Finding holiday joy after a loss


By Jessica Brodie

This time of year, the air smells different. My pumpkin spice latte doesn’t taste quite the same. It’s all “off” somehow, and I know why.

Today will be my first Thanksgiving without two important people in my life. I lost my dad right after last Christmas and my aunt earlier this fall.

With all the focus on family gatherings, their loss hits hard this time of year. Memories of holidays past swirl, like I’m caught in a time warp. The other day, picking through a box of memorabilia, I came across a greeting card my aunt had sent me on my last birthday, and I was flooded with memories of all the cards she’d sent me over the years—the little gifts, the funny phone calls, the love, now gone in an instant.

This Thanksgiving feels haunted almost—a surreal holiday. While they’ve never even set foot in this house where I now sit, still I can picture their faces as though they’re right before me. I can see my aunt and my dad, but also my Gram, wrapping beef brisket in foil at the island in my kitchen and telling me all her old stories, or my Gramps dishing out a bowl of chocolate-almond ice cream and cracking jokes.

All these people I loved—now just memories.

And I’m left behind, remembering, building memories with a new generation.

Memories my own kids will perhaps recall when they’re my age, ghostly whispers of a time long past.

Time can’t stand still, after all.

We each have different ways of coping with loss. Some take comfort in doing things just the same as they’ve always been, as though our loved ones now in heaven will somehow be preserved in the traditions and the repetition.

For me, what helps is focusing on the spiritual elements of the holidays. Christmas, being a celebration of the birth of Christ, is easier in this regard. But Thanksgiving—with all its inherent family themes (family table, family prayers, family blessings)—is a bit harder. Truth be told, I’d never really liked Thanksgiving all that much. I’m not a football fan, all the focus on food and harvest seemed silly, and I’ve seen “family fun” escalate one too many times into a spiral of drama.

But driving to work a couple of weeks ago, I saw a sign that made me rethink this entirely. In chunky black letters on a sign outside a country church were the words, “Thanksgiving: The Most Spiritual Holiday.”

It gave me pause. Thanksgiving—really? Not Easter? Not Christmas?

I harrumphed and kept driving. But the words stayed with me—all day long, that night, and into the next few days.

Right about that time, my social media feed started blowing up with people’s gratitude posts and thankfulness-selfies. Email daily devotionals started featuring themes like blessedness and appreciation.

And then I began to tune in to the message: Thanksgiving is not some generic holiday celebrating “family dinner” or “harvest time.” Thanksgiving is about acknowledging abundance and showing appreciation. It’s about counting your blessings and giving back. It’s about praising God and remembering to be humbled and honored instead of entitled and jaded.

Indeed, the Bible is filled with countless reminders urging us to thank God for all he has given us, good and not-so-good, and especially to thank God for the gift of His son, Jesus Christ, and for the gift of creation. Diving into the Psalms alone is like listening to one big praise song penned by King David thanking God for his steadfast love (Psalm 136:1), for His faithfulness (Psalm 117:1-2), for our very lives (Psalm 139).

One of my favorites is perhaps the simplest—and, to me, the most profound:

“Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his” (Psalm 100:3).

It is that simple. In good times and in bad, in loss and in abundance, God is there. He made us. He loves us.

He’s with us.

As the Apostle Paul wrote, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Happy Thanksgiving. Today, whether you are alone or with family and friends, take a bit of time to go bask in the love of our Lord and all the beautiful blessings He sends.

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