November 21, 2017
Sending you warm Thanksgiving wishes from home to home and from heart to heart~ The Cress Family
As you’re aware, this holiday is a seasonal expression of gratitude; a time when we’re to acknowledge the abundance in our nation and in our own lives. But for people who have experienced a significant loss, it can also be a time of mixed emotions brought on by a flood of (often) bittersweet memories.
As these folks watch the leaves fall from the trees and see others setting out seasonal decorations–pumpkins at Halloween, garden flags featuring a cornucopia reminding passers-by to ‘give thanks’ in November–their holiday enthusiasm diminishes. They ask themselves “How can I be expected to celebrate when my heart is so badly broken?”
In “Lifts to the Heart: Preparing for Thanksgiving”, bereaved parent Elaine Stillwell affirmed this internal struggle when she wrote, “Many of us who are grieving feel that Thanksgiving is a useless and painful holiday because we do not feel very thankful with our terribly hurting hearts.” (See Sources and Resources for the full citation).
So, in this situation, what can you do?
You’ve Really Got Three Options
You may not realize it, but this situation presents you with a valuable opportunity. When everyone around you is preparing to celebrate and you just don’t know why, or how, you should be involved, there are three options to choose from:
1. Adhere to traditional family practices, perhaps working to integrate meaningful “new” elements
2. Still acknowledge the event, while working to “change things up completely” in terms of ritual activities
3. Throw the whole holiday “out the window” and choose not to participate at all
It’s a very empowering moment. Carol Brody Fleet, author of the best-selling book Widows Wear Stilettos, concurred when she wrote; in a 2012 Huffington Post online article (see Sources and Resources for the full citation): “Taking control over your approach to Thanksgiving (and the holidays that follow) can help brighten your outlook and bring you a measure of peace.” Here are some valuable suggestions, from Ms. Fleet and other grief experts, which can help to ease this year’s holiday experience:
- Prepare and eat your loved one’s favorite menu item. “You will be surprised at how much comfort something as simple as a favorite dish or dessert will bring to you,” wrote Ms. Fleet.
- Prepare all new celebratory foods. Instead of being reminded of your loss through the preparation of the “old standards” shared with your loved one, find brand new menu items to try. Two highly-recommended food-related websites are listed in the Sources and Resources section of this email.
- If your tradition involves going around the dinner table having each guest share something they’re thankful for; ask guests to also share a story about your deceased loved one.
- To hold the special “place” your deceased family member held in the family, give them a place at the table just as you did when he or she was alive.
- Arrange to have the Thanksgiving meal in a neutral location, such as a restaurant (if you choose your loved one’s favorite restaurant, it could become a tribute to him or her).
- If it’s all “too much” for you, then get away from it all: take a mini-vacation. Next year you can choose to do something different but, if you feel this year it’s impossible to participate, go away.
There are other creative things you can do at this time of year, both in celebration of the holiday and as a tribute to your loved one:
Create a Keepsake Memory Box. A keepsake box or memory box is designed to store mementos, in this case, mementos of someone special. A keepsake memory box can be of significant help in the grieving process. If this sounds like an exciting Thanksgiving project, there are two inspiring web articles listed in the Sources and Resources section to help guide you.
Use collage to create a visual “portrait” of the deceased. Gather together snapshots, pictures of things she or he enjoyed, and images that represent great times you had together. If you’re tech-savvy, the Creative Bloq article listed in the Sources and Resources section, “The 18 best photo collage maker tools” is worth your review. However, if you’re “old school”, the WikiHow article, “How to Make a Collage”, offers step-by-step instructions (again, see the Sources and Resources section below for the citation).
Create a Shrine to Your Loved One. It would effectively be a dedicated, sacred space, where you can sit in quiet meditation and reflection. In “Creating Shrines and Altars for Healing from Grief”, Karla Helbert writes of their purpose: “Shrines and altars are ways of showing in tangible form what might be happening in our hearts and spirits. Creating shrines and altars gives us opportunities to remember, to reflect and to honor, as well as to help heal the pain of loss through the act of creating.” (See Sources and Resources for full citation.)
Craft a memorial quilt from your loved one’s clothing. This project may be too much for some; in that case, an expert quilter can be hired to complete the project. However, the publishers of “Memorial Quilts: Wrap Yourself in Loving Memories” noted “Just the gathering of women (and men!) for quilt making can provide much-needed emotional and social support in your time of bereavement.” They suggest using:
- Old work shirts with name tags, patches or badges
- Shirts or jackets with pockets that you remember getting candy out of as a child
- Dad’s favorite old ties, suspenders, or even hats
- Grandma’s aprons or gloves
- Wedding or Honeymoon items
- Old handkerchiefs, doilies, even beaded or cloth purses
- Unfinished quilt tops or blocks someone was making
- Items with buttons or any other types of embellishments
- Old baby clothes
Find a Way to Feel Gratitude
“Though it may not feel like it right this minute, you do have reasons to be thankful”, wrote Ms. Fleet, who advises readers to “Stop and take a moment to think about that for which you are thankful — your health, your family, your loved ones, your home and whatever else you treasure in and about your life. Most of all, embrace and remember that you had the love of a wonderful person — whomever that person is — whose legacies of love and memories will be with you always.”
Ms. Stillwell is equally confident in the value of counting your blessings and feeling gratitude. “Maybe we could prepare our hearts for Thanksgiving by peeking into them to find at least one and maybe even more blessings that we could count at this special time of the year.”
Sources & Resources:
- Allrecipes, Thanksgiving Recipes
- Breene, Sophia, “33 Vegetarian Thanksgiving Recipes Made With Real Food (Not Tofurkey)“, Greatist, November 5, 2015
- Fleet, Carol Brody, “Getting through the “Giving Thanks”: 4 Thanksgiving Tips for Those Who May Be Feeling Anything But Thankful“, Huffington Post, November 19, 2012
- Helbert, Karla, “Creating Shrines and Altars for Healing from Grief“, Good Therapy, August 31, 2011
- “Memory Boxes“, Country Living, June 25, 2007
“10 Ways to Create a Unique Keepsake Memory Box“, Urns Online, July 13, 2015
- Stewart, Craig, “The 18 best photo collage maker tools“, Creative Bloq, June 8, 2016
- C Stillwell, Elaine, “Lifts to the Heart: Preparing for Thanksgiving”
- WikiHow, “How to Make a Collage“