Grief AND Gratitude: Living in the “AND” During the Holidays - Imagine NJ
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Grief AND Gratitude: Living in the “AND” During the Holidays

By Connie Palmer, Clinical Training Director 

Recently I asked a friend how he dealt with the death of his mother right before he went away to college.  Without skipping a beat, he said, “I learned how to live in the “AND”.  I am sure I looked confused, so he explained, “I was really sad about my dad AND I wanted to enjoy college, so I continued to missed my dad AND I had fun.” 

The grief educator for Imagine got an education in grief that morning.  As soon as I walked in the door after seeing my friend, I googled “living in the and”.  This quote from Makeda Pennycooke appeared like a gift I didn’t even know I needed.  “Living in the ‘and’ is a way of accepting what is while staying open to the possibilities of what might be. It’s learning to hold two things that feel like opposites alongside each other without judgment or without choosing one over the other.” 

For grieving people it’s often not the most wonderful time of the year, but something to get through.  I wonder if there is a way to ‘live in the and” during the holidays when the volume knob on our grief gets turned way up.  At this time of year especially, one of the things that grieving people hear from well-intentioned people is, “Focus on what you have to be grateful for.”  I think somehow many of us think that focusing on what we have to be grateful for will somehow make our grief less painful. 

What if it’s not, “I really miss having my mom around at the holidays, but I there are things I am grateful for.”  What if instead we lived in the AND, “I really miss my mom at the holidays AND there are things I am grateful for.”  Sometimes though, grief can be so painful, there is no room yet for thoughts of gratitude.  Living in the AND can help us hold onto hope, “Right now I am too sad to focus on what I’m grateful for AND someday I know that I will feel gratitude again.”

What if feelings of gratitude, like feelings of grief, are like the weather.  Feelings of gratitude AND grief are unpredictable, always changing and we don’t control them.  We can’t “should” ourselves or others into feeling grateful.  What if this holiday season we welcomed our grief AND our feelings of gratitude? 

My holiday wish is that we would find a way to live in the AND this holiday season; giving yourself AND others the gift of having all our feelings.  

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