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A Letter to My Grieving Friends on Thanksgiving

by Ashlee Proffitt, "The Morning," November 25, 2021. Ashlee Proffitt is the founder of "The Morning," a website and podcast for women grieving pregnancy or child loss.


Dear Friend,


I wanted to share 5 things with you that I wish another loss mom would have told me that first Thanksgiving without my son.


First, today is hard. And that’s ok.


I know how seemingly impossible it feels to be thankful and how the idea of celebrating feels like a contradiction and how maybe the only emotion you are experiencing is rage.


And I know how all of that makes you feel guilty and full of shame.


This is me, a mama who has been there, telling you it is hard. Holidays are hard. And feeling grateful when your heart is broken and your arms are empty -- when a life is missing -- is really, really hard.


So even if we know in our heads that, even in the middle of sorrow we have much to be grateful for, getting our hearts there is likely an impossibility today. And that’s ok. This is me, a mama who has been there, telling you it’s ok if you don’t feel grateful today.


Second, even if no one acknowledges or seemingly even remembers your loss today, you are not forgotten. You may feel overlooked and unseen, but you are neither. God sees you and loves you. The Bible says He not only sees every tear but He catches them and puts them in a bottle. His love for you is infinite, reaching far beyond what we can fathom and understand. And it’s ok if you feel skeptical about that love today. It makes sense that you might be questioning His love for you, that you might be angry with Him. The great news is that His love for you is not dependent on your love towards Him. He sees you. He has not forgotten. And you are never, ever alone.


Isaiah 43:1-3 says:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Third, feel the freedom to talk about your child, to talk about your loss, to say your child's name, to acknowledge that this is not the way it is supposed to be. I know it feels unfair that you would have to be the one to mention your child and all that you are walking through but sometimes those we love are just waiting for us to make the move. Don’t be afraid of making it awkward or making someone feel uncomfortable. This is me, your fellow grieving mom friend, telling you that an honest holiday is always better. It is far deeper and richer to be honest and to acknowledge why today feels hard, bringing others into that reality, allowing them to gain a fuller understanding of loss and life after loss than to simply pretend that everything is ok when it just isn’t. I want you also to hear me say: You don’t have to say anything at all if you don’t want to. There is nothing wrong with holding memories and words close to your heart this year.


Fourth, you can change your mind. Even if you are on your way right now to a family gathering and it suddenly just feels like too much, you can change your mind. Even if you are in the middle of eating your Thanksgiving dinner and you decide you just can’t sit there another minute, you can change your mind. Even if you are curled up in your pajamas and have said no to every plan today and suddenly realize you do in fact want to go, you can change your mind. Feel the freedom today to make a plan and then change your mind and go in a different direction. It’s ok. It’s understandable. It’s impossible to perfectly anticipate what will be the most helpful and most meaningful to you, so it’s ok to change course and make a new plan.


Fifth, it won’t always feel this hard. Yes, there will always be someone missing from the Thanksgiving table but the ache becomes a little less intense with each year that passes. And the gratitude is a little easier to come by. And celebrating feels less like a contradiction. Because of that, you can feel the weight of this Thanksgiving without guilt. You can make decisions in light of the fact that it won’t always be this hard knowing there will be, God willing, more Thanksgivings. This doesn’t have to be the best Thanksgiving ever or your only Thanksgiving. Knowing that takes the pressure off of you trying to show up as your best most grateful self today. You can show up honest -- because again, an honest holiday is so much richer.


Friend. I am thankful for you. For showing up. For putting one foot in front of the other. For doing hard grief work. For acknowledging your pain, not just hiding it away. For honoring your child's life. For saying the hard things when it feels awkward and uncomfortable. For having hope when it seems like all hope is lost. And friend, I can promise you this, God is not done with you yet. From Philippians 1:6, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” God is doing a good work in you, friend. Even right now in the messy, painful, and broken reality of life after loss. And He will see it to completion. It’s not up to you to heal yourself or get yourself better. He is doing the work in you, and it is a good work.


To finish, I wanted to pray Ephesians 3:14-21 over you today:

I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us— to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Friend, I pray you are able to comprehend the length and width, height and depth of God’s love for you today. And that He is able to do more than we can even ask or think. I pray you experience an honest holiday, one that is full of hope and healing.

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