My best friend died, twice. Hmmm, maybe I should clarify that statement. I lost my friend Jennie less than a year after we graduated high school in a tragic car accident. Then last summer my friend Mari left this world after a fearless fight against brain cancer. Also in between these two losses, my older sister Marna passed away from liver failure. I am sharing my story with you today because I want to help those people who are grieving this holiday season.
I have a secret weapon for dealing with grief that I haven't shared until now. Gratitude. Yup, that's it. The main ingredient you need to live a happy life under any condition. Gratitude has been my most essential tool to live life after loss. Expressing gratitude has grown into a daily practice of mine. Through this ritual I have been able to transform my dark feelings of loss into love and light.
Gratitude is abundant this time of year. Am I the only one who got an inbox full of Thanksgiving gratitude BS? Excuse me for the attitude. I just wholeheartedly believe gratitude should be a daily practice, not a season one. There’s always something to be grateful for 365 days a year. Gratitude is not just a word; it needs to be a ritual in your life.
This time of year is especially tough for me. Each year I think I’ll be “stronger”. Then like clockwork, the leaves fall and grief knocks at my door. It’s been almost nine years since the tragedy, but every single November 19th I find myself counting how old Jennie “would be” turning. This time two years ago is also when my sister Marna passed away at the young age of 47. Her birthday was December 7th. And then there’s Mari who I celebrated many holidays with including Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and Easter. My grief for these three women is amplified during this time of year. So my journal pages fill with words of gratitude (see real images above from my journal). The more I grieve the more gratitude I need.
"The highest tribute to the dead is not grief, but gratitude." -Thornton Wilder
Seasonal grief. Can you relate? I rarely think about the day my loved ones died. Instead, I feel their absence during celebrations, birthdays, and holidays we spent together. Grief also seems to compound with every new loss. I think I’ve experienced all the stages of grief, and then some. Shock. Denial. Sadness. Depression. Numbness. Anger. Avoidance. Panic Attacks. Acceptance. Guilt. Gratitude. Oh ya and if bitchiness is a stage, that happened too! Thankfully my friends and boyfriend are patient and understanding. I don't know about you, but when I grieve I love to selfishly push people away.
"People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within." -Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Maybe you've read Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' classic book, On Death and Dying, that revolutionized concepts of death and greivance. She gave the world a blueprint of how to appreciate and accept emotions we all inevitably feel after loss. The official famous five stages of grief from her book are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
After reciving some criticism, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross later explained she wished people hadn’t taken her book so literally. The book is meant to be a general guide, not a linear formula. When someone you love deeply is suddenly gone, you can’t predict how you will feel, when you will feel it, and for how long. The important thing is to simply feel. That’s how we grieve. Let it all out. Then immediately get grateful.
"What you are taking for granted, someone else is praying for." -Unknown
For every day you’re grieving, write down what you are grateful for. Even if it feels wrong. Do it. I hate to spill the bad news, but grief never fully goes away. You will always miss that person. But ask yourself, “How would they want me to live?” The answer is YOLO (you only live once). In other words, your friend, dad, brother, uncle, son, or daughter would want you to keep living and seeking fulfillment! I know this is not an easy task, but throwing in the towel and being a depressed zombie is the most selfish thing you can do. How is that honoring your loved one’s memory? They don’t get the gift of life anymore. And you do. You have an even greater responsibility when someone you love dies to do great work with your life. When that realization hits, gratitude becomes a crucial part staying positive and moving forward.
"Change your expectation for appreciation and the world changes instantly." -Tony Robbins
Gratitude is your most powerful tool for living a fulfilled life after loss. It’s also the simplest. You can activate this superpower anywhere. Just begin to list all the abundance you have in your life. Write it down as often as you can. Make it the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning. It’s a great way to start or end your day.
4-Steps to Activate Your Gratitude Muscles:
1. Sit down with your journal (or some notecards) and a pen.
2. Take a few deep breaths to allow your eyes, heart, body and mind to open wide.
3. Write “I am grateful for…” and begin listing everything you appreciate.
4. Make this a daily ritual. Write down at least one thing. Everyday.
Here’s an Example:
"Today I am grateful for the gift of life. For my mom and dad. For the air, sun, and clean water I have free access to. To be born in America. For the vast dynamic planet. To be healthy and strong enough to run. I am grateful for every single moment I spent with Jennie, Marna, and Mari even though it will never feel like enough. I am grateful for their feisty personalities I always admired. I am grateful that parts of them will always be a part of me. I am grateful for my courage to write this blog. I am grateful for the person reading this."
Grieve with Love. Take Care of Yourself in the Process. These Podcasts will Help:
SoulFeed - Chats with influential leaders + inspiring life coaching. Sarah Montana: Why processing grief is essential to the soul. FREE in the iTunes Store
Do Over Life - Grief Recovery. What does a Morning routine have to do with grief recovery with Matthew McSpadden. FREE in the iTunes Store
Do Over Life - Grief Recovery. How to pick up the pieces after a child dies with Glen from Grief Toolbox. FREE in the iTunes Store