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And For This I Give Thanks

I am acutely aware that autumn is here. As I write this, the air coming through my window is crisper and the leaves are taking on the golden and scarlet hues of the season. The shorts and tee shirts, which were the summer mainstay of the neighborhood children, are being replaced by sweats and flannels. Pumpkins are replacing lawn ornaments. The beauty of nature is at its most spectacular. It is unmistakably here, welcome or not…

This will be my fifth autumn without my daughter Nina. I find that I am far enough along in my grief to find memories to smile about now, but still close enough to remember those first few years and the piercing stab of pain in my heart that went along with them. Halloween, with memories of the costume party she threw when she was 10 years old; the major production she made out of what she would wear as a trick-or-treater, and as she got older, her enjoyment in passing out candy to neighborhood goblins. Then came Thanksgiving, one of my favorites. I liked the idea of family and friends gathering together with no other purpose other than eating until you were stuffed and being thankful for each other and the blessings of the past year. No presents required, just the joy of family togetherness – and the knowledge that my children were here…all of them. On that first Thanksgiving after my beautiful daughter died, the empty chair and place at the table seemed to scream out at me that someone precious was missing. And the message of this holiday was thankfulness? What would I ever again find to be thankful for?

Some TCF parents remember being unable to eat even a bite because they were continually trying to choke back tears that first Thanksgiving. Just wanting to curl up in a ball, pull the covers over their heads, and wake up some time in January after the last remnants of the holidays were cleared away. In all honesty, I cannot tell you even one detail of that first one: where I spent it, who was present, where I was, if I cried all day. I remember nothing.

However, I do remember three months after Nina had died, though. On a visit to my neurologist I tearfully told him of my depression over her death. His response to me was “Why don’t you count your blessings rather than your sorrows? Think happy thoughts and maybe you won’t feel so sad.” I, of course, asked him if he had ever lost a child. He had not…obviously. Only someone uneducated in the school of grief would say something so impossible to accomplish!

Almost five Thanksgiving’s later, have I found reasons to be thankful? I asked myself this question and decided to put pen to paper. I was surprised to say the list was quite lengthy, but I will only share a few of them. I am thankful for:

  • My loving family, and the welcome joyful additions in the last few years.
  • My memory, because now the painful memories are, now more often, replaced with the beautiful memories of the past, and they were such beautiful memories.
  • My life, for whom else will keep Nina’s memory alive? Of course, my family, but they have lives of their own, as they should. I am the self-appointed keeper of my daughter’s memory.
  • Nina. The joy of loving her, the privilege of being her mother. Though I wish it had been much longer, I wouldn’t trade those 15 ½ years for anything.
  • Smiling a genuine smile, laughing a hardy laugh, and finding my sense of humor again. I believe that Nina hears me laugh and that she wants me to find joy in life again.
  • My sight, because I commented (for the first time in five autumns) on the magnificent colors of the autumn foliage and the grandness of Minnesota’s most sumptuous season. I didn’t think I’d ever notice again. But I did.
  • The Compassionate Friends, who showed me there is life after the death of a child; who allowed me to express my emotions, listened patiently, understood my pain, and welcomed me into their hearts. They helped salvage what remained of my sanity and I will be eternally grateful.
  • The opportunity to give back. To bring hope to the newly bereaved with the knowledge that it won’t always hurt this bad, and that you will make it with the love and support of family and your Compassionate Friends. Helping really is healing.  And, that there will come a time that you too will find things to be thankful for again.

I have found a measure of peace and see some of the light at the end of the tunnel that we are all so desperately seeking. I know that I will always love and miss my Nina and will never forget her. That when the holidays return each year, there will still be the twinge of pain in my heart that she is not there with our family. Yet, I have learned, over time, that there is joy to be found again, and the grief I feel for the loss of Nina can and does coexist with that joy.  You will each find it again in your own time; maybe not this Thanksgiving or next, but it will come. It really will…

Cathy Seehuetter
TCF ST. Paul, MN
In memory of my daughter, Nina
Written October 2000
Revised October 2018

Cathy Seehuetter

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