Gratitude in Grief

This is definitely going to be the most personal (and maybe longest) post that I’ve shared on the blog.  Since the theme of November was gratitude, I wanted to share how gratitude helped me through the diagnosis and then the passing of my Mom from complications of Alzheimers at the end of 2016. 

This blog overall is pretty light, inspirational not at all heavy and I almost skipped this topic to go with something “easier”.  But, my heart kept tugging at me to share this.  As I  changed my mind 1,000 times, my heart kept telling me to share this.  Yes it was deeply personal, still very new, and hard to talk about let alone share on my blog.  But I also knew that if I wanted to talk about Gratitude this month, I couldn’t talk about gratitude and grief and not include my own personal experience.  I’ve stopped dragging my feet or procrastinating or pushing this post to the following week.  And even thought I’m not totally ready,  I’m listening to my heart and sharing how gratitude helped me through the heartbreak of the diagnosis and the slow painful loss of my Mom to a debilitating disease and the grief that followed her passing.  

When you think of Gratitude and grief it isn’t a common pairing that you would easily associate together. They feel like total opposites.  How can you find gratitude in grief?  What on earth is there to be thankful for? How can you find gratitude when it feels like the world is crumbling at your feet?

The answer to that is that it’s not easy at first but with time, it gets easier and with even more time, you realize that it’s actually helping.  That’s exactly what gratitude did for me.  

The quote “have an attitude of gratitude” took on a whole new meaning for me after I lost my Mom.  When my Mom was diagnosed with dementia, it was devastating. It broke me down in a way I still can’t explain.  I couldn’t understand how my Mom, this smart, vibrant, funny, kind and loving woman had dementia?  I was heartbroken, scared and angry with God.  

On top of this new diagnosis, I was now on this crash course to understanding dementia and from there learning that with my Mom, it was aggressive and progressing fast and showing signs of transitioning to Alzheimers.  It was all too much for me. On top of that, life was still happening and I had to live it.  How on earth do I do this was the first thought I had when all I really wanted to do is just lay in bed and cry.  Even with the love and support of friends and family who offered advice, prayers and so much more, I knew I needed to do something for myself so that everything that was happening wouldn’t swallow me whole.  That’s when I started my gratitude journal (with some free write journaling mixed in too).

At the time I started my gratitude journal, I didn’t know about any of the benefits having a gratitude journal would offer as I was dealing with my own loss and grief.  It was honestly the first thing that came to my mind as I was searching for something to help me shift my focus.  I started writing down what I was grateful for each day.  Some days were a struggle and I only had one thing written down. Somedays I couldn’t write anything down and on other days I had plenty of things to write down.

Over time, it got easier and also with time, I started to see good even in the middle of uncertainty and heartbreak. What I’ve learned after reading different articles is that keeping a gratitude journal is one of many ways to help process grief.   Here’s a few areas where gratitude journaling helped me.

Being Present

I was able to be present and see the good things happening all around me. From there, it became my intention to find at least one thing that happened during my day that I was grateful for and write it down in my journal.  This kept me from getting loss in my sadness and grief.  This was one way that I remained present and didn’t “check out” of my life. 

See The Blessings

Gratitude journaling helped me to see blessings in the middle of sadness.  From a sweet conversation with a friend. Encouragement to press forward after reading an article or talking with someone with the Alzheimers Foundation. Conversations with my Aunts or friends of my Mom calling to check on me.  Each of these really sweet gestures helped me to remember that even when things were falling apart, I was still blessed to be surrounded by people and family who were present for me. As I wrote these things down or said them to myself them out loud, more blessings would follow and I felt immensely grateful to the people in my life and the people who loved my Mom as much as I do.

Reclaim Memories

Gratitude helped me to use my memories of my Mom to process my grief and not fuel my sadness.  I struggled with being angry and feeling like life was unfair when I missed my Mom and wished that I could talk to her. It was in those moments,  that I’d write down a list or just sit and remember things I learned from my Mom that I was grateful for. I’d recall funny moments we had and remember her laugh and yes, most times I would start crying but recalling these memories helped me to see that despite the reality of losing my Mom in a way that was heartbreaking, I started to see all the wonderful things my Mom did for me and with me and just feel immensely thankful for every moment I had with her.

This past year hasn’t been easy but gratitude has enabled me to also give myself a bit more grace and to be thankful for the big and small steps I make as I process my grief.

Now I have to share a bit more about my Mom.

As I already shared, she was vibrant, funny, kind and loved her family fiercely.  She was  my biggest cheerleader in everything and encouraged my Sister and I to dance to the beats of our own drum. Throughout my life, she encouraged my creativity so it’s no surprise that when I started this stationery business, she was my biggest supporter.  So much so she bought me a gocco printer as a birthday gift when my business was getting started to help but also knowing I was interested in this printing process.

My mom and I would talk all the time and she was my lifeline offering the best advice in dealing with heartbreak, job stress and everything else in between.  I could go on for days talking about how wonderful my Mom is and the fact that I miss her everyday.  To loose her to such a heartbreaking disease has been hard.  If I’m being honest, I’m still working through this loss not even a year later.  What I do know is that even on days when I’m sad or wish I could talk to her or get her advice, I’m grateful that she gave me a gift that would be with me to this day by introducing me to journaling.  I’m truly blessed that she gave me one of the most valuable tools that I have used most of my life to help me process loosing her and work through my grief.  It feels like a divine twist in a way that even now, she is with me.