My experience with gratitude began about five minutes after the police and coroner visited our home the night my daughter Katie died. I remember being thankful that she died instantly. I remember being thankful that she didn’t have any passengers. I remember wanting to thank the entire emergency crew that was at the scene. What? Who is grateful within minutes of learning that their child has died? I guess that would be me and I really can’t tell you why. But it’s the truth.
I remember being in the thick of early grief and dealing with other family issues and thinking I was literally going to explode. All I saw was the growing pile of negatives in my life. I labelled it all bad and I dwelled on every rotten detail about every rotten situation. I was angry with everyone for being in this situation and I was angrier with certain people for making it even more difficult.
And that negativity started rolling over into every part of my life. I couldn’t look at someone on the street without thinking angry and negative things about them. I snapped at my husband because everything that came out of his mouth made me mad. The flowers that were starting to die upset me because all I saw was death.
I saw, felt, and experienced everything that my mind told me to. I was so focused on the anger and extreme sadness over losing Katie that I couldn’t see anything good around me. One day, I said to my husband “We need to start talking about things differently. We need to choose our words more carefully and we need to believe that there is good in our lives.”
It was SO hard. I challenged myself to find one good thing every day. Slowly, things stated to change. The people and situations that were challenging me softened because I focused on the good. When I crawled into bed at night, I counted all my blessings. In the beginning I struggled with this, but in time my list grew.
Gratitude in Grief, written by Kelly Buckley was one of the first books I read. My concentration was terrible in those early days but I really identified with the author’s journey and felt connected to her words. Kelly’s idea of finding one little thing every day to be grateful for seemed achievable.
When you start looking for the good, you see the good. I started seeing the incredible beauty in the sunrise and sunset. I saw hope in the bunnies huddled together under the shrubs. I found peace in the early morning quiet and I found love in the kind actions of others.
It’s easy to be grateful when things are going well. It’s easy to be grateful when you get a promotion or when your husband surprises you with a bouquet of flowers or when you arrive safely at your destination in a snowstorm. Since gratitude and grief are nearly opposites, it stands to reason that they seem incompatible.
The power of gratitude after child loss is actually about focusing on the love and beauty of our child’s life, not their death. I know it can seem utterly impossible to think beyond what has happened and the long road ahead but trust me when I say; gratitude is so incredibly powerful that it literally can flip a switch in your brain and make you feel like you can survive.
Research shows that gratitude reduces the negative emotions that prevent us from healing. This means that anger, jealousy, bitterness, and regret diminish while sleep and stress improve. Gratitude also gives us a sense of power. It is our choice after all. When we are making the choice to be grateful, we become more resilient.
Some ways that you can implement more gratitude into your healing journey:
- Start a gratitude journal. Leave it on your nightstand and write in it every night.
- Practice Kelly’s “one little thing” approach to your day. Find one positive thing each and every day.
- Reflect back on the time you spent with your child. What are you most grateful for? Make a list.
- Join a gratitude group on social media. Can’t find one? Start one.
- Start saying a sincere thank you to one person every day and why you are thankful for them.
- Start practicing random acts of kindness. It really is a great feeling.
- Volunteer somewhere that holds meaning to you. Giving back is being grateful.
- Make a commitment to stop looking at all the negatives for a week and see how you and your life changes. Maybe you can find one good thing within the negatives?
- Make gratitude part of mealtime and encourage everyone at the table to share something that they are thankful for.
Gratitude can be a tough pill to swallow, especially in the beginning, but it changes our focus. It’s a skill that takes time to develop, and is worth the effort. Like anything, practice will make gratitude habitual and eventually effortless. Gratitude can lighten the weight of your grief and make it easier to carry. It’s another tool for your grief tool belt and it makes this road a wee bit easier.
I’m grateful to have had Katie in my life for 17 ½ years and all the memories that I have. What are you grateful for?
For more about and from Lisa Boehm, visit www.LisaKBoehm.com.