You Can Be Thankful As Well As Sad

I recently sent a card to a friend whom I have not seen in decades. It was her birthday week and I wanted her to know that I am thinking of her. I saw on the internet that both of her parents had passed on and I am sad for her. Her parents were wonderful people and their loss must be profound for the entire family.

During that period when they passed away, I was in the process of entirely changing my life: from a cross country move that I did not anticipate to leaving academia and removing toxicity from my life, everything in my life was in flux. Because I was so mired down in all the details of making those changes, I was not there for her in the way I should have been, and I wanted to tell her I am sorry for that.

I would love to hear from her so we could reconnect. The truth is, however, even if I do not hear from her I am okay. I am grateful for our friendship, especially during our teenage and young adult years. As a middle-aged woman, I know that sometimes our relationships are like seasons that come, go, return, only to go again.

I will always be grateful for her even if our time remains in the past because she enriched my life immeasurably. Any time someone can leave us better than they found us it is a gift. The key here is finding gratitude versus seeing the loss. This is not always possible, needless to say. But in this instance, I can do exactly that, making me even more grateful for the friendship we shared

On Thanksgiving focusing on gratitude is one of the main reasons behind the holiday.

And yet, how often do we get mired down in the shopping, cleaning, preparing, and all the details while forgetting the actual purpose behind the day? How often do we focus on our sorrows and lose the perspective of being grateful and the humility that brings with it?

Is it possible to stop amid the whirlwind of the holiday to have time for reflection and gratitude? I believe it is not only possible but necessary. It takes a lot of purposeful intent to hit pause amidst the chaos, but in doing so it allows us to process our wins, our losses, and to access where we are in that moment.

As you prepare and enjoy the holidays, remember to nurture your emotional health because any loss or sorrow shows up seemingly in a glaring spotlight during these times. It is often far too difficult to find gratitude in those moments. And yet, I think we all need to try to do so.

Insomuch as I love planning, cooking, celebrating, and enjoying the warmth that seems to manifest during this season, I sometimes find myself dealing with a sense of loss amid the holiday season.

I think back to my childhood and adolescence, filled with large family gatherings surrounded by my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I love remembering those moments around a large table filled with holiday foods and love. I remember being annoyed at being relegated to the “Kid’s Table” and yet once I arrived at the “Adult’s Table” I found it less interesting than I thought it would be.

Throughout my life, each relative hosted a different holiday and we all made those memories together.

This does not mean everyone got along perfectly. Certainly not and as I got older, I realized why my parents were less than fond of certain family members. There was the relative who was often caustic in her remarks and generally unkind. The cousin who ran amuck, not listening to his parents. But there we were amidst the turkey and the various Polish foods, laughing, eating, and sharing every single holiday, from Thanksgiving to Easter.

Like many families, this simply was the way we lived. Easter at Nana and Grandpa’s, Thanksgiving at our house, Christmas with my uncle and his family, and New Year’s Day at Aunt Mary’s. We always had multiple types of kielbasas; we always had full plates and warm hearts.

When I reminisce, it reminds me of people who are no longer here and a time that has gone by. My parents have replaced my grandparents as the “Old People” (yes, we used that term in our immediate family) and now I am the age I think of when I think of my parents.

In those moments, my inner joy is replaced with a sense of grief. It sneaks up at the oddest moments and sometimes I suddenly find myself teary-eyed. People passed away, others moved, and so it goes as journalist Linda Ellerbee always said.

Those moments of reflection and a wish for what was do not mean I am ungrateful; it means I have lived experienced a lot and part of that involves loss and change

As I grow older, I have come to realize that you can be thankful and simultaneously down at the same time. One emotion does not diminish the other and we should not feel the need to hide our sorrows or sadness, even if it makes us feel out of sync with the rest of the world.

The truth is that all of the hopes and promises of the holiday season add an extra layer of silent pain amidst the joy. This year I am mostly good, but I will admit that I have my moments when sadness wells up inside as I miss people, places, and certain times of my life.

Sometimes we are looking back, sometimes ahead at an uncertain future; either way, the holiday season brings with it a complexity of emotions. And contrary to the world of television and movies, you likely will have sad moments or even deep valleys of sorrow amidst the joy. That is perfectly normal.

Even if you are currently in a happy place, your losses may rise to the surface, or you may even be wrestling with a general sense of sadness.

How many of us look at our Thanksgiving table happy to see those who are with us, but also feel a pang for those who are not? Sometimes their absence is due to death, but it can also be a result of divorce, estrangement, even a change in geography. The truth is that throughout our lives people come, people go, and even if you work your way through it all, battle scars remain.

This does not necessarily diminish our capacity for gratitude or joy; missing those who are no longer in your life means they were important.

They were meaningful parts of you and through that sorrow, there is still something to be grateful about. I am thankful for all I have been given all year long, and through my sadness, I recognize just how fortunate I am to have grown up as I did. I may miss those people and those moments in time, but thank God I had them.

As you gather this year it is healthier if you can pause and allow yourself the time and space to acknowledge your emotions. Take some time to think about the people you are missing without feeling guilty towards those around you. Embrace their legacies of love as you grapple with the loss.

Loving others and having family time can be joyous. But realize that sometimes comes at a later cost when things change, and people are no longer with you.

The loss is tempered by the love that remains and the feeling of gratitude the comes with the legacy of love.

And while so many are no longer present, they made me better. They made me stronger. They gave me love and taught me how to love. They made me who I am.

Those are all incredible gifts that I am lucky enough to carry with me wherever I go. Whether it is a friendship that may have come and gone or a beloved grandparent who passed on, their love lies within me still burning brightly.

How thankful I am for it all, every last bit of joy and sorrow.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving.



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