksgiving holiday?” The truth is that you can’t — so why even try.  Instead of letting the fear of those past memories dictate your holiday, empower yourself by incorporating his or her memory into your Thanksgiving plans.  For example, place a favorite photograph of your loved one and a lit candle that signifies his or her presence in your hearts throughout the day. Did your beloved enjoy a particular holiday food? Then make sure you serve it in his or her honor. If you feel up to it, ask your family to share their favorite memories before or after the meal. It’s not uncommon for families to set a place for a departed loved one at the table — the empty chair serving as a visual reminder of your loved one’s presence. After the meal (assuming the tryptophan and wine hasn’t kicked in), maybe visit the cemetery, memorial site or that special place you’ve both enjoyed.

Step 2:  Start Fresh

The Thanksgiving traditions we form with our family and friends through the years can sometimes feel like prison bars. Baking that special Sweet Potato Pie getting up early/staying out late to shop on Black Friday, putting up holiday decorations, etc., might be your happiest Thanksgiving memories, but ask yourself  “Will they bring you joy this year or just add to the pressure.  It’s because you’ve always done it that way and others expect it.  It’s okay to consider starting a “new tradition”  just for this year — that fits with your energy and mood. Consider making or maybe buying a different dessert this year, shop for gifts online, or ask a friend to put up your decorations. Remember, you can always resume your original tradition next year, but you might discover that a new tradition is just as fulfilling.

Step 3:  Know Your Limits

Finally, and perhaps most important, however you decide to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, know your limits ahead of time. For example, if you traditionally spend the entire day with family but don’t think you’ll feel up to it this year, then tell them beforehand that you want/need to leave by a certain time. If you usually accept several invitations of various family members, friends, and neighbors, but don’t think you can do it this year, then only accept one or two.  Choose the ones you feel most comfortable with and who will offer support when in need. And if you wish to limit your social activity simply because you would like to be alone, then that’s okay, too. Once again, anyone who truly loves you and knows the pain you’re dealing with will understand.