Modified Gratitude

It’s November. Gratitude season. It’s also November: ten months after my dad died.

Holidays are painful this year. I don’t feel like celebrating a year that has been washed over with grief and pain, but I also don’t want to deprive myself of the traditions that bring me comfort and joy. I’m still deciding what to keep and what to skip.

Every November for the past 5 years, I’ve made a “Grateful Jar” and filled it with lists of things that I’m grateful for. Each one is a tiny time capsule. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make a 2017 jar, but I decided to make one that reflects my dad. I decorated it with photos of him and phrases that remind me of him like:

  • stay humble
  • listen more
  • let it be
  • be kind

I gathered paper and pens, but I didn’t pressure myself to write every day.

When I did write, I’d focus on experiences I’m grateful my dad and I got to have together. The good thing about gratitude is you can start small, and it snowballs. Sometimes I wouldn’t write anything for a week, and then I would write down one memory and that would remind me of another and another.

On Thanksgiving, I opened the jar and re-read each one. I was flooded with happy memories. It was such a special (read: emotional) way to start the day.

In addition to so many wonderful memories with my dad, I also wrote that I’m grateful for:

  1. My little nephew, Sebastian.
  2. Velveeta the cat (always)
  3. Bret for being such an incredible partner and making me French Press coffee in the morning, half marathon training with me even when it’s freezing outside, and for playing songs on his guitar when I’m sad.
  4. A wonderful therapist and an incredibly emphatic doctor who have helped me better understand and manage my traumatic grief and depression.
  5. Friends who made the long trip “up the mountain” to visit me in Boone this fall, friends who sent me thoughtful snail mail, and friends who continue to check in with me and talk with me even on those difficult days when I’m not myself.

I have a lot to be grateful for, but some days, I can’t see it. I feel helplessly sad. Or I feel angry. Or I feel numb. Because I wasn’t sure how I’d be feeling on Thanksgiving, Bret and I decided to stay in Boone. I missed being with my family, but staying home was peaceful and comforting: the two things I’m seeking most during this season. Bret did ALL of the grocery shopping and made mashed potatoes from scratch. I made Spinach Gratin for the first time which was really, really good (recipe here!) and we also made cranberry sauce and brussels sprouts and bought the most delectable yeast rolls made from scratch at Stick Boy Bread Co.

Side note: Looking at these pictures reminds me I’m grateful for Stick Boy and their delicious yeast rolls, cranberry apple pumpkin bread, and pecan pie, all of which graced our table this week. I think Stick Boy may be my favorite thing about Boone.

It’s difficult to find gratitude in the midst of grief, but sometimes, there is room for both. I can be painfully aware of my dad’s absence and I can be missing him, but I can also be thankful for the holidays that we had together in past years.

I hope you had a wonderful, peaceful Thanksgiving holiday. I’m hoping to create a holiday season that is as comfortable and manageable as possible. If you are looking for ways to support a friend or family member dealing with traumatic grief this year, here are some things to keep in mind.

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