Thanksgiving and Grief

By Sarah Earles, MS, LPC, NCC

“Name three things you’re grateful for.” It’s an age-old tradition around the Thanksgiving table. Thanksgiving is not always a happy holiday, though. It is often a reminder of loss: loss of family, loss of home, loss of relationship, loss of what could have been, or even just loss of what was wished for. This is especially true for foster and adoptive children.

Foster care and adoption, as beautiful as they are in showing love and care to the watching world, come with immense losses for children. They lose the sights, sounds, smell, and culture of their biological family (Gobbel, 2020). They lose relationships. They lose homes. They lose possessions. When neglect and abuse are involved, they can lose innocence. When children are adopted, they lose names on their birth certificates (their biological parents and/or their own). They lose identity. Acknowledging these losses does not discount the gains of adoption: connection, safety, and co-regulation, just to name a few (Gobbel, 2019). Acknowledging the losses just helps put the gains in perspective.

Loss results in grief. This is one of the core issues of adoption (Silverstein & Kaplan, 1982). Grief is not a one-time event. It has stages, and these stages are often not linear (Murphy, n.d.). As such, it is often triggered by certain events. The holidays can be one such event (Centerstone, n.d.). Normalizing grief as a natural reaction to loss is important.

Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude. Thanksgiving is not the only time for gratitude, however. The Bible says, “Give thanks in all circumstances” (English Standard Version, 2001, 1 Thess 5:18). So, if children express grief rather than gratitude this year, please accept it. Please allow them to give thanks in their own time. Please make room for their feelings. Please help them feel safe — all of them. Safety should not be just a tradition, but a marker of a nurturing family. This is the kind of family foster and adoptive children need to facilitate healing from loss.

References:

Centerstone. (n.d.) Managing grief around the holidays. Centerstone.

English Standard Bible (2001). Bible Gateway.  

Gobbel, R. (2019, April 1). Safety is the treatment. RobynGobbel.com.

Gobbel, R. (2020, November 2). Adoption Grief. RobynGobbel.com.

Murphy, K. (n.d.) The 6 stages of grief and being adopted: Back and forth again. KateMurphy Therapy.

Silverstein, D.N., & Kaplan, S. (1982). Lifelong issues in adoption. American Adoption Congress.