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Giving Thanks Despite Loss

Updated: Dec 26, 2018

Written by anonymous.

Orange pumpkins in wooden baskets

My story begins at the end of October 2012. While most families were focused on Halloween and trick-or-treating around this time, I was thinking about how tough this upcoming Thanksgiving season was about to be. People didn’t seem to realize what I was going through, because they were thinking about their own stressors, like cooking a large feast and getting their guest rooms ready to prepare for their loved ones’ arrivals.

But for me, the season was different. It was lonelier because I didn’t have many family members in my life. Both of my parents passed in 2004, and my husband and I never had kids, so the holidays usually involved cruises and couples vacations. Once my husband passed away, I wasn’t sure what to do during the holidays. My step-siblings lived with their children in Norway, and immediately after my husbands passing, I didn’t have the funds to travel all the way there nor did they to travel here.

That first Thanksgiving, I decided to ask my best friend if I could attend her family dinner and she (of course) accepted me with open arms. She was more than happy to host me, and she did all that she could to make me feel accepted by her family. She took into account my gluten allergies and prepared special food just for me, and her family was careful to not mention my husband or my job (which I had lost after his death). Her whole extended family was nice and caring, and I appreciated them so very much— but I still felt somewhat uncomfortable. My own insecurities had led me to feel like I was invading her holiday.

Thanksgiving statue that spells out thanks

Something else that I noticed was that everyone else was thankful for things in their life, and I didn’t feel that grateful during this time. What did I have to feel grateful about? My husband passed, I lost my job, I was in the process of finding a new place because my mortgage was too high and I couldn’t afford to live in my home any longer….

I decided that I would go on a solo vacation to another country for my next Thanksgiving. I got a new job, and I now had the funds to travel, but I decided not to visit my sister because I didn’t want to feel like an unwelcome guest yet again. I figured that, since people in Paris don’t celebrate Thanksgiving seeing as it’s a US holiday, I wouldn’t be focused on “missing out” on a home-cooked meal and family time. Looking back, this is very typical of me because I like to run from my problems, but at the time, I didn’t realize this is what I was doing.

I decided to walk the stone streets of Rue des Barres, Rue de l'Abreuvoir and Cour du Commerce-Saint-André, taking in the immense beauty and culture. Paris was absolutely stunning, especially at night, but I still felt isolated during this trip, especially having been in a new country, by myself, without speaking the language. In face, this was the first time that I had solo-travelled in my entire life. I always went on vacation with my husband or my parents. By the end of the vacation, I decided that while it was an amazing experience, I didn’t think that I would want to go on another solo vacation the following year.

However, after this Thanksgiving, I began to notice something: I felt grateful for something in my life for the first time in a while. While I didn’t have the absolute best experience in Paris, I was thankful for being able to experience the culture and beauty. I still felt some spite about the whole idea of “giving thanks”, but I was appreciative of something.

For my third Thanksgiving as a widow, I decided to visit my sister. I’m not sure if it was the familiarity of being with people that I loved and trusted, or if it was because I was more accustomed to the idea of spending holidays without my husband, but I found that this Thanksgiving was much more manageable. I wasn’t as worried or focused on my loss and feelings of isolation. I wasn’t obsessing over making my holiday “normal”. This thanksgiving (my third one after my loss) was when I came to accept that my holiday’s wouldn’t be “normal” again.

Thanksgiving dinner table covered in traditional foods

Yes, they would become my “new normal”, but they would never go back to the way they were before, because my husband was never going to join me in our travels again. I think I was too focused on ignoring this fact rather than accepting it. While I had accepted his death long ago, I had never accepted or acknowledged that my life would not return to the same state of “normal” that I was living in before.

I realized: Everything would be different. Not just my day-to-day life, like my chores and weekend outings, but also holidays. I was trying to compensate for my loss, something that I felt like I had to do, but soon realized that I did not.

Different isn’t always bad. Quite honestly, it sucks at first, because you’ve been through such an immensely painful experience and every thought of “now I have to do this alone” is awful. The thought that everything has to change can be difficult to face, but it’s part of carrying on. You’ll always grieve your loss, but you can learn to enjoy holidays (even without your spouse there to experience them with you). We shouldn’t feel guilty to begin enjoying life again, because would your late husband or wife want you to feel guilty? Of course not, they would want you to smile and have fun again.

Now I realize that, while I won’t be traveling with my husband for Thanksgiving, I will be joining my sister and I will look forward to my “new normal”! I began to realize that I could be thankful for many things in my life, as well. I could be thankful for all of the years that I was able to spend with my amazing husband. Despite his passing and myself wishing that I could’ve had more time with him, I was grateful for having met and been loved by such a kind-hearted individual. Before, I couldn’t imagine a life without him, and now that he’s gone, I couldn’t imagine having never met him.

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