Written by: Sandy Linda, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Standfirst: There is a huge guilt in feeling even fleeting moments of gratitude when you have lost someone. But these glimmers can lift us up from the darkness and are measures of love that should be held on to.
Finding gratitude when your heart aches from the absence of a loved one can seem like an impossible task.
This is especially true as we approach the holidays or any time when we would have celebrated with the person we are mourning. For me – it was three people – my mom, dad and sister.
During my first Thanksgiving Day without my family, I welcomed an open invitation from my former financial advisor to join his family. While the gesture was kind, the reality was messy. I was in emotional pain, and watching strangers full of cheer at this family gathering, I felt like I was watching a movie scene. I felt totally separate from what was happening around me.
Other years, I screamed and cried at home, fighting with the deep loneliness that holidays can bring. Both experiences were tough, and I craved guidance on navigating the holidays in the middle of grief.
At these moments especially, it is hard to feel gratitude. In our lowest moments, we might feel that we are living in a void where there is nothing to feel grateful for anymore. In the rare moments in which gratitude rises in our hearts, we might feel we need to push it back as it feels a betrayal of our loss. This guilt is so damaging.
I've faced my share of losses, and I've grappled with guilt in ways I never expected. There was the guilt that I could have done more – the moments during my journey when I questioned my actions and replayed conversations. There was the guilt about my strained relationship with my sister. After she died, I read her journals, and her struggles were revealed to me. This was the impetus for my own journal writing. I took small steps toward healing. I started writing letters to my sister, pouring my heart out on paper. In those letters, I expressed my love, regrets, and longing to find peace. I realized my guilt was a measure of my love and a reflection of my humanity.
But there was also the guilt that came when I allowed myself moments of gratitude or when these moments came unexpectedly. This was a guilt that I was allowing myself to feel something good and beautiful in a time when I felt I should be consumed by grief.
I know from experience that grief and gratitude can co-exist, however. They are not conflicting emotions but complementary. Gratitude can be a lifeline during grief as it offers moments of pause from pain and a chance to heal.
Recent research sheds light on the profound impact gratitude practices can have on individuals navigating grief. Positive Psychology listed 28 impacts – all taken from scientific research – that ranged from increased self-esteem to reduced blood pressure and better sleep. A compelling study conducted by Wong et al. in 2018, found that the simple act of writing a letter of gratitude alongside regular counseling sessions, made participants feel better. Not only this, but they also showed signs of faster recovery.
Gratitude is a beautiful emotion. It doesn't diminish the pain of grief; but it helps us navigate it gracefully. But how do we open ourselves to feeling gratitude when our world feels bleak? Here are some simple ideas that helped me:
Craft a gratitude ritual
Step 1: Choose your journal
Select a journal that resonates with you. It could be a blank notebook, digital journaling app or a dedicated gratitude journal with prompts. The key is to choose a format that you're comfortable with.
Step 2: Set a routine
Research indicates that writing about stress for 15 minutes can alleviate its impact.
Establish a regular time for your gratitude journaling. It could be in the morning to set a positive tone for the day, in the evening to reflect on the day's experiences, or whenever you find a quiet moment.
Try 15 minutes with a timer. Consistency is key.
Step 3: List three things
Write down three things you're grateful for. They can be big or small, personal or collective. The goal is to cultivate a sense of appreciation. For example:
"I'm grateful for the support of my friends during a challenging time."
"I appreciate the warmth of the sunshine during my morning walk."
"I'm thankful for the delicious homemade meal I enjoyed today.
Step 4: Bring mindfulness into your gratitude ritual
Try and incorporate practices like meditation and deep breathing into your day. This creates a space to acknowledge and accept your emotions without judgment. When coupled with gratitude journaling, this practice becomes a gentle yet transformative way to cope with loss.
Start by taking a few moments to ground yourself in the present. Pay attention to your breath, sensations and surroundings. Then, as you embark on your gratitude journaling, let mindfulness guide your reflections.
I want to emphasise that you can’t force gratitude. There will be days when you simply don’t feel grateful. Instead, you might feel angry, lost or heartbroken. That is absolutely natural. You don’t need to put on a happy face or pretend that life is endless sunshine and rainbows.
We find genuine gratitude when we dig deeper but sometimes that is simply beyond us. We might also find it within us to feel gratitude for a fleeting moment, and then it might disappear. We might feel grateful for what we have now, while still hoping for more in the future. This way of thinking helps us avoid a black-and-white way of thinking and encourages us to embark on a journey free of judgment and shame.
Sandy Linda, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Sandy Linda is an elegant and worldly leader in grief guidance and a life coach. After experiencing multiple losses, she began a journey using her experiences to find calm in the chaos to support those mourning multiple losses. Sandy helps her clients move from heartbreaking losses to a place where they can work towards healing and become fearless adventure leaders.