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.”

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