Grief, Gratitude, Financial Well-Being and Thanksgiving

Dec 01, 2022

How was your Thanksgiving? I invite you to stop and check in with yourself. 


Put your phone down, close your computer and take a deep breath. Notice what it is like to breathe. Is it easy and smooth? Is it tight and restricted, or perhaps labored? Our breath is essential in moving through grief and gratitude. Our breath helps us move through the emotions associated with both grief and gratitude. In the flow of emotions, we can notice our entire experience of grief and gratitude. 


Many of us would not think of grief and gratitude as closely related, but I do. The more I mature and grow psychologically, the more I realize how the two universal experiences of grief and gratitude are closely related. 


With the holidays, expectations of ourselves, others, and culture at large all place increased psychological demands whether we like it or not. We can, however, use our self-care practices to live well with this season and its many associated meanings. 


Grieving During The Holiday Season

Perhaps it’s time to counter the standard narrative that there is no time for tears. I recently worked with a widow who exclaimed that she did not know why she felt sadder than she had earlier in the fall. We took time to slow down and reflect on why that could be. 


I asked her questions about family stories connected with Thanksgiving. She began to name a handful of meaningful stories from her life with her husband and children. Then came some of her time with her parents during her childhood. 


Then I asked her to remember stories of her husband from October 17th and stories of her children from November 3rd. At first, she looked at me, a bit confused. What do you mean she asked. I asked again kindly what memories she had of those dates. She said I have none. To which I responded of course not, likely nothing significant happened on those days. 


This exercise deepened her awareness about why she felt more grief and depression as we approached Thanksgiving. Most of us carry cherished and painful memories associated with this holiday. We are drawn into thinking about the loved ones still with us and not. 


Just me writing this brings a tear to my eyes as I remember my friend Jordan and his family, they would host me for Thanksgiving in my early twenties. For me there is a deep web of primarily positive memories of my time with him and his family during Thanksgiving. Sadly de died of suicide many years ago, which forever changed my ability to spend Thanksgiving with his family, as it changed his whole family’s experience of Thanksgiving. 


As I write through this story and reflect on grief and the holidays, I remember my client’s words after her time of reflection. This is the end of an era. Yes, grieving losses often means the end of an era. Sometimes it takes years to fully recognize this as we can also long to regain the “good old times.”


Grieving in time can give way to gratitude, but this is its own journey, and there is no need to force yourself prematurely into gratitude. Instead, working on your grieving process is essential, and an outcome will be gratitude in time. 


Experiencing Gratitude During The Holiday Season

It has been many years since my friend Jordan committed suicide. One of the most significant legacies of his life is his family’s Thanksgiving meals. These cherished meals happened for me from age 19 - 23. Now, as a forty-one-year-old, I look back and see it was such a short period of time in the grand scheme of things, and yet to my younger self, it meant the world. 


I had moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Houston, Texas, to become a professional firefighter. I didn’t know anyone in Houston, but in my first weeks at the fire academy, Jordan and I became fast friends, often visiting his parent’s home. We would also visit his grandmother’s east Texas home on a small private lake. They became my family away from family. They showed me warmth, acceptance, and a totally different family culture than my own. 


I was and am grateful for this season in my life. It showed me the joy of Thanksgiving in new and different ways. At the same time, I long for those simpler days of being introduced to deer blinds and big Thanksgiving meals. A combination I never knew growing up as a liberal kid from the west coast. His family was conservative and from the south. Yet we became family to each other. 


Who can you find gratitude for this holiday season? What person, family, or group has shown you a warm reception when you needed one? How did they embrace you when you needed it most? 


Taking time to reflect and cherish these people will have a way of recentering yourself as we enter this holiday season. I know that slowing down to write this blog and having my own time of reflection helps me continue grieving Jordan’s premature death and, simultaneously, experience gratitude for the life and relationships he shared with me. 


How Grief and Gratitude Facilitate Financial Well-Being


Grief and Financial Well-Being

When we are connected to our grief and gratitude, it has a way of helping us to stay balanced and open to the fullness and richness of life. I can not explain all the mechanisms behind this, but I know it will be true the more I go on in life. 


From this place of balance, we can entertain our financial well-being and those we are connected to. Let me see if I can explain. 


When we do not know how to grieve, we do not know how to have hard conversations and acknowledge what is missing. This puts psychological pressure on us and as we experience psychological pressure in time it affects those around us. In someways both anxiety and depression can be signs of incomplete grief. 


We can make buying and spending decisions to compensate for and manage our grief. At some level, it can become compulsive and problematic. Shopping can also be a form of trying to soothe ourselves and using something familiar while we deny and move away from our grief. When we are unfamiliar with how to grieve, we can return to familiar patterns of behavior, including shopping and spending to soothe ourselves. 


So learning how to grieve in constructive ways that do not take you beyond your financial limits becomes very important for your own psychological and financial well-being. 


Gratitude and Financial Well-Being

It may be more evident that gratitude would support financial well-being, but only sometimes in the ways you might expect. As far as I can tell, there are both direct and indirect ways that gratitude can positively impact your financial well-being.


The direct impacts of gratitude come along with the sensation of having gratitude about having the relationships and resources to sustain your life, give a meaningful gift and share important experiences together. When gratitude is interwoven in this way, it magnifies the experience. 


Gratitude and its positive impacts also have many indirect impacts on your financial well-being. Gratitude comes along with a general sense of well-being. This general sense of well-being allows you more flexibility and responsiveness in navigating the financial expectations placed on you both during a given year and especially during the holiday season. 


I hope that you will make time for both grief and gratitude this holiday season. Take the time to slow down and share your grief and gratitude with those that you love. You do not have to do either grief or gratitude alone. 


With Regards,

Ed Coambs - Lover of Humanity

Using the thoughts, processes, and tools of financial planning, couples therapy and financial therapy to help couples thrive in their love and money life. If you want to talk about how this can help you schedule your free 30-minute discovery call here.

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