The holiday season has arrived and I welcome it!

I open my arms to the experience of feeling excited and simultaneously having the sensation of a throat constricting grief – well-known visitors during the holidays.  Together, bitter and sweet emotions have given my life vibrancy I would have least expected, especially when my brother died sixteen years ago.

Indeed, I would have gladly cast off any emotions that are the antithesis of joy or happiness.  And as an eight-year-old at that time, I probably did avoid such feelings.  Today, I give thanks for those moments that I can mourn the loss of my brother and give thanks for the life that he lived.  Thus begins the annual journey through the holiday season: family gatherings and painful reminders of those who are not present physically, turkey and cranberry sauce and trips down memory lane!

Looking forward to the Thanksgiving holiday, I was reminded of a quote by H.U. Westermayer who wrote, “The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts.  No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of Thanksgiving.”

There is nothing quite like reading a quote that gets to the heart and marrow of the coming holiday.  How paradoxical it is, though – the thought of giving thanks while digging more graves than building houses.  So what was it that gave the Pilgrims the ability to give thanks during such a difficult period of history? Could it be that the trials they endured individually and corporately as Pilgrims added a certain perspective and dimension to life?

When I think of the Pilgrims, petticoats, stockings and buckle shoes come to mind, along with the image of a group of people traveling together.  As I begin preparing for Thanksgiving by baking an assortment of after-dinner treats and readying my stomach for the feast that is to come, I cannot help but think that all of these subtle preparations are done in anticipation of sharing a meal with those that I love – my immediate family and extended relatives, and of course our four legged companions!

If or when I feel the tears begin to pool in my eyes, I hope that the image of Pilgrims journeying together comes readily to mind.  Not only because I love a bit of sappiness every now and then, but because I believe we too are a “Pilgrim People.”

After all, Thanksgiving is a day when we individually and collectively give thanks – and while giving thanks may bring up intense emotions, I can be assured that I am not alone.  The memory of loved ones who have died is with me on Thanksgiving, and so too are those that are still living – traversing this life right beside me … two gifts for which I am very grateful!

Kate McGrath 2010

Tags: , , , ,
Kate McGrath

Kate McGrath

My journey began on March 22, 1986. There is nothing any more or less significant about my story than there is another person’s story; however, my story is unique nonetheless. I am twenty-four years old, a graduate student working towards a degree in Mental Health Counseling with a concentration in Thanatology, and an admirer of the simple gifts in life: refreshingly cool air, hot apple cider, the way leaves pick up and float gently in the air. My story has had its share of challenging moments, one of which was the loss of my older brother and only sibling, John. John was involved in an alcohol related motor vehicle accident. This event has undoubtedly shaped who I am today and who I want to become, professionally speaking, in my future. Grief, I have found, has an uncanny sense of humor – it can shake you to your core and simultaneously help you to see more clearly the importance of each day. While the death of my brother is a significant chapter in my life story, I have grown from that tragic experience and have come to realize that because of that chapter, I am at a place where I doubt I would be had my brother not died. I am grateful for the gift of my life; along with the many experiences I have had thus far – the bitter and the sweet, and have found that often, the bitter moments are what make life more significant. If my life had involved only moments of joy and happiness, I wonder if I would be able to recognize that individual quirks of others, someone’s voice, even the way someone’s clothes smell, are indeed memories to hold onto – from my experience, I believe those would have been taken for granted. All chapters in my life have been formative – and for all of those, I am grateful.

More Articles Written by Kate