Category

Thanksgiving

Gratitude & Your Grief Journey

By | Grief/Loss, Thanksgiving

During times of grief, we often turn our focus inward. While this tendency is natural, it may also lead to feelings of isolation and intense, singular focus on the loss we have suffered. Cultivating a lifestyle of gratitude can help us better process the losses in our lives by moving our eyes beyond our pain, allowing us to see the good things in life that still remain.

Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.  A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Let’s Start With a Definition

To begin with, what is gratitude? The Harvard Medical School describes it this way: gratitude is “a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives … As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.” 

In so many ways, we get caught up in our own troubles, our own grief. We can easily sink into the mentality that there’s nothing going right in our lives. But an attitude of gratitude helps us turn our eyes outward and see the positives in life.

What Are the Benefits of Gratitude?

Gratitude affirms that life is good and worth living.

In his book Thanks! How the new science of gratitude can make you happier, Dr. Robert Emmons shares the two stages of gratitude. In the first stage, we acknowledge the good in our lives. In essence, we “say yes to life. We affirm that all things taken together, life is good and has elements that make it worth living.” Gratitude helps us look beyond the pain we feel to see the bigger picture – that good things still exist in our present and will in our future.

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others. – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Gratitude helps us recognize sources of goodness.

In the second stage of gratitude, we recognize that many sources of good in our lives exist outside us. We realize that it is to others that we are grateful, not ourselves. In grief, we tend to isolate and keep our emotions locked inside, perhaps a bit afraid of what people will think. However, as we focus on the person or people to whom we are grateful, we look outside the bubble we’ve built and invite people into our grief journey.

Gratitude increases positive emotions and overall well-being.

By thanking those around us, we focus on the good things in our lives. And, as you might guess, dwelling on the positives naturally boosts our positive emotions. And if we are more satisfied, hopeful, and optimistic, then our overall well-being is improved.

The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude. – Thornton Wilder

Gratitude strengthens and fosters relationships.

We’ve all had that friend who takes and takes and is never grateful. Do you want to stay in a relationship with that kind of person? Usually not. A little gratitude goes a long way in strengthening and fostering relationships. During times of grief, our relationships are all the more important because we don’t have to walk alone.

Gratitude improves sleep.

In a study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, it was found that by writing in a gratitude journal for 15 minutes every evening before bed, participants experienced longer and better sleep. When we are grieving, sleep is often elusive. Grief is hard and physically taxing, which is why our sleeping hours are so important. Perhaps a gratitude journal will work for you and improve your rest.

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. – William Arthur Ward

Gratitude positively affects both physical and mental health.

Dr. Robert Emmons, who has conducted studies focused on the relationship between gratitude and health, states that “those who kept gratitude journals…exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole and were more optimistic….” In addition to Dr. Emmons’ findings, gratitude also contributes to decreased levels of depression, envy, anxiety, and stress. In time of grief, it’s important to balance the emotions we feel – whether positive or negative – and gratitude can help us find that balance.

Gratitude fosters resilience in the face of difficulty.

Resilience is the ability to successfully adapt and cope after facing adversity, trauma, or tragedy, and is often associated with mental strength. People are not born resilient. The trait is cultivated and learned through life’s circumstances. One way we can build resilience in the face of grief is to express gratitude. Realizing that we can be thankful – even at the worst of times – builds resilience. In turn, we will have the mental strength needed to process grief and move toward reconciling with the losses we feel.

What’s Next?

There are many ways to incorporate a lifestyle of gratitude into your everyday routine. A few simple options are:

  • Write thank you notes regularly
  • If you don’t have the time to write or are grateful to a stranger, thank someone mentally
  • Pray or meditate a few minutes each day, acknowledging the day’s good things
  • Keep a gratitude journal, where you regularly record what you’re grateful for
  • Express your gratitude to someone verbally

These ideas are only to get you started. Find the way that works best for you to cultivate a daily attitude of gratitude.

How Family Interviews Can Make Your Thanksgiving Memorable

By | Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal, Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is about reflection, remembrance, gratitude, and time spent with loved ones. Too often, we take our time on earth for granted, and before we are ready, a loved one is gone. While we are always aware that death will come one day to those we love, we aren’t prepared for that difficult day. But what if you could preserve the memory of your lost loved one, the stories of their life, the tone of their voice, and their beloved quirks of habit?

If the idea appeals to you, sit down with your living loved ones for an oral history interview. But what is an oral history interview, you may ask? Essentially, it entails intentionally spending time with someone, asking questions and recording answers. You may also see this practice called a family history interview or a life interview.

Why Should I Do This?

First and foremost, it’s a tangible way to show someone you love them. By sitting down with someone, spending one-on-one time with them, asking questions and sharing conversation, you add value to your and your loved one’s lives. You make them feel loved, appreciated, and that they are important to you. Also, think about what you could learn from your loved one’s successes, or even more importantly, from their mistakes? Did you know that your loved one used to go swing dancing every Saturday night as a young person? Did you know how they felt when their first child or grandchild was born?

People are simple and yet complex. So much of our lives take place internally. By asking questions, you can begin to know your loved one even more intimately and learn things about them that you may never have known.

Secondly, it’s a practical way to preserve family history for future generations, to discover the stories that bind our families together. In today’s world, so many people are interested in where they came from, what their ancestors were like, and what kind of life they lived. New websites pop up every day related to genealogy and family history. Do you want future generations to know something about your loved one? Take the time necessary to preserve your family’s story.

Thirdly, when the day comes that your loved one is gone, hopefully after a long and fulfilling life, you can take the information you’ve gathered and create a meaningful funeral service. Additionally, if you video your interviews, you will have priceless footage to use in the creation of a special tribute video that will be meaningful for the funeral service but also for future generations of family.

senior mom with her middle-aged daugther, smiling and hugging, wearing light pink blouses.

Who Should I Interview?

Whoever you want (but make sure to ask for permission first). You can interview your mom, dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, a next door neighbor, or anyone else. You could even go down to an assisted living establishment and ask permission to interview some of the residents. Your interest in their lives might just make their day.

How Do I Do This?

  1. Determine what questions you will ask.

The first step is to decide what questions you want to ask. Thankfully, resources exist online that share in-depth, open-ended questions that you can ask your loved one. There are tips on interview etiquette, how to set goals for your interviews, and how to help everyone be at ease and enjoy the time together.

  1. Select a documentation medium.

The second step is to decide what medium you want to use to record your interviews. Some options are:

  • Handwrite everything in a special journal
  • Type everything on a computer
  • Use an audio recording app or other equipment
  • Film the interviews using a phone or other equipment
  • A mixture of these options or something else that’s easy for you
  1. Spend quality time with your loved one.

Lastly, go spend time with your loved one. Start this Thanksgiving Day! If you need more time (and you probably will), talk to them and decide what day and time is best for a chat, whether in person or over the phone. Let the conversation flow naturally. Don’t get hung up on trying to get all your questions answered at once. Just be there and absorb. Remember, you won’t get everything recorded in one sitting. Take time, and have fun!

Yes, Thanksgiving is a time when families come together, enjoy each other’s company, and share laughter and memories. This year, what better way to show your thankfulness for your loved ones than by intentionally getting to know more about their lives?

Grieving During the Holiday Season

By | AfterCare, Christmas, Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal, Thanksgiving | No Comments

The absence of a loved one during the holidays can bring extremely painful feelings to the surface. Just as you’ve found your groove in a “new normal,” the holidays come at you with a whirlwind of joy, good cheer, happiness, and all things family. Needless to say, the holidays can be an emotional roller coaster for grieving individuals. Having a plan for the holidays can make this time a little more bearable. First, it’s important to acknowledge that this holiday season will not be perfect. So, what is the next step for grieving in a healthy way during the holidays? Here are five actions you can take to help heal your heavy heart:

Save a Seat

Some individuals feel sad or frustrated when a loved one’s missing presence goes unacknowledged during the holidays. They might feel as if the person they love has been “forgotten” or “left behind.” One way to include your loved one into the holiday festivities is by dedicating a specific seat at the dinner table or a spot on the couch in the living room just for them. Consider decorating the memorial area to make it more personable. For example, light a candle, set a place at the table, or fill a space with photos of your loved one and surround it with their favorite flowers or holiday decorations. Having a designated place to honor your loved one allows you to acknowledge the absent family member without feeling like they are being ignored or excluded from your holiday activities.

Keep Traditions (or Try a New One)

Sometimes it takes more than a visual reminder to keep the legacy of your loved one alive during the season. You might find comfort in keeping sacred traditions you shared with your family member prior to their passing. Cooking their favorite dish to serve at the family feast or watching their beloved classic film before bed can bring back happy memories of times once spent together. Keep in mind that new traditions can also be helpful if old traditions are too painful to face. Whatever you decide to do, setting aside time for activities that can be both joyful and painful are healthy ways of coping with your loss.

Take Time to Reminisce

Remembering the past can be bittersweet for grieving hearts. You might find talking about past times with your loved one can be an effective way of coping with your loss. Find pictures from some of your favorite memories and share the stories behind them with a family member or friend who you feel comfortable with. If you are not quite ready to openly talk about the past, scrapbooking is a creative way to share memories without having to speak a word. Another private option is to share your feelings and reminisce with the love one you miss through a letter. Transferring thoughts of memories into words may be painful, but processing them into words can assist in the healing journey.

Call a Time Out if You Need To

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can leave anyone physically and emotionally drained. You might feel especially fatigued if you are grieving during the holiday chaos. It is essential to take time away from the commotion and schedule in some time for restful activities that you enjoy. You may want to take a walk, splurge on a massage, listen to meditations on grief and healing after loss, or curl up with a cup of coffee and a good book. Give yourself time to process your emotions and refresh your spirit so you are better able to navigate the hectic pace of the season.

Give Back

Holidays are known for being a time of selflessness. A grieving heart can make the idea of giving seem exasperating and exhausting. However, if you find a cause your loved one was passionate about, you may find that giving in their honor is an outlet for your emotions. Giving can come in many different forms. If you feel capable, volunteering your time can be a great way to make a difference and keep your mind at work. Sign up to ring the bell for Salvation Army or volunteer at a donation center. If physical work is too strenuous or you are on a tight schedule, giving your resources can also be beneficial. You could gather donation items like canned goods or sweaters and blankets to give to local charities or join a local Toys for Tots or Angel Tree program.

Try to choose a cause that doesn’t require an extra errand. Financial contributions are always appreciated if that method of donation is more preferable for your family. You can do any of these activities or contributions in honor of your loved one, helping you continue their legacy, cope with your grief, and actively help those in need.

The holidays will never be the same. Going forward, the challenge will be finding a healthy balance between joy and sadness, tears and laughter, activity and rest. Remember to pace yourself, take care of yourself, and don’t take on more than you can handle.