Foundation, reminding you that a fully-integrated approach for assisting survivors of
traumatic loss involves a balance of head and heart. Wednesday Wisdom is written
and copyrighted by Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D. and distributed by the Family
Assistance Education & Research Foundation Inc., fafonline.org. Reprint is available
with written permission from the Foundation.
The Foundation Expresses Gratitude to All for
Allowing us to Serve
"Joy is not in things; it is in us."
-Richard Wagner (1813-1883 German Composer)
Thursday, November 23, in the US, we will celebrate our Thanksgiving Holiday.
Thanksgiving traditionally brings family and friends together. We share good times
and great food. And many will spend time reflecting on what we are grateful for
in our lives.
We are also aware that holidays bring about challenges for families who have lost
loved ones during the year. Sitting at a Thanksgiving meal, attempting to express
gratitude for one's blessings, especially the first few holiday periods, is a painful
experience. We are grateful to the many survivors who have shared with us about
the difficulties they faced during the holiday time as well as how they met these
challenges. I would like to relate the following story of how one mother came to
manage her loss and the holidays.
The first holidays after my son died were extremely challenging. The grief I felt
over his death was exacerbated by the guilt I felt toward my other children who
wanted so badly for our holidays to be as joyful as they once had been. That first
Thanksgiving was the worst in my life—I set the table for my husband and I, and
our now two children. The awkwardness of only 4 places, instead of five, made it
impossible to verbalize my gratitude that year, so we skipped that part of our
tradition. I got through the remainder of the season as best I could, but I felt that I
had failed my living children badly. During the second year of my loss, I sought
counseling and joined a support group where I shared with other parents about
mutual issues and the hopelessness that I felt in my grief. One woman who was
further along in recovery from the loss of her son gave me some advice that
changed the holidays for me and my family the second year, and every year since.
She told me to decide on what I could do for someone else in my son's name if
he were still on earth—and then do it. I shared this idea with my husband and
other two children. Now, when we go around the table each Thanksgiving and
express gratitude, we reflect on what we each did for others that year in my son's
name. While we could never be grateful for the empty chair, with our new tradition
and the healing of time, we now are reminded each Thanksgiving to be thankful for
each other and all our blessings—including the connection that we feel to our
missing family member by making his memory count by helping others.
At the Foundation, we feel gratitude toward this mother and all survivors who share
with us about how they cope with the challenges that all human beings face in times
of trauma and loss.
“The highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."
-John F. Kennedy (1917-1963 35th US President)
Those in leadership positions are impacted by the reactions that survivors often have
toward them and entire organizations when the bereaved express feelings of gratitude
toward them, their Care Team, and other employee responders. Following is an
excerpt from an interview with an executive that makes the point.
At the advice of our HR Director, I attended the funeral services of the young man
who had died in our workplace while carrying out routine duties of his job. It was a
freak accident—the kind you hope never happens, but when it does, it is often fatal.
I did not want to go. I was afraid of what a family member might say to me if they
found out that the chief executive officer for the company was at the service. I can't
tell you how shocked I was when the young widow came up, wiping tears from her
eyes and told me how grateful she was to me and the entire company for all that we
had done for her and her children. I was speechless. And then the deceased
employee's parents came up to me and expressed similar feelings. I had no idea
that something so bad as a death in our workplace could produce such feelings of
gratitude toward the company. After the funeral, I told everyone on our team about
it and that I now understood what happens when we treat others the way we would
want our own families to be treated if we were in their shoes.
This Thanksgiving, all of us at the Foundation wish to express our appreciation for
the privilege of serving others. We are truly honored that leaders of organizations
around the world allow us to take part in the support they offer their employees,
customers and families during tragedies. Experience has taught us that, while we
may be prepared for crisis response, we are never emotionally ready for the losses.
Therefore, we express heartfelt gratitude to survivors for allowing us to share their
journeys on some level, so that we can learn more about the emotional side of loss,
thereby improving this part of our services to survivors of future responses. And
ultimately, we learn from survivors how to navigate our own grief when it is our
personal time to mourn.
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