Episode 32: Thanksgiving prep for your brain
You are listening to the Life Reconstructed podcast with me, Teresa Amaral Beshwate, grief expert, best-selling author and widow. I’m so glad you’re here because in this and every episode, I shine a light on the widowed way forward.
Hello and welcome to episode 32. In this episode, I offer six simple tips to plan for Thanksgiving in a way that allows for grief, and prevents unnecessary suffering.
In the US, Thanksgiving is just around the corner. But no matter where you live, there is always a special occasion looming.
Whether it’s a national or religious holiday, birthday, or otherwise special event. These occasions can have many widowed people feeling dread, anticipation, or anxiety. Depending on the occasion, other people have expectations of us, and we typically have expectations of ourselves.
There are gatherings planned, traditions to be repeated, and perhaps gifts to be opened. And in the midst of it all, there’s the grief, the deafening sound of his absence.
My own approach was denial – to pretend that the day wasn’t actually happening. And I can report that that approach doesn’t work well at all.
With 11 years under my belt now, I would suggest making a plan. Before the guest list or the meal planning, I recommend a plan for you and your grief.
Here are six tips to alleviate the dread and to help you have the best possible Thanksgiving.
1. You may be struggling with whether to mention your person’s name. You don’t want to upset anyone. But there’s an elephant in the room. And do you make his favorite dessert, or not? It’s easy to try to get it “right,” but the truth is there’s not one “right” way. Grieving is learning. Every year is an experiment. You’ll do your best to be present with your loved ones and honor your person. Some of your efforts will go well, and others not so much. It’s all part of learning. So tip #1 is to have an experimental mindset. You’re learning how to do this. Allow yourself to be a beginner.
2. Have realistic expectations.
Special occasions of any type can be tough. In year one after our loss, we don’t know what to expect. In year two and beyond, we expect ourselves to be “better” (and others do, too). As time goes on, we figure out what works best for us. Does it get easier? I’d say that it gets different and becomes something more manageable with time and intentionality. No matter how long you’ve been on the journey, expect that there will be moments of happiness and sadness, that you may need time alone, and that you will do your best to navigate the moments as they come. Have realistic expectations and be kind to yourself.
3. Make time to feel the feelings.
If you plan to gather with family or friends, also carve out time to feel the difficult feelings that you’ll likely experience. Last Thanksgiving was my 11th without my husband. First thing in the morning, I made time for a long walk. As I walked, I felt the feelings, I ached for what was, I honored the pain that comes with great loss. I let it be there, and I experienced it fully. Later when I hosted a small group of family, I was more able to be present because I was not busy trying to sweep the emotions under the rug.
4. Be alert to people-pleasing habits.
If you are a people pleaser, you will very likely want to make everyone happy on special occasions. Well-intended family and friends want you to “feel better” or at least look like you’re having fun. It’s tempting to try to please everyone. But if ever there was a time to put yourself on top of your priority list, it is now. Continually ask yourself, What do you need most? What is best for you? How is your energy level? Do you decline an invitation altogether? And if you decide to attend, do you need to step away for a few minutes? Do you need to end a conversation? Maybe you need to leave early. Take care of you as a top priority.
5. Make decisions and like your reasons.
Widowed people can struggle with decision-making, and special occasions present yet another set of decisions to make: Will you attend in person? Spend the weekend? Host everyone at your house? Cook a full meal? Keeping in mind your needs from tip 3, make your decision. There are no right or wrong decisions—only the decisions you make. Make a list of all the reasons for your decision and be sure you like your reasons.
6. Have your own back.
When we’re part of a couple, we typically have each other’s backs, so becoming widowed means learning to have your own back. By having an experimental mindset, realistic expectations, setting aside time to feel, and banishing people pleasing, you have set yourself up to make the best decisions for you this year. You’re looking out for yourself and your needs, and you like your reasons.
Now it’s time to stand behind your decision, no matter what others think. Your decision isn’t up for debate. “I’ve given it careful thought, and this is what feels right for me this year,” is a sentence worth rehearsing.
Will Thanksgiving be easy? Probably not. It’s more likely that it’ll be a mix of comfortable and uncomfortable emotions. But with some planning, it won’t be one ounce harder than it already is.
Like never before, take good care of you.
If this episode was helpful, please share it with a widowed friend. And remember that I believe in you, and I’m here for you. Take care.
If you’ve found this podcast helpful, I invite you to join Life Reconstructed, my coaching program exclusively for widowed people. It will help you step forward toward a life you will love again. Simply go to thesuddenwidowcoach.com and click work with me.