What Do I Do Now?

Learning how to live a fulfilling life after the loss of a partner.

Thanks: Giving and Receiving

The importance of gratitude.

It's nearly Thanksgiving again, a time of the year I have written about in the past, mainly for those who will be facing the holiday without their partner for the first time. (See: Alone at the Holdays: Ten Tips to Make Your Holiday a Good One)

This year I write to include everyone. Perhaps that in itself signals that I have moved on in my thinking. That is, I no longer think of myself primarily as a woman alone, or a widow or ‘single.' Although I am still very much aware that I am living my life without the man with whom I thought I'd be seeing it through, I have also moved closer to feeling more a part of this wide world through other lives that touch mine, whether they be family, friends, acquaintances, psychologists, doctors and others who care for my body and spirit, people on the street I help with a few dollars or a sandwich, musicians who play and touch my heart, writers whose words affect me deeply, the bountiful feast that Nature offers me every day and the gift of my own creativity. All these things fill me with the simple gratitude of being alive and a part of something much larger than myself.

Remember our first history lesson about the origin of Thanksgiving? We learned that the Pilgrims gave thanks for their first harvest of corn and barley, the planting of which was taught to them by a Native American named Squanto. We learned what else they most likely ate and what they didn't (pumpkin pie.) The food is not important. But the idea that they took time to give thanks for the blessing of their harvest, their new friends, the Native Americans, and what came from that friendship...their ability to sustain themselves.

At our own Thanksgiving table, from the time our children were old enough to understand what being thankful means, my husband and I asked everyone to tell us what they were most thankful for. It produced groans from the children, even when they weren't children anymore. Because they were not used to the idea of expressing aloud some one ‘thing' that meant more to them than any other. And they were 'things' in the beginning... as: "I'm thankful for my toy robot;"  "I'm thankful for my new Barbie." And, later: "I'm glad I didn't blow up the Chemistry lab." And, my favorite: "I'm thankful you didn't see what I brought home last night." When my children became parents, and our table was extended, history, including the groans, repeated itself in our grandchildren. Today, they are adults. They have loved and lost loved ones, and I never tire of hearing their heartfelt feelings of gratitude for the importance of the close relationship we all share.

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That we take time to express our thanks, not just at this special time of year, but each and every day, is, to me, a gratifying way to live... and most important of all, showing thanks for the bounty in our lives by helping someone less fortunate.

A few weeks ago I had to change trains to get to my destination far across and down town. My friend and I had to walk quite a distance within the subway system, trying to follow confusing directions, through tunnels and up and down stairs, when I noticed a woman a few steps in front of me tapping the ground with a white stick. If it was difficult for me to find my way, I could only imagine how she was faring, unsighted. Before I could do anything, I saw a young man with an IPod in his ear, feeding him music that I could hear from where I was, offer his arm to the woman and help her through the maze and finally to the train. The woman remained on the platform. He got on the same train as we were taking. I went over to him and said: "That was a lovely thing you did. I'm sure that woman appreciated your kindness. And, I do, too." He grinned widely. And I wondered how many people had thanked him in his young lifetime. To my mind, gestures like his should not go without verbal recognition. We should get used to saying the words and appreciating others and the kindnesses they express in so many different ways.

I've also been considering how important it is to receive thanks graciously. Much harder, isn't it? I've been guilty of not respecting another's wish to express their gratitude by saying to them: "Oh, don't be silly. It was nothing." Only to hear: "Well I thought it was SOMETHING." Indeed! I negated the heart-felt thanks expressed. I don't do that anymore, I hope. I've learned that how we receive thanks is as important as how we give it. Saying: "I loved doing that for you;" or "I'm so glad I found something that pleased you;" or "It was really my pleasure;" or "You deserve to be treated well,"' can serve to reinforce the receiver's feeling of importance to us.

We are in desperate times and also in hopeful times. Let's all be grateful that we are here, now, and can help make this world a better place. Be good to yourself...and be good to someone else every day.

And, if you know someone who has suffered a loss and is alone on Thanksgiving, please invite them to share your table. I know how much it means.

Sheila Weinstein, writer and pianist, reinvented her life after the death of her husband of 50 years, which led to her book, Moving to the Center of the Bed.

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