How to be Thankful With a Broken Heart

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

You can’t wait to see family members.

You are dreading seeing family members.

The empty chair is going to be the only thing you see.

Just walking in where everyone else’s family is intact is unbearable.

Is it even possible to be thankful with a broken heart?

Give yourself grace

Grief stings. It reminds us of what was, even though we’re sure we’ll never forget.

When I had miscarried, the world kept showing me all the children in the world.

When Mother’s Day came, I saw only mothers and their daughters.

It happens with each loss. It hurts and I can’t stop it.

So maybe we try too hard. Maybe the point is not to manufacture thankfulness, but instead to take note of things.

Yes, your loved one is not here. Our little granddaughter is not here this Thanksgiving.

Because our son is married, we alternate holidays. Two years ago their 14 month old daughter, Olivia, was here. This year she is not, because last year she slipped away.

We are fortunate we have other grandchildren, even a brand new one, Livie’s little brother, Benjamin. But as much as we love him, and we do, we miss Livie.

So how can we be thankful when we hurt?

I believe the answer lies in where we are looking.

Look up

I know this is hard. You may be grappling with the one who holds the keys to life and death. You may be in the questioning stage, or even angry. And that’s okay. He can handle not only your questions, but even your anger. He’s that big.

Look up because he’s the only one who really does understand. He’s the God of all comfort and he will comfort your broken heart. He’s good with hearts.

Look up because if you look anywhere else, you are probably going to see reminders of your loved one, or the empty spot that now remains because they are gone.

Look up, because there is no place to look other than up. He is the hope-giver.

Do something different

Maybe instead of trying to do the things you used to do, you should try to do something different.

Instead of getting together with all of your family, maybe you want to just be with a few people. People who know how you hurt, because they hurt too.

Some people go out for dinner instead of meeting in familiar places that serve only as reminders.

Light a candle

Sometime in the hours ahead, take a special candle and light it. And just sit and reflect on time you spent with your loved one.

Conjure up memories, and if there are few, that’s fine. Grab any that your mind releases.

And be in that moment. It’s like reliving a dream we had. One where we didn’t want to wake up.

And as you look into the flame, think of something you loved about your loved one. Yes, I know I’m asking you to hurt, but the truth is, you already hurt. I want you to see there can be value in our hurts.


There is healing when we allow ourselves to embrace our pain.

God shows us the humanity of his Son when he showed up at his friends house, where one of them had died. And what did he do?

John 11:35 says it in two words. Jesus wept.

Don’t you think that was kind of strange since he knew what was going to happen? He knew in moments his friend would be alive again.

Jesus wept because he allowed himself to be with those who hurt. It says in Psalms 34:18 Jesus is near the broken hearted.

It’s in pain that I see him the clearest.

God values our tears. He keeps them in a bottle. In Psalms 56:8 he tells us the significance. Not only of our tears, but our sorrows as well.

Here is a song I love listening to because it gives us the right to cry. It was written and published by my son, Nathan Peterson when he lost his daughter. It was his message to his wife.


This one is hard to do, and maybe you’re not there yet. But if you can give to someone when you are hurting, it may help ease your pain.

Even if it’s just one smile you manage to give while your heart is broken. Or the fact you look into the eyes of the person who is trying to scan your few groceries. Give something.

The story was told of a woman who was totally depressed from all her losses. Week after week, she saw her counselor and nothing seemed to lift her out of her dark place.

It was then the counselor remembered that her client liked to garden.

“Do you have any plants in your house?” the counselor asked.

“Oh yes,” the woman replied. And she actually had a glimmer in her eyes as she named the kinds of plants and how long she’s had them.

“This is what I want you to do,” the counselor responded. “I want you to take and cut off a little part of the plant to start a new plant. You can pick three or even four if you like. Will you do that?”

The woman looked confused, but she agreed.

“Then I want you to give those away to three people you know.”

The woman left that day, and it was a couple of weeks before she saw her counselor again.

The counselor noticed something significant when they were reunited. This same woman who hardly would look up in their sessions, bustled in the room, anxious to tell what happened by sharing her little plant cuttings.

Something happens when we give. We somehow have to look from our source of pain to something outside of ourselves.

So give. And don’t worry that what you give is small. Giving is healing.

I wish

I know there are people who just want to get through Thanksgiving. They don’t feel particularly thankful, and they just want to cross it off their calendars.

I wish I could take your pain away, I really do.

I wish you could wake up and have the kind of Thanksgivings you always had, because your heart was still intact.

I wish there was no death, and I would still have a full Thanksgiving time with my family. But I can’t.

I promise

I’ll pray for you. And if you feel brave and you want to tell me who it is that you lost, I’ll pray for you specifically.

But in the meantime, know this. You cannot trust your feelings.

Our feelings go up and down at will. But you can trust in truth.

So no matter how you feel, know this. God does care about you. God weeps with you. And one day God will put death to death.

How do I know? He tells us that in the Bible, and God doesn’t lie.

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Poet, Speaker, published author 16 books. Most recent book, Always There. Visit Anne’s website to sign up for a free eBook.

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Anne Peterson

Anne Peterson

Poet, Speaker, published author 16 books. Most recent book, Always There. Visit Anne’s website to sign up for a free eBook.

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