Celebrating Thanksgiving When It's Hard to Give Thanks
- Thursday, November 03, 2011
The holiday of Thanksgiving provides us an opportunity to reflect upon all the things for which we are thankful. For most people, the upcoming season is a time for creating fond memories with family, friends and food. But for many of us, especially those who are out of work, battling health problems, or suffering a loss of some sort, it is a time when giving thanks for anything may seem nearly impossible to do.
The years following the day that my beloved 83-year-old grandmother walked downtown by herself, purchased a gun and put a bullet into her beautiful, graceful head, marked one of those times for me. Trying to make sense of her actions tore our family into shreds. Suicide takes death and loss to a whole different level. Those who are left behind must cope with much more than grief.
Instead of the natural, peaceful death that we imagine for our loved ones, there is now a violent element that we can never forget. There are pictures in our heads that can't be erased and questions in our souls that can never be answered. And the guilt (however undeserved) plunges us into a private form of hell. We second-guess everything we did, said, or failed to do for years in a futile attempt to turn back time and change the course of personal history.
Regardless of the trigger, depression and despair make it difficult to breath, to get up, and go through the motions of the day. Giving thanks never enters the radar of consciousness. But I have learned that the simple act of giving thanks is the first step away from despondency, and the beginning of a journey towards joy again.
"Out of the darkness and into the light" has been a recurring theme for me, one that I have explored in art several times. When my first husband moved out and we were separated for almost two-and-a-half years, I went through a very dark time. For years, I struggled with just how to cope when life punches you in the gut, your legs crumble out from under you, and you fall to your knees in pure anguish.
For most of us, the way out of the darkness becomes a sort of pilgrimage to unearth our authentic selves and establish a tangible, genuine, reliable connection with our Creator. And finding a way to give thanks is the key to beginning that quest.
If we really try, we can always find something, anything, for which to be thankful. If you hate your job, at least you have one. If you are sick and in pain, you may have a family who loves you and wants to minister to your needs. If you are alone and lonely, you probably have a roof over your head that is keeping you safe and secure. And if you are homeless, there is at least assistance out there via people and organizations who care and want to help. This bright-siding is not meant to minimize the pain and torment of life's most difficult circumstances. It is merely intended to illustrate that no matter how bad things are, we can always find something positive if we will try. It involves a change of perspective, a willingness to begin the healing process, and a desire to feel happy again.
We have all heard the cliché that if you look around, you can always find someone else whose problems are worse than yours. And this platitude may be no consolation when you are hurting deeply. But there is a reason that clichés persist; there is a grain of truth in them. The simple act of looking outside of yourself takes the focus away from you momentarily. And that is the essence of finding peace in the midst of chaos—moving the emphasis away from you and towards others.
I have also learned that the darkest periods of my life have a purpose. They serve not only to teach me, but also to give me empathy and understanding when others cross my path bearing their own suffering.
Several years after my grandmother's tragic suicide, our family was again plunged into the horror of this tortured act of self-destruction. My husband's younger brother, and then a few years later one of his cousins, also took their own lives. Because of my own experience with suicide, I had a deeper insight into their pain and torment. My attempts to offer love and solace were not only heartfelt, but they were given with an awareness and a comprehension of the vast array of emotions felt by those of us who are left behind to try and make sense of a loved one's desire to end their own life. I couldn't make the situation any better or any more bearable, but I could share my love with more compassion and a greater sensitivity to the circumstances.
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