During the month of November we celebrate Thanksgiving Day. For many of us this is one of the best holidays of the year because there is no shopping –except for the sumptuous food for the dinner. It is a day when families gather and have a very relaxing day watching some ball games and enjoying the presence of loved ones. The only downside is that very often the food is so good that the temptation is to overeat. Diets can always start the next day.
For people who are grieving the loss of a loved one from suicide there is always the nagging feeling of despair and hopelessness and the thought that there is little if anything to be thankful for. In the initial stages of grief that can very true because the pain is so raw and piercing. There is no letting up of the pain. However, look at very small steps and accomplishments that one has mastered. In the beginning stages of the grief journey survivors have to literally force themselves to get out of bed. The ability to accomplish this seemingly insignificant task is in fact a great accomplishment and survivors can be very thankful for doing this. During the initial stages of the grief journey survivors need to look at the very small steps that are taken such as that first smile or laugh that takes place. Those are the kinds of occasions and happenings that a survivor can be thankful for this Thanksgiving Day. Those small events might seem insignificant and minuscule but they are monumental in the life of a survivor. The resolving of the grief from suicide takes place at a glacial pace and any positive step taken is a call to be thankful. The first time that a new survivor goes out for a social event is a step in the right direction and is a cause for thanks. Any step that advances a survivor in resuming a life after a suicide is a cause for celebration and giving thanks. For a survivor to absorb the enormity of losing a dearly loved to suicide is another step on the grief journey. This is probably the biggest step in the initial stage of the grief journey. This is also the most painful step because the survivor is admitting that this loved one found life too painful and is calling the death just what it is –a suicide. It was not an accident. It was a deliberate act that was blurred by the mental illness that engulfed this hurting person. For survivors to take these steps and make these admissions is pointing the survivor in the right direction. As long as a survivor is moving in the right direction is cause for giving thanks because in time the life of the survivor is going to take on newer and richer meaning. If survivors are able to hold on to good friends and family members during these very painful days and are allowed to express the horrendous pain that they are in is another reason to give thanks. Very often people do not want to associate with people who are in such excruciating pain because they can’t take the pain away and they feel very useless in the presence of suffering people. To be able to cloak oneself with the warmth and understanding of good friends and family members is a real blessing and a reason to give thanks. All of the above scenarios are reasons for those survivors who are in the initial stages of the grief journey to give thanks this Thanksgiving Day.
As survivors move into the intermediate stage of the grief journey there are different reasons to give thanks. The intermediate stage of the grief journey can take place within the first year of the suicide. There is no real time frame to define the intermediate stage of grief. Some of the reasons to give thanks for this stage of the grief journey are those activities that survivors engage in where there is actual pleasure and fun. This experience might be very fleeting and might not last a long time but there is an experience of joy and pleasure. For a fleeting moment the survivor might forget that they are a survivor and enjoy an evening out with friends or family members. That experience of joy might be temporary but at least it was real and a sign of hope that this aching pain is not going to be so intense and piercing and unending as survivors think that it is going to be. At the beginning survivors think that they are going to feel the intense pain for the rest of their lives but as they move into the next stage of the journey they come to the realization that this pain is lifting a bit and there is hope that it will continue to life as the journey unfolds. Survivors are more hopeful that while the pain is never going to completely end at the very least it is going to become more manageable. There are other instances that occur that are reasons for hope such as having a few hours where the loss is not in the forefront in the mind of the survivor. Survivors feel a sense of normalcy again knowing full well that there is going to be a new normal. The fact that at times the piercing pain has taken a backseat for the survivor is but another reason for thanks on Thanksgiving Day. Smiles and laughter are becoming more a part of the life of the survivor after such a long period of absence. While life is never going to be the same as before the suicide at least the pain is lifting and the journey is not as daunting.
The next step in the grief process takes place when the survivor reaches a stage whereby the pain becomes normal. It is there but is not overwhelming and so distracting. The new normal has been incorporated in the psychic makeup of the survivor. Life has become worth living again. The constant sadness has dissipated and laughter and pleasure have returned –albeit different. Survivors go about their tasks and life has taken on a different meaning since the suicide. Lives have been changed because of the suicide and in many instances these lives have become richer and more satisfying. The dark night of seeming unending pain has been transformed into a rich and fulfilling life. The miracle has happened. There are genuine reasons to be thankful. Thanksgiving Day has taken on new meaning. Survivors gather with family and friends in an honest environment of thanks. What once seemed impossible has now become reality. Thank God for this.
As I gather on Thanksgiving Day for a meal I want to assure each and every member of the LOSS family of my thoughts and prayers in thanksgiving for the enrichment that has become part of my life because of you. I am truly grateful for all of you. I encourage each and every one of you to remember each other on this Thanksgiving Day and pray for each other –especially for those who have recently joined our family.
Keep On Keepin’ On,