Eleven Thanksgivings After 

The Monday before Thanksgiving my emotions pulled a surprise attack.

The cold sunny weather provided a Texas-perfect backdrop for Thanksgiving week, with Monday marking the first official day of preparation. Dinner would be at my sister-in-law and brother’s this year. I was thankful for the contributing duties of mashed potatoes, fresh green beans, and cranberry relish. Organization brings comfort; I was working on my week’s list.

Then my heart wandered back to the Thanksgivings Before, anticipating events that had once shaped our family holiday, traditions that my mind logically knew could never be. It seemed as if I had to teach myself all over again. Sarah would not breeze in the door home from college on Wednesday night. We would not huddle up to watch Texas Tech football and the Dallas Cowboys or attend worship services. I would not make a big pot of potato soup for her homecoming, hear the excited chatter of her arriving friends or go for Mexican food the Friday after.

Sarah would be almost 35 now but I could not move my years past her 24 years of life. She was now the way I had always thought of President Kennedy after 1963, frozen solidly in time. Forever Young.

I encouraged myself. I am working to move forward, reviving my interests, creating a “new life.” I appreciate my loving friends and family and am grateful for the tremendous healing power of a struggling faith. Writing through the days helps me to focus. I have learned who to trust with my thoughts and when to lock up.

Thinking back before Sarah died, it is true that until I had experienced the loss of my own child, I was incapable of understanding the depths of such pain. I was sympathetic but not empathetic. This insight allows me to forego or lower my expectations of other people and to better control hurt, anger and disappointment.

Most importantly, I have learned that rich healing takes place when hurting people extend themselves to others who struggle in grief. Listening, sharing with honesty, encouraging. These gifts of truth and service honor the memory of our precious children and continue their legacy.

But this Monday before Thanksgiving I’m crying. I miss my girl. It’s hard to envision the years ahead having lost the most vital part of my life. I am not ashamed of my sorrow or my tears or worry that I’m not “making progress.” What parent does not think on his or her son or daughter whether they are alive or have passed on? These thoughts cannot be shut off like a water faucet. I have given myself the right to set the standards of my very personal grief, to measure my path using my own yardstick. I have mastered an essential lesson. “Do the next thing.”

I recall the words of my friend, Pat, whose daughter Stephanie passed away years ago when we were talking one day about our hopes for again experiencing life’s purest joy. “I’ll die happy with a broken heart.”

This week there are beans to snap.




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Comments (17)

  • Very well said – 23 years for me since my 15-year-old daughter died, 6 1/2 years since my stepson did. I am glad you mentioned that despite the years when we have these times when the fact they are gone just overwhelms us, we are not “stuck” in our grief; we are missing them as any parent would, no matter the time that has passed. We will always wish they were here. Thanks, Carol Thompson, for this article, written from the heart.

  • My daughter, Sarah, also died at age 24. She passed from cancer on 2011. I am in complete agreement of everything she’s said. Holidays are torture but I get through them. Her favorite holiday was Christmas. I cry and then I get on with trying to make it a happy time for others suffering the loss of her as well. I found Compassionate Friends through my neighbor who had lost her son at age 18. It helped me immensely and I came to realize that helping others through serious problems but mostly loss, helped me. My Sarah was like that. I miss her every day and will, as this wonderful lady said, die happy with a broken heart, when it’s my time to go. Until then, I’ll try to help others with loss and love my daughter and my other chikdren till the end of time.

  • This is my third thanksgiving since my beautiful daughter Katie died. 24 years old and I feel like I want to die. It seems harder this year.

  • Thank you Carol. This helped me today. My son was killed in 2005 the day before Thanksgiving in a motorcycle accident. We now have a Harvest Day dinner the weekend before Thanksgiving. I miss our Marcus so much everyday but especially this time of here when all those memories come flooding back. My heart goes out to you as well.

  • I am standing here thinking of my daughter, Missie, who died in 2002 with tears rolling down my face. I miss her so much doing these holidays. Reading your story brings back so many happy and sad moments. Thank you!

  • Such truth spoken in these few words. Thanks so much for sharing. I lost my 26 year old son on June 6, 2014 after a 3 year battle with leukemia.

    The statement that really popped out at me was this one: “.I have learned who to trust with my thoughts and when to lock up.” I bet we all learned the hard way. So grateful for lessons learned, the time we did have with our children and for the hope of seeing them again in heaven.

  • Thanks, Carol.. This Friday will be 3 years since my daughter died. She was 30, with a husband and 3 children. My grandchildren who are now 5,9 & 17 are struggling this week. Her favorite holiday was thanksgiving, and my whole family struggles to stay on track…

  • Oh my.Thank you for your honest heart.Sometimes I think grief still has so many lessons to teach.Those who haven’t lost a child think of getting over the loss.Think it is more just like continuing to move through a house with many rooms.I am always in this house….but sometimes there are more difficult rooms to be in.

  • You are so right in saying that “rich healing takes place when hurting people extend themselves to others who struggle in grief.” I don’t need the Compassionate Friends meetings like I did 15 years ago after Ryan died, but I’d like to think that the meetings somehow need me — to show newcomers that the pain remains, but it softens with the passage of time. And I do need the meetings — to show I understand, and to show how deeply I care about their pain that is so fresh.

  • It’s been 11 years for me, too. 11/23/07. I lost my daughter, Jacqueline, at 16 yrs old in a car accident. “These thoughts cannot be shut off like a water faucet.” How true. You learn how to live wiith your grief and move on. Thank you for the article.

  • My son was never one for all the Thanksgiving traditions and never came to share our dinner with us, preferring to be out hunting in the mountains. The Thanksgiving before he died, he unexpectedly showed up for dinner and we enjoyed a wonderful day together. He was killed in an accident in his beloved mountains the next April. Now as Thanksgiving approaches I am so thankful for that ONE, truly special day. Thank you Eric, for giving your mom the Thanksgiving to remember….

  • For your words I am so grateful. For your loss I am crushed. I too am 11 years from a Thanksgiving celebrated with my beautiful son. He was 21…and I was naive- to the heartache that surrounds holidays, to the loss that that has layers, to the way life can still have meaning after tragedy.
    Enjoy the week, however that works for you.

  • I just finished reading the article, written from the heart! A part of me wants to burst out crying and the other part of me is kind of frozen. I remember when my son passed at the age of 33 and I wasn’t doing well at all when I went to the hospital for a pre surgery appointment. The nurse had come in and asked several questions about the surgery I was about to receive! When she finished she informed me that the anesthesiologist would be in next to discuss his procedure! I remember feeling numb and totally unconcerned about all of it and didn’t really care if I survived it! Then this kind man came in and informed me of his procedure that would take place the day of surgery. He asked if I understood everything he had explained and I responded “yes” even though I wasn’t sure if I had heard anything he said! I was so overwhelmed with pain and was fighting back the tears that were welling in my eyes! He then asked me if he could chat with me a bit and proceeded to tell me he was high up on the committee of Compassionate Friends in that area and he knew I had just lost my son! I guess unbeknownst to me somehow it was written all over my chart ! He told about the candlelight service that was taking place soon and asked me if I would please come! He told me how he lost two children himself and that this organization was to bring all us parents together because we all have been in my shoes and still wear them and we all understand the pain and suffering we all share! So I promised him I would go but also informed him I had already had several therapists trying to help me with no success!!!!
    I went to the candlelight service and even though I thought I had shed every tear possible, I cried so hard all through it that I thought I would die! And no one looked at me in disgust, no one told me I had to move on, and no one said be grateful you have other children, and no one told me I had to stop hurting! It was ok for me to shed my tears, and as I looked around I saw I wasn’t alone! A lot of hearts were as broken as mine! I realized that this was the only place I could let go and show my pain and share my pain with people who really knew what and how I was feeling and it was ok to feel the way I was feeling!! I continued to go to meetings and it seemed like it was the only place I could ever express how I truly feel! I stopped going only because it’s a drive for me and I can’t see real well at night! But….. I do tell everyone I know who loses a child about compassionate friends and how it’s the only place you can go and express your pain and your sorrow and no one tells you you can’t or that you need to move on!!! I thank God for guiding me to there!

  • I lost my son 5/11/17 at the age of 22 and I cry almost every day still. I have woken in the middle of night with anxiety through the roof. My pain of missing is present all the time. Sometimes I can hide it and other times there is no way. I work at the hospital he was always in and I have good/bad memories here. But with these holidays I fell like I’m back stroking in frozen peanut butter. But I have a daughter and granddaughter I have to be there for so I WILL get through.
    My heart and prayers are with every family out there that have lost a child.

  • 13 years since my 18 year old son Clay died from injuries from an auto accident. Nobody says his name except his dad and I. Yep we will die with that broken heart. Thanks for the post.

  • Beautifully written and embraced from the depths of our souls. My son ‘s birthday falls on Thanksgiving some years but we never miss celebrating his life. He lives on in our hearts and in our memories.

  • Beautiful written, Carol, as usual. Thank you so much this Thanksgiving for saying the words that I feell. Blessings, sweet friend.

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