My elder daughter, Helen, was born on Thanksgiving day. She died in 2007 from the injuries she received in a car crash. “Blunt Force Trauma” was the official cause of death, words no parent wants to hear. I find it odd that Helen was born on the 23rd of the month (November), and died on the 23rd of February.
For me, Thanksgiving is a happy-sad time, a happy day because I’m with family, a sad day because of the empty chair at the table. Since I don’t know if I’ll fall apart emotionally or hold myself together, I have to prepare for this day. You may be facing a similar challenge. How can we take care of ourselves? How can we practice self-defense? These steps have helped me and may help you.
Most of the time I eat a healthy diet, but the holidays can make me stray. Food is everywhere and it’s easy to fall into the over-eating trap. When I go to a luncheon or am invited to dinner, I try to avoid salt, sugar, and fat. If the host or hostess asks me to eat more, I say I’m full. Sometimes I ask if I could take a dessert home, a way to avoid over-eating.
When my husband and I go out to eat, something we don’t do very often, I focus on fruits and vegetables, and avoid condiments. I’ve ordered from the senior menu, which has smaller servings, and eaten appetizers as a main course. Sensible eating provides me with the energy I need and doesn’t make me logy. To eat sensibly, however, I need to be constantly alert.
GIVE TO OTHERS
As the years passed, I realized that giving helped me cope with the death of my daughter. Money was tight when Helen was going through a divorce, and she relied on the local food bank. For several years now, my husband and I have given money to the food bank in her memory. We did this again this year and it’s a fitting memorial. I think Helen would be pleased with our decision.
In December I’ve giving a workshop at a grief recovery center in my home town. The title of the workshop is “Affirmation Writing: A Grief Recovery Step.” Of course we never recover from grief fully, we learn to live with it. Still, I like the title of the workshop and it makes recovery a possibility.
As usual, I’m giving the workshop for free. I speak to many community groups for free, give away lots of books, and also write for free. Writing for others always helps me. Giving to others makes me feel good inside, and that’s good for grief reconciliation. Chances are you’ve given to others, but if you think about it, will find even more ways to give.
DRAW STRENGTH FROM NATURE
The grief process envelopes us in such darkness we may miss nature’s details. After a long winter Minnesotans emerge from their homes like soldiers from bunkers. They stare in amazement at purple crocus buds, watch the trees leaf out, and start thinking about summer gardens. The changing seasons can serve as a comfort and inspiration.
From my desk I can see the flowers in our garden, the tall birches, oaks, and pine trees on the hillside. One day a large buck with massive antlers strolled through our yard. What a surprise! I like to watch changing cloud formations, which can be dramatic on the prairie. Yesterday I awakened to a pink and blue sky with cotton ball clouds, a beautiful sight.
CARE FOR THE SOUL
During the holidays we may rush around to avoid painful thoughts. As a bereaved parent, daughter, sister, and niece, I know trying to outrun grief doesn’t work. Rather than trying to escape my thoughts, I try to control them. If a negative thought comes to mind, I counter it with a positive thought.
I also get support from my church, my devoted husband, and close friends. But nobody understand my loss like the other parents who have suffered the loss of a child.
Helen died just when she was soaring in life. She was an active AA member, sober for 29 years, became a composite engineer, earned her MBA, found a satisfying job, and was assured of advancement in the company. Although her life was too short, I’m glad she was part of my life, and blessed to be the grandmother of her twins.
When I look back at my grief journey I can see the progress I’ve made. I made a conscious decision to create a new life and have done that. In many ways, becoming the twin’s guardian, along with my husband, saved me. Every family member knows Helen was born on Thanksgiving. There will be some teary eyes at the dinner table, but these tears will be balanced by love that never dies.