Grief is a potpourri of paradoxes. In brokenness, there can be wholeness. In the darkness, there can be light. In egotism, there can be selflessness. In despair, there can be hope. In ungratefulness, there must, eventually, be gratitude.
This isn’t just psychobabble; for many, it is their survivalist reality. It is the only way that so many bereaved have moved beyond mere suspension. Those who allow themselves to experience gratitude are often able to transcend their former place in the world. They not only become whole again, but they have reached a threshold of completeness they would never have known had it not been for their loss.
These are individuals who, despite incapacitating trauma and turmoil, manage to find gratitude for the goodness in their lives. This is not a magical moment of epiphany for many of them. Rather, it evolves over time and with intense cognitive effort. I believe that finding gratitude- even crumbs or morsels at first- requires emotional maturity, practice, and mindfulness.
It requires us to first focus on the self – to take personal responsibility for our own suffering. To acknowledge it. To tell and retell our story. To know ourselves well. It requires us to acknowledge that there is healing in our suffering. It requires that we silence our minds, respect our body’s response to the grief, and be gentle with ourselves.
It commands patience, intentionality, and commitment to the insufferable pain that radiates from the tips of our hair to the tips of our toes…the agony that causes every cell in our bodies to ache. It requires that we reach out for help from others, sometimes strangers, and that we accept the outreached hand with grace.
Then, when we are ready, we must move beyond the self. We must see the suffering of others. We must acknowledge the other’s pain without the fear of losing or diminishing our own suffering. We must be able to sit compassionately with another, abandoning for a moment our own grief’s narcissistic exigence. We must widen our circle of compassion for all beings suffering. We must see the world through others’ eyes.
We must recognize the acts of kindness, courage, and sacrifice that others have offered along our journey, and extend that droplet of hope to another. It requires that we honor even ill-fated attempts to comfort, and that we reconsider exchanging alienation, anger, and resentment for tolerance, empathy, and acceptance.
We must seek gratitude daily, even for the ‘small’ things in life, like a dandelion dancing on the warm breeze, shadows playing in the park, or a fiery sun setting against a mountainous silhouette – or perhaps, a simple kind word of support from a friend.
Like threads in a garment, grief runs in and out of our daily lives from the instant of Death, one moment often indistinguishable from the next for many days and months. There is a time for this. There is a time to wallow in the mud, a time to pause for the entangling. The garment is unravelling and grief has patterned your life, against your will, in an unfamiliar mosaic. Yet, gratitude can truly help us to heal from our suffering when the time is right to reconvene our lives.
And when that time comes, consider your complaints and revisit your expectations. Take the time to fill your heart with gratitude. You can be grateful for what you have without taking away from that which you have lost.
So, tell someone who has helped you how grateful you are for their presence in your life. Hug someone you love and tell them three things you admire about them. Write a letter or send a card to someone who is making a difference in your community. Leave an anonymous gift for a teacher, doctor, or other “carer.” Reach out to another person in mourning. Let gratitude hang in the shadows, parallel to your grief. It is not magic, but it is transformative.
When we allow the experience of gratitude, the heart may still be broken but the heart is also most full, most whole, and most complete. Mendel of Kotzk said, “Where is God to be found? In the place where He is given entry.” Where is gratitude to be found? It can be found in the very place where you have also given it entry.
(c) 2008 MISS Foundation. All rights reserved. Copyright 2008 by Dr. Joanne Cacciatore
Reach Joanne Cacciatore through her website www.missfoundation.org.
Joanne is a guest author for Open to Hope. This article was posted on www.opentohope.com on August 27, 2008.