The holiday season is upon us, and I appreciate having a time when we are reminded to give thanks for the blessings and friendships we enjoy.  Because of the demands of life, stress, and grief, we may often let days go by without stopping to say two simple words to those people who help us, who have changed our lives, who sacrificed for us, and bless us with friendship.  Just two uncomplicated words: thank you!  How uplifting it can be to give and receive those two words!  Such an easy way to demonstrate tenderness and gratitude to one another.

One of my dearest friends has incorporated the art of gratitude in her daily life.  Just last month, much of the east coast experienced heavy rains and where I live in South Carolina, the floods destroyed homes, cars and other possessions, and sadly, eleven people lost their lives.  Even after the worse part of the storm was over, the relentless rains kept coming on and off for weeks.  For twelve days in a row, there was absolutely no sign of the sun in South Carolina. Our hearts were heavy with concern for the people in our state, and the dark, dreary days pulled our spirits and moods down even further.  However, my friend was a constant ray of sunshine in my life.

She sent text messages and photos that were warmer than the sun, reminding me that the cloudy days would eventually pass; the sunshine would undoubtedly return.  This weather was temporary as is just about every problem we have.  The photos she sent of cheerful yellow daisies and vivid pink roses brightened my day, and she reminded me that every day was a blessing whether the sun was out or not, and even if we lost material possessions and are going through hard times.

Then, the afternoon finally came when that glowing orb finally made its dazzling reappearance in the sky!  Everyone was abuzz with joy.  People posted photos of the horizon on social media and were giving thanks for the light and warmth.  Rushing outside, I lifted my face to the sky and relished the feel of the sunshine on my skin.  My friend was right!  The sun had returned, and I was grateful to bask in its rays.  Since then, I have appreciated the sun so much more than I ever have.  With my friend’s help, I have become more cognizant of blessings that are often overlooked, such as the beautiful music of the birds chirping, the radiance of the wildflowers in the pasture by my house, the comfort of a hug or a smile from a friend, a piece of delicious chocolate, going for a long walk with a friend and admiring the fall foliage.  Simple blessings that make life beautiful, rich and full.  When we lose a loved one or go through extremely difficult circumstances, we must make a conscious effort to be grateful for what and who we have in our lives.

When we are grieving, our intense sadness may feel like those long days we had without the sun, but it will help if you look for those simple blessings that surround us and make our lives lovely and fulfilling.  Make a list of the blessings you are grateful for, including special times and memories of your loved one.  Write down the names of the people in your life who have blessed and helped you.  Better yet, call them up or send them a thank-you card or text message.  Remember those two words have tremendous power to encourage and inspire.  An expression of tenderness that costs nothing to extend.

Recently, my co-workers and I had a Thanksgiving luncheon.  Someone had posted a sign that read “Holiday season is here.  Remember to set your scales ten pounds back tonight!”  Of course, I understood that the intention was to make us laugh and resign ourselves to the fact that we will inevitably gain weight from all the holiday feasting.  However, it brought to mind a question that a wise person posed, “What wonders might happen if we practiced the art of tenderness towards ourselves and others?”  This has become a lost art!  We have become so used to being self-critical and not just about our weight and physical appearance.   Start tracking your thoughts.  How many times during the day do you think negative thoughts about yourself and others?  This includes when we are grieving.  We are so hard on ourselves and may tell ourselves that we should not be sad anymore, that we need to muster up the energy to cook or to attend another holiday party.  We may tell ourselves we ought to be moving on by now, that we have shopping and decorating to do.

Our friends may be thinking the same things about us, and even though they are well-intentioned, it may not be helpful that they want to include you in some many holiday gatherings or may not understand that you do not have the desire to go on a twelve hour shopping spree or sing carols in the neighborhood.  They may try to push you into feeling like you should be over your grief.

Being tender towards ourselves means being gentle with, kind to, maternal and warmhearted towards our bodies and souls.  How can you better care for your physical and spiritual health this holiday season?  Spend some time in prayer or in meditation getting in touch with yourself and making yourself aware of what you truly need.

What would happen if we practiced being tender towards ourselves?  If we just gave ourselves permission to rest and not cook, shop, or clean the house for a day or two?  If we allowed ourselves to just experience the feelings we have and not feel bad or guilty that we are in pain?  If we decided to get take-out more, read a good book, go hiking on Christmas day, get our nails done or get a massage instead of going to a Christmas party?  We must not be hard on ourselves when we are grieving, especially when we miss our loved ones and dread going through the holidays without their presence.

Practicing the art of gratitude and tenderness will help you balance the pain and sorrow you are going through this holiday season.  Count your blessings, like the warmth of sunshine on your face.  Say thank-you to people who have made your lives richer.   Stop the self-critical thoughts and be tender towards yourselves and others.

Bunny Bennett

As a social worker, Bunny knows full well that the world is filled with oppression, social problems, sorrow, and loss. Like so many other women, Bunny enjoys turning the world off for a little while by getting lost in an uplifting story. Her writings gratify the female soul's craving for some good old-fashioned romance and messages of hope. Serving in the field of grief and bereavement, Bunny Bennett is amazed by the wisdom and insight children possess. It is her hope that Grow Like A Sunflower will uplift and encourage children as they process their grief and loss. In addition to novels, Bunny also writes songs and is a true music lover. When she is not reading or writing, she travels with her husband's band and is his biggest fan. Bunny is blessed with three daughters and three step-sons and is a school social worker at an elementary school in Greenville, South Carolina.

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