November 27, 2014 is Thanksgiving in the US. It is a day when Americans gather around a big turkey feast, thus it is also known as Turkey Day to those who forget this day is about more than food and football. It is about remembering the first settlers’ difficult fight to survive a harsh winter, one many of them lost. The first settlers managed to bring in a successful harvest the following autumn and celebrated this by holding a traditional English harvest festival. It is that event which the Thanksgiving feast commemorates.
The original community who gave thanks to God for their life-saving harvest had buried over half of their loved ones the previous winter, including most of the mothers, who probably died due to giving their shares of the insufficient food supply to their children. This year, it strikes me hard that people who ought to have been still grieving such bitter losses found the strength to rejoice and be grateful for what they didn’t lose. After all, November 27, 2014 is also the one-month anniversary of my mother’s death.
For my extended family, the pain remains quite fresh. We still don’t know why my mother so suddenly lost her life, since her known injuries shouldn’t have been fatal. Gratitude doesn’t come easy. In fact, it’s quite hard.
For me, the first step was definitely acknowledging to myself, God, and others I felt comfortable telling that I feel inclined to react to Thanksgiving daring to come this year with sarcastic anger. How can we be grateful in the midst of loss? It’d be difficult to suffer someone daring to lecture me to be thankful and grateful at such a time. Mind you, something about losing my mother makes me also feel more painfully my loss of being a mother to infertility. Adoption can’t cure it. Any child I do bear later also can’t replace the ones I’ve failed to have, so, yeah, my mind wants to fixate on my losses.
My second step was freely deciding I don’t want to stay in such a bitter frame of mind. This was followed with me freely deciding to trust God enough to feel God is still worthy of praise and asking him to give me a grateful heart.
“Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you,” Mathew 7:7 says, and God’s promise is faithful and true. I have felt peace in my heart, I am grateful for the comfort of the Holy Spirit, my husband’s support, the prayers of many. I am grateful Mom did live long enough to see her prayers answered and my most estranged relationship with my sister healed. It would’ve been most sad if someone besides Jesus had to die to accomplish that miracle. I am thankful for the two local friends who brought us meals, for the local friend and my in-laws, whose financial gifts helped us pay for our emergency trip back east for Mom’s funeral, which otherwise would’ve been a huge financial strain on my husband and I.
If Thanksgiving and mourning collide for you, let them. Feel the hurt. Grieve the loss. Be honest before God and trusted friends and family. If you want to heal, though, one path is to make the choice to not allow grief to keep you from being there for the living during the holidays, to make the choice to honor the true meaning of Thanksgiving by asking God to help you look up from your losses, to help you see the harvest God has blessed you with, and give you the strength to appreciate it. Know how much it means to God when we offer up a sacrifice of praise. Giving thanks to the Lord for what we have when we’re mourning deeply touches the Lord’s heart.