Gratitude does not come naturally to most of us when we’re dealing with intense grief and especially after the immediate loss of a child. I had to actively find my way back to gratitude following these two steps:

  1. Acknowledge God plays a role in my life – if I let Him.
  2. Invite Him into my life by asking for His comfort and grace through prayer.

After the sudden death of our son, Ben, all I could muster for prayer were two words: “Help me!!” Even though it was short, direct, and demanding, my prayer was heartfelt, and over time I started to feel connected to God and found I could recognize and follow His direction. Believe me when I say I didn’t feel anything divine but, surprisingly, I found His direction to be just as concise and direct as my prayers.

My first and most profound spiritual encounter came a week or so after Ben’s death. I had come to the end of my patience with comments such as, “he is in a better place,” or “if only we had known how much Ben was struggling,” or my all-time favorite – and the tipping point – “we would have come to his service but our son had a baseball game.” Seriously, that was said.

Immediately after the “my-son-had-a-baseball-game” comment, a dear friend (who had overheard this exchange) grasped my hands, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Even though I’m not a particularly religious person, I understood these to be the words of Christ (Luke 23:34).

I was overcome with humility and a sense of grace, and I became aware that I was in the presence of a higher power who found His way to me through my friend. Even now, seven years later, I cannot share about that first spiritual experience without crying because I know God used the words He knew I’d understand and presented them in a fashion He knew I’d appreciate: clear, direct, and yes, demanding.

From that moment on, I began to see God everywhere and felt him working inside me. I felt power in being grateful, and gratitude gave me the strength to let go of my anger.

I will not lie and say I’m grateful for having to live out my life without our son, but I am grateful for every day of Ben’s 19 years and I am grateful for every day I’m given to live on and to help others carrying this same burden. Gratitude gives me the confidence to say “yes” to living, to take good care of myself, and to extend hope and love to others.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 4:4).

Joni Norby

Joni M. Norby retired from California State University, Fullerton where she served as Associate Dean and Lecturer for Business Communications. She earned her MBA from Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas and has studied creative nonfiction and poetry as part of Stanford University's Online Writing Series and at The Loft Literary Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Along with writing, Joni owns and operates a vineyard in California's Central Valley along with her husband, Dave.

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