Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Gratitude and Grief

 “The miracle of gratitude is that it shifts your perception to such an extent that it changes the world you see.”
-Dr. Robert Holden

After we experience a loss, we tend to focus on what we no longer have. As a result we put our energy on the negative, or what is missing in our life, rather than on the positive, or all of those wonderful things we still have. One of my spiritual teachers once told me that when we want what we don’t have, we waste what we do have. To translate that into loss-related situations—to want what is no longer in our life is to waste what still remains in our life.

We usually don’t think about giving thanks when someone dies. Yet gratitude can be one of the most healing tools we have.

I would therefore like to suggest that being grateful for what remains after you have experienced a loss can be a powerful way to deal with, and heal, that loss. Turning your attention on how your life was enriched because that person was in it, for example, rather than on the vacuum the loss created, might be one powerful and healthy approach to confronting grief.

After my wife died at the age of thirty-four, my thoughts, as often experienced by someone who is grieving, sometimes turned to darker questions like, “How can I go on with my life without her?” Grief also brought up a feeling of emptiness, depression, and hopelessness. Once I started to be thankful for all that remained in my life—my daughter, my friends, my work, etc.—I got a glimpse of why I could go on living and, in fact, fully enjoy life again.

Gratitude has the power to help those in mourning rise above their loss. It is life affirming. It can provide hope. And, perhaps most important, it can help us let go of the past and focus on the abundance that surrounds us now.

In my book, Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying (Goodman Beck, 2011), I suggest a simple way to move towards being grateful after a loss:
Tomorrow morning, before you get out of bed, think of at least one thing that you are thankful for. And then, when you get out of bed, start writing down all the wonderful things in you life. You can be thankful for:
            -a penny found on the street
            -the cookies a neighbor brought you
            -the friends you have
            -a rainbow
            -flowers in the park
            -a cup of tea.
Those are just of few little gratitudes that can keep you afloat while you are in a sea of grief. But you might also want to note some of the bigger things for which you are grateful. For example:
            -that the deceased was in your life
            -the lessons you learned from them
            -that their spirit still lives within you.

And, you can be grateful for life itself. As comedian Robin Williams discovered after his heart surgery: “When you have something like heart surgery, you appreciate the simple things, like breathing.”

Friday, May 3, 2013

Condoms and Comedy

Humor has a way of popping up when we least expect it. A friend of mine, who attended a party I recently gave to celebrate my Birthday, beautifully illustrated that with a story of what happened after the party. She told me:

At one point during the party, someone jokingly handed me a foil wrapped condom.  Assuming I had missed the announcement  (we were going to blow up balloons? Party favors? ) I accepted it, but was miles from my purse, so did what any resourceful gal would do, and stuck it in “the vault” i.e. my bra.

On the way home, I decided to swing by the YMCA for some quick pool aerobics.  I knew I’d stand out in my party attire– a silk kimono and gold sequin tank top which was a bit over the top for the Y— so I doffed the kimono and threw a black sweater over my sparkly tank.  When I got to the locker room about 6:00 p.m. it was packed with moms and little girls toweling off before trekking home. Completely forgetting my attire, I threw off the black sweater and immediately one little girl exclaimed "Look mommy, a Princess!”  The setting sun caught the sequins and they shimmered beautifully.  Everyone smiled and giggled and proceeded to get dressed. 

Things were fine until another little girl suddenly exclaimed, “Look mama, she has candy!”  Now what adult would bring candy to a locker room to give to little children?  A definite no-no.  Immediately heads snapped like tree branches in an ice storm.  I followed everyone’s gaze to the source, only to discover – it was me.  What?  Huh?  I didn’t have any candy. I looked down, and there on my right breast, in full view was a bright purple foil packet with the word “Trojan” in big white letters.

In a nanosecond, the room turned from friendly to frigid.  Mothers turned their backs, and instructed their children not to look. Some mother’s glares bore holes into my skull.  Yikes!   I turned to one gal who appeared to be about my age.  I knew she’d understand events are rarely what they seem, and there is often a logical explanation for everything. 

“Uh. I was just at a gentleman’s 75th birthday party, and….”  I could see the truth was not going to help in this situation. I was doomed, and the realization must have registered on my face.  The woman gave me a steady gaze and in a perfect Bea Arthur/Maude voice and attitude said “No need to explain, ‘Princess.’ I think we have the picture.”  O….M….G.  As the wise sage Confucius once observed “Ho….Lee….. Chit!” 

So yes, your birthday was memorable in more ways than one.  These Lucille Ball-like moments happen to me more often than I care to admit.  What can I say?  Happy Birthday.

The moral of the story, if there is one, is that humor is all around us every day, everywhere. So keep your eyes and ears open for it. You never know when humor’s jolly head will pop up.