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Let Grief and Gratitude Coexist: Ingredients for the Holidays

Grief and gratitude existing at the same time in an illustration of two sides of a person.

Getty/Benjavisa

Gratitude and grief are both essential and need to be welcomed and honored, especially during the holidays.

As a trauma survivor and spiritual advisor, I practice holding both grief and gratitude through the holiday season and encourage others to do the same.

At 22 years old, I was catatonic from the weight of unprocessed trauma from childhood incest and illness. I was counseled by physicians and friends alike to develop a gratitude practice, but it felt inauthentic. As I hadn’t yet grieved, there was no room in my brain, body, or being to feel gratitude.

Today, after releasing the loss of my abusive family system and reframing what wellness looks like for me, I finally feel grateful for my commitment to overcoming adversity, my capacity to rebuild a safe and loving community, and my courage to share my story in order to help others.

As the holiday season approaches, grief continues to surface while gratitude invites me to the present. Both are essential.

Grief

Gratitude can’t be forced, only received. It will come naturally once you appropriately break patterns of abuse or suffering, grieve the losses you’ve experienced, and create room to accept.

The power of love is so much stronger than the abuse of any individual or system. When love enters a body full of abuse from individuals and systems or pain from longing or loss, the first step will be a critical purging process that frees you from the feelings, fears, and fictions forced upon you.

Remember that as intense as these feelings are, they are a testimony to your resilience, not a true reflection of you or the world. If at any point the feelings have control over you, remember that the strength you needed to survive will serve you in finding the resilience necessary for healing.

For those who have lost something of great value, begin the purposeful mourning process. Remember the gift in its fullness, acknowledge the space left behind, grieve in the room between while you foster the belief that love will return in another form to fill in the void.

For those riddled by the anxieties of uncertainty, connect deeply to your truest self and your community in creative ways. During this period of collective suffering, normalize struggle and relieve stress by creating support systems among your closest companions. When the material world disappoints, turn inward and engage in spiritual practices that connect you to the powers of safety, love, and abundance. Spiritual masters have consistently taught how to maintain internal calm when the external world is chaotic. So explore the many tools available to help you to learn how to do so.

Trust

Trust is a key component of both releasing trauma and pain, as well as receiving gifts. Trust that the same source of Love that taught you appropriate boundaries and held space for you to grieve your losses will now replace the space with whatever you need next in your process of healing and fulfillment.

This is not a time of isolation or depravity. It’s a time to call in intimacy and abundance. Create it inside regardless of external circumstances and connect to others actively working to do the same.

Grace

This process isn’t easy, so we call in grace to be patient with ourselves and each other. The brain is wired first and foremost to survive. Now, we are invited to uplevel our consciousness into thriving. It will take macro systems and our bodies time to release the stories that justify abusive systems of power or oppressive systems of servitude. In the meantime, create appropriate boundaries, practice accountability, and continue to form frameworks that settle your survival stress responses and honor your capacity to sit in safe spaces.

Gratitude

Gratitude is the gift of the work you have done: the purging of pain, the purposeful mourning, and the practice of developing an internal consciousness grounded in trust and connected to community. You will know it when you feel it, and the more your body recognizes its presence, the more you can call it in intentionally on the days where grief lays heaviest. The grief may never go away, but when you learn to hold it gracefully, it is also experienced as a gift held in gratitude.

Although I will never glorify the abuse I experienced as necessary to my fulfillment, I can hold my past in gratitude for the gifts that I learned to receive, the spiritual love I was able to connect with in order to survive, and how I can now call in the hopeful future that I can’t wait to create.

This holiday season calls for an act of integration between grief and gratitude of the individual and the collective. We can hold grief gently in one hand and invite gratitude into the other, while we close our hands in thanksgiving or combine them to meet the hands of others. Despite the circumstances of the past year, we can still enjoy the holidays with a celebrational spirit, a conscious attunement, and a collective commitment.

Also read: “3 Ways to Find Light When the Holidays Feel Dark.”


About the Author

Anne M. Lauren

Anne M. Lauren is an author, artist, and alchemist with a Master's degree in Theological Studies. She shares her story of childhood trauma and recovery through writing and public speaking as a medium to express the significant intersections and urgent demands between spirituality, psychology, healing, and justice on individual and collective levels. She also dabbles in intuitive painting, tinkers on the piano, travels when she can, sings at the top of her lungs in the shower, and pretends that she’s funny. Anne’s story has been published in print and digital magazines like Arcadia, Elite Daily, The Mighty, Ms. Magazine, and Elephant Journal.

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