Gratitude through grief

Blog Published: November 24, 2022
By S. Audra Turnbull, IHM
an empty bench beneath a tree with autumn leaves

When I was growing up, our family hosted the Thanksgiving meal each year at our home. For most of my childhood, our table overflowed with people. The entire day was filled with extended family (and too much food!). It was a time to be thankful for those gathered together.

However, for various reasons, our table this year will only seat three people. Untimely deaths and relatives moving away have changed the holiday experience. A smaller table has been my experience for a few years now. After a global pandemic and tough economic times, I know I’m not alone in anticipating a smaller gathering.

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time of taking account of the blessings God has given to us. A table full of those you love is certainly something to be thankful for, and most of the country will certainly be celebrating this way. But when there’s a chair or two missing it’s easy to focus on what you’ve lost rather than what you have. This time of year can be one we just want to survive – and that survival tactic can become its own painful tradition if we let it.

But even as the tradition evolves, Thanksgiving can still be a time to be grateful. Over the years I’ve learned to accept and to find the blessing in sharing a smaller table (or no table at all). I started to be more intentional about how I spent the holiday and found other ways to celebrate my gratitude while focusing on the family I still have.

One year I joined in a protest on Thanksgiving Day. I was grateful to use my voice to raise awareness of an injustice. I then spent the rest of the day at our IHM Motherhouse in Monroe, Michigan, with sisters that didn’t have anywhere else to go. In this way I shared my gratitude for everything my IHM sisters have done for me over the years. It turned out to be one the best experiences I’ve had to date.

Another year my family and I served the homeless a meal at a local Salvation Army shelter. I think we all appreciated what we had been given even though we had recently lost someone so dear to us.

Grief is hard – and especially during the holidays. This time of year will always have a tinge of sadness when a special loved one leaves us too soon. We grieve the loss of our loved ones and the loss of familiar traditions as well. In these tough times we remember God is with us at the smaller table. In his book “Just Ministry,” Richard Gulu writes, “We remember that a strength other than our own pulled us through, a wisdom greater than our own opened the way.” Although sometimes it may be hard finding ways to recognize our blessings, this time of year is good for our souls.

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