Gratitude and Grief Together at the Table
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).
We do well to pause this Thanksgiving day to remember our blessings, to take stock of the many opportunities and resources we enjoy, and especially to gather around the table for a feast by which we enjoy our greatest blessing: each other, family and friends.
But many gather with memories of loss, sometimes fresh and aching, either calling out from their hearts or from the face of a bereft loved one passing the salt or serving up cranberry sauce. We respectfully and warmly invite them along with their companion, grief.
This does not mean we coax or force open anguish in violation of boundaries; neither does it mean we deny or evade it. Yet welcoming grief, how do we give thanks? Are gratitude and mourning antithetical? Who can give thanks after investing the heart in another now lost?
Whether bereft by death, divorce, unemployment or any other estrangement, what can we say? All rational consolations seem helpless in the face of such pain. A heavenly home, relief from suffering, and the availability of sweet memories seem trite. Pointing out the many remaining blessings offends all the more. Meanwhile, repression and denial make the wound fester, while silence compounds isolation.
No comment suffices to console. As for gratitude, blessings remain to count, but grief is no zero sum game. Having every blessing of the realm at his disposal could not cancel out the inconsolable grief of King David as he cried, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33)
Granted some cultivate a grateful outlook so abiding that they can say with Job, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). That confession may help some, but this therapist will never prescribe it unless it rises spontaneously from an open heart.
Reason will not supply the answer, but fellowship will. Grief is the latter stage in love when sinew and tendon tear irreparably between persons, so the only answer comes in communion with others willing to keep the bereft in community. In the breaking of bread together, the risen Lord was known (Luke 24:13-35). So it will be for the bereft who join the gathering today. For them just showing up, accepting fellowship and comfort, displays the poverty of spirit that Jesus commended first.
If you suffer grief on Thanksgiving and you read this post, I salute you for respecting your grief enough to include it in this day of gratitude. If you support a bereft one and took the time to read this, I commend your compassion and hope your reading prompted prayer for comfort, a prayer your loved one may not be able to offer today. Welcoming that person at the table offers much for which to give thanks.
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