It’s been going on for some time already. The social media posts, web links, commercials and print advertisements that announce it’s time to gear up for Thanksgiving. They assure us that, if we shop at the right super market, use the right recipes, and decorate the house just-so, we’ll have the best Thanksgiving ever surrounded by ecstatically happy family members.

That may pertain to a lot of people to a certain extent, but for those who stand in the shadow of past Thanksgivings gone sour, it can make matters worse.

I’m not referring to kitchen calamities; I’m referring to calamities of the relational kind – strife caused by difficult family situations. For folks whose past Thanksgivings have been marred by discord, the holiday can be a dreaded, rather than a welcome event. It can bring back bad memories that make it hard, if not impossible, to truly give thanks and enjoy ourselves.

But there’s hope.

The memories will be there, no matter what. However, it’s what you do with them that makes the difference. Brooding over them will only magnify the unpleasant memories in your mind and make you fear their recurrence. On the other hand, simply brushing them away or pretending they never happened can backfire on you and throw you into a mood that can ruin your holiday.

What to do?

From my own experience, as I wrote about in Forgiving Mother: A Marian Novena of Healing and Peace, the key is to acknowledge them but not let them rule you. I cited a coping method taught to me by a professional counselor.

“When a bad memory surfaced and my emotions began to get out of control, I was to stop, call upon God’s grace, and focus on something in my immediate environment, preferably something pleasant. If I was outdoors, it might be the leaves on a tree rustling in the wind. If indoors, it might be a flowering plant or picture of a religious figure. The idea was to pause and separate what was then from what is now.”

Those bad memories belong to past Thanksgivings, not to the present one. Even if this Thanksgiving involves the same people and places, what affected you then doesn’t have to affect you now – at least not in the same way. Get out of the rut, change things up, do thing differently this year. Create new traditions that will bring you joy if the old ones only bring sadness. Most importantly, realize that you have God’s grace at your disposal. You have the Holy Spirit to guide you, the heavenly Father to protect you, and our Savior to stand by you. What’s more, you have Jesus’ Mother Mary – your Mother Mary – to minister to you.

Call upon God’s grace the second bad memories surface and you will see a vast difference in how you perceive and respond to what’s going on in and around you. Place yourself into the hands of God the Father. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you and surrender everything to our Lord. Ask Mother Mary to “mother” you and to intercede for you as she did for the young couple who ran out of wine during the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12). They will rush to your assistance.

There’s a great passage in St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. In it, Paul recalls that he was given a “thorn in the flesh” that caused him grief. He wanted God to take it from him so he wouldn’t have to deal with it any longer. But, our Lord denied him that favor and gave him another instead.

Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)

Bad memories are like the thorn in Paul’s side – they’re burdensome and upsetting – but, God will give you his grace and it will be sufficient for you if only you ask. Bad memories can make it hard to give thanks, but they don’t have to.