Thanksgiving in our family is no longer a distinct holiday, as we spend it celebrating Christmas with the in-laws before they escape to Florida for the Winter. So, in the list of holidays to navigate through in grief, it doesn’t loom over me like many of the rest. However, thinking of all of you suffering fresh losses, it occurs to me that this innocuous family holiday can be a minefield.
The entire focus of this holiday is being thankful. When you’re grieving, it’s hard to be thankful, and even harder to appear thankful. We may be deeply grateful for so many things: our living children, our supportive friends and family, our brief moments with our babies, sometimes our own lives if they were threatened by our loss. But it’s not so easy to see that bright little light of grateful under the dark shadow of grief and pain. It’s like a tiny Christmas bulb buried way down under a bushel of burnt-out strands. Is it there? Definitely. Will it light up the room with holiday joy? Not so much.
Thanksgiving finds most of us surrounded by family. And family, much as we love them, can have a wonderful knack of saying exactly the wrong thing. Or not saying the right thing. There will be family that knows what happened and will, with all good intentions, try to ‘focus on the positive,’ invoking the meaning of the day. There will be those who will go to great lengths to travel around the giant elephant in the room, thinking that ignoring the dead baby will keep it from ruining the holiday, if not for the parents, at least for the rest of the company. There will be those who don’t know, particularly about an early loss, who will ask awkward, teasing questions about the possibility of a new baby. There will be tiny relatives and expectations that you will fawn over them. And hurt feelings if you don’t.
So here is my advice for negotiating the minefield. It’s okay to tell your loved ones that you’re sad. It’s okay to tell them what you are and are not capable of this year. It’s okay to stay home if you need to, or to retreat from the festivities if it’s too much. It’s okay to not hold the baby, or to hold the baby and cry. If these people love you, they will at least try to understand. If they don’t, then you owe it to yourself to do what you need to to make it through. Early grief is a struggle for survival. Going through the motions may be the best you can do right now. Give yourself the gift of kindness and understanding, even if no one else does. And tomorrow, it’s perfectly okay to be grateful it’s over.