Expressions of grief and gratitude can be equally important

The holiday season brings mixed emotions for those facing illnesses like ALS

Kristin Neva avatar

by Kristin Neva |

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“Count your blessings.”

“You need to be thankful for what you do have.”

People often give silver-lining advice to those facing hard things, and I’ve been on the receiving end of it since my husband, Todd, was diagnosed with ALS. I’ve also found myself offering similar sentiments to people in emotional distress. It’s such a natural impulse to try to problem-solve rather than simply saying, “I hear you. That’s really hard. I’m sorry you’re dealing with that.”

A few years ago, I didn’t have a response to these sentiments, except to shut down and stop talking about my grief. Thinking back to one conversation in particular, if I had the words at the time, I would’ve said, “I am thankful for what I have, and I can be thankful for my blessings while acknowledging the hardness of life with ALS and grieving the losses we’ve had.”

I don’t know how that conversation would’ve evolved from there, but maybe it would’ve resulted in a deeper connection rather than me pulling away and engaging in only surface pleasantries.

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Before Thanksgiving this year, I thought about how we usually go around the table and say something we’re grateful for, and I wondered if we might make room for sharing other emotions, too. What if we said something we were sad about as well? Being more authentic might open our hearts to one another.

After suggesting to my family that we do this, Todd pointed out that before Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation for a “Day of Thanksgiving,” he mentioned the losses from the Civil War. In his Oct. 3, 1863, speech, Lincoln said that the United States was “in the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity,” and then went on to enumerate blessings: “peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict.”

This year at our dinner table, we tried acknowledging a loss along with our gratitude.

Todd said he was sad that he was losing his voice, has trouble talking on the phone now, and can’t speak loud enough to participate in group conversations. He said he’s glad he’s still here to be a part of our lives.

I said that I missed my dad and my aunt, who have died, and that I’m thankful Todd is still with us.

The holiday season can be hard. The absence of those we love who have died is glaring. And life with ALS can be anything but merry.

Let’s allow room to grieve what we’ve lost while being thankful for what still remains. It’s all a part of being human, so let’s try to hold it all.

Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.


Wayne Truchan avatar

Wayne Truchan

Thank you for your sharing. The silver lining advice / comments are pretty fruitless although people who have never dealt with this are usually "shell shocked" and do not know what to say and there really is not anything anyone can say that is comforting. My son was diagnosed with this terrible disease at the age of 23. He is now 26 and in the later stages. Has a trach and is bed ridden. Pretty tough stuff for a young man to take on and also pretty tough stuff for his family. I agree with your comment about being thankful for what we do have. My son is still with us and I have truly learned what taking things one day at a time means. I am thankful for every second, minute, hour, day that he is still with us.

Kristin Neva avatar

Kristin Neva

So tough. Thank you for sharing your story.

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