Gratitude continues to show up in my life in unexpected and sustaining ways. This is how it carried me through a difficult chapter of my life, and how it continues to hold me in all the dark moments that have followed.
My father passed away almost 5 years ago at the great age of 84. I think he would agree that he lived a beautiful life, to which he brought his immense energy, enthusiasm and heart.
At the hospital, where he slowly died over the course of nine days, I lived in a dream, like I was walking through water and drowning in tears. It took time to accept what was actually happening. And as it slowly dawned on us all that this was it, I would walk the grounds outside the hospital.
It was during those walks that I found something unexpected — a feeling of deep and compelling gratitude.
As my father lay dying, gratitude wrapped its arms around me and carried me through those dark days of his dying, as it still carries me now.
And I knew even then exactly what I was grateful for.
For all the love he gave me, for all the ways he encouraged and supported me, for all the time he spent with me, for all the things he taught me.
For the way he lived his life, for the way he was dying with love pouring out of his tired eyes, still my dad.
I was also grateful because we were blessed to have a room in that hospital with a view of the foothills and mountains, which he loved. We were blessed to have access to competent and compassionate nurses and doctors, we were blessed to have family and friends around us.
His final days were filled with love and abundance – we were so blessed and so grateful.
Gratitude carries me now through moments when one of his favorite songs will play on the radio and I am blinded by tears – and I recognize that what pours through me is grief AND gratitude…and even joy.
And the gratitude always points the way to peace.
It calms me.
I am grateful for the song, and for the tears, as it reminds me of all that was — all that was so beautiful, and wonderful, and all that still remains, that is also wonderful – the memories, the qualities of his that I know I carry in me, that I see in my own children, his grandchildren. It reminds me that love goes on – in so many ways.
And this somehow gives me hope.
That maybe grief and loss and suffering have a larger meaning.
That in this liminal moment where the two meet and live side by side – grief and gratitude – is the passage through, is the doorway into a greater world, a bigger heart, a more compassionate journey.
Where you learn that your heart won’t break but finds the capacity to heal.
Where you learn that your heart is wider and deeper than you ever thought, and can contain the grief and gratitude at once…to allow you to be overflowing with sadness and love and thankfulness at the same time…to know your heart truly is full in a way that only loss can show you.
My grief, when aligned with gratitude, brings me to joy. One cannot exist without the other, and while I may have once understood this as a platitude for the bereaved, I have now truly felt the joy born of loss come alive in my heart.
That if I may say, as painful as it was to watch my strong father slowly diminish in a hospital bed in Calgary, I felt then and still do feel this great joy in having had him in my life. This deep joy for all the moments when I knew I was a beloved daughter, that this terrible grief flowing through me can only exist because the joy and the love also exists.
Grief and loss are the price of that love and joy – and so with gratitude I pay the price over and over again.
And this is the truth and the gift of gratitude born of grief: it is all things, it is the twisting, rolling, wrapping up of every strong emotion, it wants to move through you like a wave, like a howl, like a dove – it is a song of love and loss as old as the earth. It is the wound and the healing of the wound…it is the singer and the song…it is the meaning of why we are alive.
It is why our grief and suffering has a meaning.
It is the meaning.
It is strength broken by strength and still strong.