3 Ways to Be Thankful During Grief

The holiday season often becomes a season of renewed grief. The passing of a loved one, whether fresh or years past, becomes raw again as their absence is felt anew. This will be the third season without my mom, and I keep functioning under the idea that it will get easier. Perhaps, in some ways, it does. But in many ways, I feel the aching emptiness of the spaces she filled.

I’ll be honest. Mom wasn’t that great of a cook or baker. She wasn’t bad, but there wasn’t anything exceptional either. But now, I miss her freshly baked gingerbread cake and homemade lemon sauce. I miss her turkey and the way she despised making it. I miss her laughter as she sat down to wrap Christmas gifts and shooed me from spying on her. I miss addressing all the Christmas card envelopes while she handwrote a note in every card.

I miss her. When they say grief can physically hurt, I understand that now. The weight on my chest bears down. The unshed tears make my throat sore. The mustering of smiles hurts my cheeks. The rhythm of my heart seems to make it crack a little more with each successive beat.

But I’m also learning something new. A reframing of my perspective. A way to enter the holidays with joy—true joy—while also not denying myself the reality that my grief exists. Finding ways to be thankful during grief is not easy. Especially this time of year. But it can bring about a healing to the grief that is oh, so very important.

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1. Refresh Your Perspective of Eternity

1. Refresh Your Perspective of Eternity

With the passing of a loved one comes the reality of life after death. If you are so blessed as to have your loved one know the salvation that comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ, then refreshing our perspective on the eternal is critical. The veil between life and eternity becomes remarkably thin, and the scope of the future becomes a vast horizon filled with hope.

When my mom died, I remember sort of yelling at God. “That whole verse, ‘oh death where is your sting’? Well, I found it, God! It’s right here!” I didn’t relate to the hope that the Psalmist wrote with, and in a great way, I scorned his sensationalized sense of hope. Death was painful—more than anything I’d ever experienced before.

But as I questioned, challenged, and sought the Lord on that verse that seemed so out of touch with the reality of grief, I began to come into an awareness that the “sting” of death the Psalmist spoke of was not the presence of grief. No. The “sting of death” was the finality of the separation from the one we loved. The finality of death and separation from God. The finality of drawing a line of termination to anything hope-filled. The sting of death was not the absence of grief; it was the absence of hope. And through the saving grace of Jesus, that sting has been removed, and hope is restored.

So now, as I walk through grief, as I enter the holidays without my beloved best friend, I enter it with a thankfulness for hope. A thankfulness that, while I still grieve the current absence of my mom, I anticipate the reunion that is still to come. This revives in my broken heart a healing.

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2. Remind Yourself of the Blessings

2. Remind Yourself of the Blessings

An old Bing Crosby song is often sung around the holidays due to his infamous movie White Christmas with a line that croons, “When I’m worried, and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep.” It can almost sound trite, but when I’ve taken the time to purposefully engage in the counting of blessings I shared with my mom, it is amazing how my grief becomes cloaked in a soft blanket of thankfulness.

Today, I walked past a display in the local store. It was one my mom always rolled her eyes at in exasperation. I could hear her say, “Oh, there it is again!” with her half-laugh and half-growl of disdain for the display. In the middle of the store, I laughed. I laughed and counted the blessings of the funny things that would trip my mom up and make her roll her eyes. It is a memory that I now hold close to my heart, and in moments of grief, I become so thankful for. Those laughs that barely made an impression in the moment but made an impression in my forever memories.

I also recall the blessing of her daily phone calls—calls that don’t come anymore. But instead of focusing on the lack of ringing from my phone, I purposefully take the time to remember her voice. Remember the mundane and daily conversations we had. I thank the Lord for the blessing of walking through life with my mom for as many years as I had her.

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3. Remember it Was Your Last Goodbye

3. Remember it Was Your Last Goodbye

The third and final way I’ve found to navigate through grief—and frankly, whether it’s holiday-related or not—is to remember that I’ve had my last goodbye with my mom. Now, this sounds a tad callous, so let me explain.

A few weeks ago, my son came to my room with tears because he, too, was experiencing that recurring pain of the missing. After sharing memories, wiping away tears, and snuggling, I said to him—without realizing I was also speaking to myself—“Just think. You’ve already managed to get through the worst possible goodbye you’ve ever had to say to your Nanny. You’ve said your very last goodbye to her, and you’ll never say goodbye to her ever again.”

My son looked up at me as if I had perhaps lost my mind a little. So I leaned into him and whispered, “But you haven’t said your last ‘hello.’”

We have a big hello still to come. This is the reunion. This is the hope. The next hello. I long for that day.

There is a lot to be grateful for, even as we journey through grief. We can choose to envelop ourselves in bitter remembrances and dwell on what we no longer have, or we can redirect our grief toward the truth of hope. For those of us grieving loved ones whose faith leaves behind a legacy, we have so much to be thankful for, so much to hope for, and so much to look forward to.

While maneuvering grief will never be easy, and there will be bumps and heartbreaks throughout, reminding yourself of these three things will be a good step toward learning to live differently. Learning to live without them in your life. Learning to live with thankfulness.

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