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This week is Thanksgiving. While we’re inundated with everything food related, there’s something else that’s celebrated as much as a traditional turkey dinner and all its dressings.

Gratitude.

While being grateful has its place, there are times when gratitude is not only unwelcome, but can be a source of pain.

Gratitude journals, saying, “Thank you,” and being appreciative of what you have are all important slices of the whole happiness pie.

But when someone is in the trenches, deep in their grief, the words, “You should feel lucky or be grateful,” can deepen their pain.

I was listening to therapist Megan Devine speak on Sounds True’s podcast Insight at the Edge, and for the first time had words for what I experienced. It’s a emotional hot potato of unease. We cannot stand or tolerate people’s pain so we try to put it back on them by using words like gratitude or worse blaming them for their grief.

When someone is sitting in their pain hearing they’re fortunate can hurt them. Instead we can listen, allow ourselves to feel their vulnerability, hold their words in our heart and not try to change their experience. We can ask what they need. We can embrace them. We can just let the pain be. Nothing we can say will “fix it,” anyway.

Empathy, compassion and presence are paths toward intimacy and creates a bridge to help those grieving feel less alone, heard and not abandoned.

Grief can be loss and tragedy, but it could also just be a tough day at work or with sick kids.

This Thanksgiving, let’s change how we think of gratitude. Let it be a real exercise for shifting our perspective and not an excuse for when we don’t know what else to say.

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