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Finding Gratitude in Grief

Me, Daddy, and my sister, Sarah

My dad passed away at the end of March.

This photo was taken only a month before he died. Within two weeks of the photo, he was diagnosed with leukemia. Two weeks after that, he was gone.

What a stressful time! During the last days of his life, my sister, Sarah, and I - with a lot of help from my brother-in-law, Ryan - had to make all kinds of arrangements to make his last moments comfortable, and to take care of estate issues.

Since Sarah has a lot more experience with the care part, she was in charge of keeping him comfortable. Since I had the administrative expertise, I took care of all the paperwork and dealt with agencies and hospice. Ryan did a lot of leg work and the nasty tasks we didn't want to face. We all used our individual strengths to get through a sad time.

When it was all over, I thought about what we had just gone through. I worked through my grief by handling paperwork. But I felt something else welling up that mitigated so much of the pain: Gratitude.

There were so many things for which I was grateful: 1. Dad's illness was brief, and his pain minimal. 2. Since he was extremely organized, getting him into a skilled nursing facility and wrapping up the estate went quickly and easily. 3. We met so many wonderful friends of his that not only showed kindness, but offered help above and beyond what we could have hoped for. 4. Dad and his best friend Zak (who passed away a month earlier) are now enjoying eternity together, free of pain and illness.

Gratitude is something we say we have, but we tend to display it only when good things happen.

I keep a gratitude journal. There are the usual things - gratitude for my wonderful significant other, things that make my life easier (like air conditioning and intermittent windshield wipers), and things that are beautiful (like the birds outside my window, the dogs, flowers, sunlight reflecting off the faucet). But I also look for gratitude in the negative things. Maybe those negative events teach us something. Maybe something bad that happens to us helps someone else.

Maybe we learned about the strength we didn't know we had. At the very least, negative events and situations offer a counterpoint to the good things - how could we appreciate the good things in life if we never experienced the bad ones?


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