Thanksgiving Grief: Finding Gratitude When You’re Anything but Grateful

Holidays and Special Days / Holidays and Special Days : Litsa Williams

Up until now, I have been in full-on denial about the holidays approaching. But Halloween has come and gone. My job started a holiday food drive last week. My mom called me yesterday to start talking logistics about Thanksgiving. And today, I noticed all the stores had their holiday displays out in full force.

The time has come to acknowledge, the holidays are coming. There, I said it. It’s official. This is my public acknowledgment that the holidays are going to be here sooner rather than later, along with my Thanksgiving grief.

Last month we posted 64 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Grief, and on that list, we said: “holidays will be hard forever.” I was struck by the number of people who commented, saying they could relate to that item specifically. 

On social media, someone said, “I deluded myself into thinking that after the first year, the holidays would go back to being normal and happy. 7 years later, I now realize the holidays will always have some pain, and, just like everything else, nothing goes back to normal.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The holidays are a reminder of the people who are missing from our holiday celebrations. Their absence is always felt, even as the years pass. Sure it gets easier…or maybe we just get used to the sadness. 

We see images everywhere of what the holidays are supposed to look like – perfect families full of perfect holiday cheer. Yet our reality looks so different. Someone important is missing, the family is changed, traditions have been lost, sometimes there’s a financial strain, pain, and conflict.  

Womp Womp.

Thanksgiving grief can color the lens through which we see things, keeping us fixated on loss and pain above all else. I know I am looking through a gray, dingy lens these days, and I have a strong feeling I am not alone. So today, the plan is simple: find gratitude. 

It only seems appropriate, with Thanksgiving around the corner, we should at least try to adjust our frame of mind by looking for some good. It may sound cheesy, but here is what I’m going to do to get my holiday season off to a better start: I’m going to find one thing I am grateful for every day. 

I know there will be moments when I’m overwhelmed by stress and generalized holiday gloom. Still, from tomorrow until Thanksgiving, I commit to take at least a few minutes every day to reflect on the things I am thankful for.

This isn’t a big undertaking. It’s attainable, and it works. Humans have an incredible ability to fixate on the negative (you can even read about our negative bias, from an evolutionary perspective). So breaking up all that negativity with positive thoughts about the people, places, and things we love can be a refreshing and much-needed shift in thinking. 

Plus, looking for gratitude slows us down. Instead of rushing past the little things, it encourages us to take the time to appreciate and savor them. It helps us re-frame things for ourselves – looking at the positive instead of the negative.

I know this can seem impossible when you feel crushed under the weight of the negative. Luckily the interwebs are full of resources aimed at inspiring us to be grateful (in an un- annoying way)

We have shared Louie Schwartzberg before, but it seems impossible to talk about cultivating gratitude without sharing this video. 

And leave it to the folks at SoulPancake to prove to us why expressing our gratitude can actually increase our happiness.

Still not feeling a gratitude challenge?  Download this gratitude journal app and get fired up about gratitude.  Come one, what do you have to lose?

Share your gratitudes with us on Social Media using the hashtag #whatsyourgratitude. Comment.  Subscribe.  

Let’s be grief friends.

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10 Comments on "Thanksgiving Grief: Finding Gratitude When You’re Anything but Grateful"

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  1. Molly Perry  November 25, 2019 at 9:30 pm Reply

    The 2 videos gave me a lift. I am grateful for that. I lost my 12 year old daughter. It was over 30 years ago. I still miss her but found other joy in my son and now his wife and grandchildren. Twenty three years ago I found my soul mate. He died 3and a half years ago. Like the previous emails have described I have had the most difficult time being without him. I have loving people in my life who have brought joy and love in my life. Though it it doesn’t completely fill the hole in my heart I am incredibly grateful for their love. I never give up the hope that I can be more like the happy, exuberant person I once was.

  2. Lovey  November 25, 2019 at 5:50 pm Reply

    I lost my precious husband 3 years & 4 months ago. Most people think I should be over his death by now, and would have learned to live with it. No – to either one. He was my everything. We did not have children – we married when I was 36 & he 40, after prior disastrous relationships we both were delivered from.
    We were together 34 years, and during the last 15 years or so, he became quite ill from COPD, but did not complain, rather was grateful for the life God gave us. He was funny and personable, the life of the party, but also a very devoted and loving husband. As time went on and we knew time was growing shorter – our love grew even more and we were inseparable. His passing was very quick, even though he did have health issues, he died unexpectedly of diverticulitis and septic shock. Just 2 short days, and he was gone. No chance to really say good-bye.
    No matter where I am – I am alone without him. No children, but I do spend holidays with what’s left of his family. I dread holidays, with the constant depictions of happy families & friends getting together in idyllic settings. I can’t wait till they’re over, and I know there are many who feel as I do. Their lives will never be the same happy one they knew, because that one so precious isn’t with them . I am not an ungrateful person, God has been good to me. But – I will never be happy until I am re-united with my love, my soul mate. How could I be? He was my everything.

    • Sally  November 26, 2019 at 9:06 pm Reply

      I am sorry for your loss, I see you and your grief matters. Much love to you.

  3. Stacie  November 25, 2019 at 4:09 pm Reply

    I lost my son 11/10/15 to a horrific accident on a freeway. He was the light of our family. Always joking around and holidays would always bring him and his battle buddies from the military to our table. I like so many others thought that after the first year or so, I could do holiday’s with family again. Things would be “normal” again. But losing him so close to the holiday’s caused a gaping hole that will never be filled. I tried the third year to make it as normal as possible but was so very exhausted and just wanted everyone to leave my house as soon as they ate dinner. This year, my husband and I are leaving on Friday for a short get away so that we can relax and not have the hustle and bustle of the holiday weekend to have to deal with.

  4. Vicki  July 12, 2016 at 3:15 pm Reply

    It isn’t working for me right now and I actually did it. I came up with 5 people I was grateful for and even let every one of them know it. I wrote it on Facebook and the names turned blue. I thought that would help because someone dropped me just because I don’t like Hillary Clinton as much as SHE does but it hasn’t helped. I think online behavior is downright STRANGE. If you told someone at work you don’t especially care for Hillary Clinton they wouldn’t then throw you in the trash (or the equivalent of it) and never speak to you again just because you had a tiny difference of opinion. I don’t understand Internet communication at all and I have a degree where public communication is part of my skills. I got it in 1998 before online social sites became a thing but the basic rules seem like they should apply IMO. This throwing someone away forever over one difference of opinion is odd behavior. I’m sorry but that’s what I think. I’m having a really rough time and trying desperately not to, and doing the exercise of finding gratitude isn’t working. Even though I honestly feel glad those people are in my life.

  5. Bob  November 12, 2013 at 11:32 pm Reply


    For those of us who aren’t on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Google+ (yes, believe it or not, such anti-social-media dinosaurs do exist), could you periodically post your gratitude-of-the-day entries to your blog?

    For my part, I was grateful today, among other things, for that awesome sunset breaking through on what seemed like a cold, cloudy, day. I took a break from work and stared out the window at it, as it evolved and then faded. Of course, no sooner did I marvel at the sunset than I thought about how I wished I could share it with that special someone who died years ago. As you wrote, the grief gets easier over time, but it never goes away.

  6. Annie L  November 11, 2013 at 11:29 pm Reply

    This put me in a better frame of mind! I still sometimes wonder why the funk hits me this time of year, but I just need to remind myself of everything to be thankful for. Thanks!

    • Litsa  November 12, 2013 at 8:47 pm Reply

      Aw, thanks Annie! I agree-sometimes we just need a reminder to focus on the positive.

  7. Judy N  November 11, 2013 at 10:46 am Reply

    I really hear you!! The special meanings that should be attached to
    Thanksgiving and Christmas have been totally destroyed by our
    society’s commercialism. So sad and is something more to grieve.
    I am shedding tears as I write for the so “right there” pain of the loss of my
    son and husband.

    • Litsa  November 12, 2013 at 8:54 pm Reply

      Oh, I am so sorry Judy. I hope you are able to find some small peace this holiday in the non-commercial aspects, as hard as it can be. Please know you will be in my thoughts.

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