As we take time to reflect on Thanksgiving and the official beginning of the holiday season, many of us will engage in annual traditions that include family gatherings, lots of good food, watching football, and shopping.

For some people in our families and community, however, Thanksgiving brings with it a reminder of loss, pain, and unmet expectations in their lives.

For some, their losses have made headlines, such as the victims of senseless shootings or those left homeless by the devastating storms in the northeast. The stories of others will never be told in the news. In fact, they believe very few will understand their pain. Regardless, it’s easy to understand why some may be at a loss for thankfulness.

So, how do you enter thanksgiving when you’re grieving, lonely, or in pain?

  • Be honest with yourself about what you are feeling. Even though it’s not what greeting cards are made of – or what others might expect of you, having feelings other than thankfulness can be very healthy. Acknowledge your feelings and don’t try to make them go away. Instead, allow them to accompany you through the day, honoring them as legitimate and valuable to you. Shutting down feelings never really works anyway.
  • Remember the little things that can be soothing. In the practice of mindfulness, we are encouraged to notice even the smallest things in our daily lives. As I am reflecting on this topic, I find myself thankful for a cup of coffee in my favorite mug and a pair of warm fuzzy socks that bring me comfort.
  • Reach out to someone else. Acts of generosity and compassion are often seen as selfless acts of kindness. For me, reaching out to others helps to bring my life into focus and allows me to “get out of my own head” for awhile. It almost always leaves me feeling that I’ve benefitted more than the one I was intending to help.

Thanksgiving is not about trying to make people feel happy or forget about their pain. It can, however, be a time to be thoughtful and mindful about our lives. This includes not only our gifts, but also our struggles and the pain of those around us.

While I am affected by the pain in the world, I find I am thankful for those who are authentically traveling this human journey and allowing me to be a part of the journey.

Thanks to all of you who support the work of Maria Droste Counseling Center. If you know of anyone who is struggling or in need of support this holiday season, we are here with the primary intention of serving one person at a time, with compassionate counseling services.

Linda E. McKinzie is the Executive Director of Maria Droste Counseling Center. If you or someone you know is struggling this holiday season, please contact our intake department at 303-867-4600 or

Need Help?

If you would like to speak to a therapist about this subject or about any other issue you may be experiencing, contact the Maria Droste Access Center at 303-867-4600.

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by Linda E. McKinzie, LCSW