Finding Gratitude in the Face of Grief


It’s that time of year. Nearly everywhere you look, the holiday season is in full swing. It can be a special—even magical—time of year. Perhaps you are already planning a big family get together, deciding on delicious meals and choosing thoughtful gifts to give.

The holidays can also be overwhelming with so much to do, and so many expectations. Special times can also be a reminder of people who were once at the dinner table but are no longer with us. Remembering loved ones when we celebrate can bring with it a greater awareness of their absence.

No matter your situation or the loved one you’ve lost, everyone can benefit from finding ways to cope with anxiety and stress. One of the more simple ways to do this is to note those people and things we are grateful for in our lives. This doesn’t need to be big deal or even shared with anyone. Just taking a quiet moment for yourself to reflect on those things for which you are thankful can be a compassionate and healing approach to moving through grief.

Sometimes it is all too easy to feel stressed and to focus on what isn’t perfect or who is missing. A deep breath and a positive thought can shift our perspective. Looking for small things to be grateful for can help us to slow down a little bit. Along with, maybe even instead of, rushing to take care of the big things on your to-do list, it may encourage you to appreciate, remember and savor the moments in your life that have mattered—and the people who played important roles. Looking for the positive can help reframe the holidays and honor your memories.

Finding gratitude can be as easy as it needs to be to work for you. It might be useful to write out those things you have discovered to be thankful for, a small way of bringing a little light into the world. The process of noting a thought on paper can give your ideas, and yourself, time to breathe. At other times just a whisper to yourself in a quiet place, maybe even just noting having a minute or two to yourself, can help turn a corner within. If you have lost a loved one, you might take the time to recall a shared positive experience, allowing memory to the ease the longing.

You may find it helpful if someone just sat beside you and listened with a caring heart without expecting you to be any different. The pulse of life in their company may be an encouragement.
Along with holiday decorations, you might display something that was meaningful to your loved one—perhaps a piece of jewelry or art, or a special photograph. If there was a treasured recipe, consider preparing it as a way of honoring the relationship, noting that while the person themselves is no longer present, the relationship can continue and evolve. Playing music that was a shared pleasure can be a way of experiencing connection with your loved one, to include grief and joy and all the feelings in between.

Don’t forget the benevolent impact exercise can have. Consider dancing to the music you’re playing or going for a walk to get your blood flowing. Our feelings are a physical experience, not so much of our minds. Getting our bodies moving can help us move through our feelings as our feelings move through us. Those of us limited in our physical activity can nevertheless get a boost from a mild stretching routine.

Lastly, take a little time to recognize what you can and can’t control. Focus on those things that bring some satisfaction and comfort. Be kind to yourself as a way of generating kindness for others. Conversely, small acts of kindness can be a way of generating kindness within. Swap out the holiday blues for renewed strength and hope, one moment of gratitude at a time.

Alex Weiss serves as a Grief Counselor at Partners In Care, Central Oregon’s oldest and largest provider of hospice and palliative care.


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