Thanksgiving In Grief


This guest post, written by Mary, explains how to survive Thanksgiving and the holiday season as a parent in grief. You can read more from Mary at the James Project website and Facebook page.

Thanksgiving is a beautiful holiday for Americans. We take the time to remember family and appreciate our blessings. Traditionally it is a time to come together with those we love and share a meal with each other. Thanksgiving pulls us together when throughout the course of our year we can all be pulled in so many opposing directions. Thanksgiving also simplifies the gathering. We are together to just be together - absent from the distraction of gifts that Christmas and birthdays bring.

When you have lost a child in the months leading up to the holiday (as I have) or if it is the first couple of years since your child has died, this season can be a mine field of unexpected grief bouts. There will be many people and articles to tell you how other people should act and what they should not say. Usually we bereaved parents hope that our family and friends read these articles in an attempt to be more compassionate, more understanding, more able to give us the space and time we need. I have heard that has been successful for some. For many it is not.

Letter to me

An instructional for the bereaved would have been helpful for me on what to do and how to manage grief through the Thanksgiving and the holidays. Advice woe to cope when you are not invited to the family gathering; when people do keep saying things they should not say to you; when you do not know how to keep living during this time of year that focuses on family and children. Twelve years later, here is my letter to myself. It would have been helpful if someone had told me this back then. Maybe this will help you or someone you know; maybe not. Trust in what your heart responds to and follow that.

The memory of your child needs you here, healthy and in peace.

Dear Me of Thanksgiving, 2001

1. Don't try so hard. Absolutely no one who has not lost their own baby in the way you lost James could even come close to understanding the deep, raw pain and cavernous void. There will be words, articles, thoughts that you wish others would read and understand. But just because that may have helped someone else's family and friends to understand does not in any way mean that your's will. As a matter of fact, they won't.

2. Eat living foods...and drink a glass of red once or twice a week. You will not want to live but you must go on. Fresh fruits and vegetables will sustain you without much preparation or thought.

3. Walk/Hike.

4. Meditate.

5. Breathe in as much fresh air in a day as you possibly can.

6. Remain polite, but never listen to the advice or opinion of someone who has not walked in your shoes. They cannot understand or appreciate your experience.

7. For every one Facebook post, tweet, blog post, paragraph you share publicly about what happened to your son keep the next four private. People won't care for every memory the way you will want them to.

grief during holiday

8. Accept the change in holiday traditions immediately. Your living children will not be getting any favors by you trying to maintain a facade of things are the way they always were. The exhaustion will catch up. The facade will crumble.

9. Nurture the relationships with your living children and your spouse as if they are now your pregnancy. James time is now family time. You will need these people who have also experienced this ultimate loss to be ok. To make sure you come through together, take the time to nurture their needs. Besides your own, no one else's needs matter as much as these people.

10. Carve out a special set time each day/week or month for you to spend just 'being' with James. This is not to be travel time for a conference or a presentation or advocating for legislation to protect others from a similar preventable fate. No, this should be quiet. Just you and your deceased baby.

11. Buy china from thrift shops and then break more dishes. Finding an outlet for the anger is crucial. That suggestion from that one counsellors works well for you. Break dishes in the driveway (into a trash can). There is something primal and symbolic and nearly perfect to help you relieve the pain and anger.

fathers grief homepage

12. When people say and do mean hurtful things, walk away and do not apologize to them. Do not rush back and think you can fix anything; you can't. You will want to but won't be able to. Leave it alone. You have done nothing wrong and they are blissfully ignorant. Prayer that they remain so; and go find a friend who, sadly, you met because she/he too lost a baby.

Above all remember that you matter. Your heart and soul are terribly battered and they will remain so; but you are beautiful.

Wishing you, where ever you are, a Thanksgiving with a few moments of peace and connection with your baby boy.


Me, 12 Years After the Beginning