Day 22: Finding gratitude in grief

Leading up to Thanksgiving, each day I will blog about what I’m doing to be more grateful. I invite you to join me, and to share your thoughts, observations, suggestions and ideas.

Day 22: Finding gratitude while we grieve

It’s been a sad weekend for us.

On Friday, we put down our 18-year-old cat, suffering from advanced heart disease.  Then Sunday, we learned John’s stepmother had died.

You might think that’d be enough to derail my daily gratitude — but you’d be wrong.

I’ve been thinking about the reasons I have to be grateful as we grieve Emma and Haley.

Emma showed John’s dad, Wes, such love and took great care of him as he declined with Parkinson’s. After Wes died, she moved to be closer to her family so we saw less of her, but I’ve always been grateful for the kindness she showed us — including hosting our wedding rehearsal dinner — and the unwavering commitment she showed Wes.

I’ve written about my crabby little cat, Haley, before. She was hard to love but I’m grateful I got 18 years with her, and that we could afford to give her good medical care to keep her comfortable with us as long as we could.

This isn’t for a minute suggesting I’m happy to lose someone we love or that I’m avoiding grief by being grateful. When my mom died, I joined a grief support group through Hospice and our group leader said grieving is not optional — you can do it now or you can do it later but you can’t avoid it.

But I’m an advocate of not just wallowing in dark sadness. I laughed a lot after my mom died, remembering funny stories and my mom’s quirks, and it felt to me like the best way to honor her memory. There’s no reason to turn off your sense of humor, or your appreciation of life, because of facing death.

“‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

~William Shakespeare

A guest blogger on Halfway to Normal, which I’ve repeatedly promoted because of the Love List Project, writes about how keeping a list of things she loves helped comfort her when her grandmother died:

a few weeks ago, my grandmother passed away unexpectedly. In the midst of all of the family chaos and sadness, I found it difficult to concentrate on anything positive. My own Love List took a back seat to my grief. I wondered if it even mattered anymore.

The answer, of course, is that it does matter. Life moves on. We grieve, yes, but the good things don’t go away just because something bad happened. Deliberately holding on to the good things in life is just as (if not more) important now.

When my grandmother passed, my entire immediate family was together, either by coincidence or divine providence, on a previously-planned vacation. And though I think of it at the time, I was also in the middle of doing something I loved, something I put on my Love List: playing board or card games with my family, especially when we’re all crowded around a table together and there’s an equal sense of camaraderie and competitiveness.

The Flamingo Room, which I’ve also pimped before, has this nice post about learning in grief:

I spoke with a dear friend today, who recently lost her mom, a lady of charm and grace who raised an elegant and thoughtful daughter, also full of charm and grace. My friend said she isn’t feeling up to much of anything these days, preferring to stay at home surrounded by comforting things. The weight of grief is a heavy burden. …

Sitting with grief – whether caused by death, divorce, illness, or some other big loss – is a powerful mode of self-care. The stages of grief are a marathon that tracks a non-linear path. We will need resources along the way (as Mary Cook discovered) as we double back and loop through various feelings, retracing emotional pathways as we assimilate this loss into our permanent psychic and spiritual landscape. We deserve to show ourselves compassion by respecting this process.

My darling friend understands this and is hunkering down with a heavy heart. What she said next though, humbled me: “I’m trying to listen for what it is I might learn from this loss.”

What are you grateful about in the relationships you’ve had with friends or family who have died?

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Categories: lifestyle

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8 replies

  1. Among many other things (small and large kindnesses, love, etc.) I’m grateful for the laughs they have given me. It’s gratifying to look back on a moment where you can laugh, even when grieving. It eases the heart and lightens the burden of grief a little, if only temporarily. In time, good memories outweigh the pain of your loss.

  2. Thanks again for the Flamingo Room shout out. We are always trying to figure out our best methods of spiritual practice and gratitude is one of the most powerful.

    I find that keeping open and in a grateful mindset keeps me open to those connections with people who have passed. I notice those life details that recall to heart and mind those important things that made those people unique.

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