Find Light in Love and Gratitude
CATEGORY: Grief and Loss
BY: Mary Murphy, M.Ed., LPC
PUBLICATION: About Grief
After the death of your loved one, the anticipation of these first holidays can be filled with a combination of dread, anxiety or numbness. Many intentions pass through your mind and the realization sets in—your loved one will not be home for the holidays. And they will be missed. The season is as laden with memories as a Thanksgiving table is with food.
There may be some relief for you if—in your grief—you can turn your heart to love, acceptance, and gratitude. You might say, “Right. And why don’t I lift my car over my head while I’m at it?” It isn’t easy, but know there is a window of possibility to relieve the dread, anxiety, and numbness.
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” There is truth in this saying, and it can be a mindful message for grieving. We grieve those we love. It hurts. How much you suffer, though, is optional.
How do you get through the hurt and the holidays?
First of all, let’s remove the big push. Words have power, so let’s change the words around and set a positive intention. Ask yourself, “How can I experience love, peace, and gratitude (fill in your own intentions), while grieving, during these special days?”
Don’t brush your grief and sadness aside. Take care of those feelings. Have a special candle devoted to your loved ones, possibly with pictures and music, then spend time reflecting on the love they gave you and the love you gave them—the treasure you now carry. Through the tears, a smile might emerge.
When you’re suffering, pay attention to what you love or are grateful for in that moment. Begin a daily habit of writing three expressions of gratitude and three loves at the end of each day. It might be as simple as: Gratitude: 1. I woke up; 2. My feet are working; 3. I can smile. Loves: 1. My friend Sarah; 2. Shimmering snow; 3. Cream in my coffee.
Have an attitude of gratitude. The practice of gratitude (and love) is supported by research.1 Among other benefits, an attitude of gratitude helps one better cope with stress, boosts the immune system, improves mental alertness and positive feelings. I am reminded of a friend whose husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness. The hope they had for one another was to do their best in that moment. When times were tough, one of them would begin to recite gratitudes. “We have clean water running from our tap,” one would say. “The autumn leaves are spectacular this year!” would say the other. “We have love in our home right now.” And the list would go on until they had found peace in love and gratitude.
If you choose to attend holiday gatherings, notice who is there, not who is absent. Though the thoughts and loneliness will creep in, turn toward love and gratitude. Sometimes we are so involved with grief we become blind to the beauty and love around us. When your eyes mist, turn toward a person you love. Find comfort, step into the moment and open your heart and your eyes to the love that faces you.
Emmons, Robert, and Michael McCullough. “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84.2 (2003): 377–389. Print.