How I chose to be thankful in the valley of grief

Sitting around the table, as we finished the last bites of our Thanksgiving Feast, my brother asked us to go around the table and share what we are thankful for. One by one, my nieces and nephews shared what they were thankful for, their young lives shaped by this yearly tradition of finding the thankful in a world full of I want. I need. Give me! No one said,

I’m thankful for my XBox
I’m thankful for my car
I’m thankful for money in my pocket
I’m thankful for the clothes I wear

Without even planning it, and without fail, everyone said they were thankful for family, friends, spouses, health, being together.

Except for my daughter and me.

Early Thanksgiving morning, my daughter drove up to Fresno where we were spending the holiday. At dinner, she was sitting to my left, and as we neared her turn to share what we are thankful for, I knew she wouldn’t want to. This Thanksgiving, she was grieving, missing her dad who died a mere six days earlier. We gave her an immediate pass as the tears started to flow.

I took a pass as well, because I couldn’t even speak as I was choking back tears, hurting for my baby girl and my son who are far too young to have had to say goodbye to their dad.

Truth is, I am thankful for many things. But right now, I am not thankful that I have to walk my kids through one of the hardest things they will ever go through. I want to pound my fists on the table and say,

NO! I will not do this! I will find a way around it!

You see, I’m not good at the going through-ness. I’m the person that finds a way to charge on through the unpleasant things of life. I’m the glass half full girl, the believer in the silver lining, the God works all things for our good girl. But the glass isn’t just half empty, it’s all the way empty. There is no silver lining in sight. I can’t even go there with the All Things stuff. It’s all just sad, awful dread. And there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it.

There is no way around it. The other side of grief is somewhere out there, but in this season, I have to wade through the messy, ugly valley of grief. I don’t want to be here. I desperately want out of the valley of despair.

I hear God speaking, somewhere in the depths of my heart and my spirit saying,

You can’t go around it. You must go through it. I know you hate it, but just keep walking through. You asked me to prepare your heart for this. Trust me that I did.

Driving home from Fresno yesterday, I had 4-1/2 hours to myself. At first, I enjoyed the quiet. My thoughts quickly caught up to me, and I started to analyze the emotions I had experienced through the week. Why did that conversation about adoption make me head upstairs to bawl my eyes out? Why couldn’t I muster up the courage to say what I was thankful for at dinner? 

Then, I decided I was overanalyzing my emotions and I just should not try to figure them out! Done.

I pulled out my headphones and turned on my audio book, Rising Strong by Brene’ Brown. She starts talking about being curious about our emotions. How being vulnerable is the only way through.

Tears welled up as I realized that yes, I am supposed to be curious about those emotions. I am supposed to try to get to the bottom of all of that.

And then, I had a moment of thankfulness:

Thank you for preparing me for this, even though I don’t feel at all prepared. Thank you for the things you are going to teach me through this, and for the way I believe you will hold my kids, and walk with them through this valley of grief. Thank you for the privilege of being their mom, and for the family that is supporting us all through this. 

I wish I could say that I’m no longer saying, I hate this! I do hate it. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want my kids to have to do this. But this is where we are. And in the messy, I’m choosing to trust that God is holding them and will lead them through the valley to the other side of dread, and we all will be changed because of it.




5 Comments on “How I chose to be thankful in the valley of grief

  1. Sending you HUGE HUGS. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. My heart goes out to you and your children.

  2. Your words jettisoned me back to my mother’s death just days before Christmas back east. It was a frigid cold spell and the ground was nearly too frozen to even bury her. But we did, through the biting wind and bone freezing cold. Then we got into the car and drove with my stepdad all the way back from that small mountain town to Philadlephia. It was Christmas Eve. Late. The restaurants and grocery stores were closed. Because we’d spent days at her bedside there was nothing to eat in the house. We pulled into a 7-11 and all we could find were prepackaged salads well beyond their sell-by date. Nevertheless, they would have to do. My heart was as cold as the weather. The carols on the speaker system made me angry. I wanted to cry but I was all cried out. And exhausted. It wasn’t Christmas to me. Yet, it was. I had to wade through the sorrow and anger and misery and hunger to get there. It took time. But I finally broke through to the light — the truth that cuts through heartache. The real reason he came. For a night such as this.

  3. The character limit didn’t let me finish, Kari. I just wanted to say you will get there. I know you know that. I know this is a dark time. I know feelings are raw. And so does He. I pray you will all feel his presence and his love in the weeks ahead. Armené

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