We could try to avoid thinking about the loved ones who have passed or who are ailing during the holidays, but when we do, we miss out on the ways that grief is often wrapped up with gratitude. Gratitude that we had these people in our lives. Gratitude for the memories we shared with them. I'm working on a podcast episode about grief and gratitude, and it's on my mind a lot right now as the holiday season approaches (I've also just finished reading a wonderful book on the topic). Read on for some positive takeaways on the interplay between grief and gratitude.
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Many days when I went to open Meghan O'Rourke's Book The Long Goodbye, I wondered if I was insane. Who reads a sad memoir as their mother moves toward advanced dementia and the holidays are approaching? Apparently, I do. And even as I cried on some pages reading Meghan's touching and thoughtful retelling of her journey through grief after her mother's death from cancer, I realized the tears were healing ones. O'Rourke's memoir is too rich to reduce to quotes and brief takeaways, so instead I'll tell you to get a copy and read it for yourself.

Her writing sometimes feels akin to poetry, and the book is an experience (that takes you on a journey). Here are some of the thoughts I had while reading this book. I'm thinking still, and that means it's a good read:

  • Grieving takes on many forms and shapes. It's a shapeshifter that feels different as you progress over time. It's unpredictable and deeply personal. As we experience it and feel its presence, I think we mold grief, over time we make it our own. We may learn to sit with it, grow from it, develop insights, and then turn around and hate it, feeling stuck or out of control. Grief feels very much like a living thing to me; it has teeth as it sinks in, forcing us to adapt to its bite. We adapt because we must, and in that adaptation, we make grief ours.
  • This book made me think about how closely related grief is to gratitude. At times, they are two sides of the same coin, and often after feeling sad and grieving my mom's situation, my mind turns to how grateful I am to have had her in my life at all. The aftertaste of grief is often gratitude. That's a comforting thought.
  • Some of the less attractive emotions I've felt during my mom's illness—shame, guilt, intolerance and pride—are part of the process. They are part of the human condition, and I can forgive myself for having these emotions and for being so emotionally exhausted that I just wanted everything to stop. I can let go of my judgment about what my imperfect reaction to grief says about me.
  • Other people are grieving right now. They are feeling deeply, crying, having trouble sleeping, and feeling emotions. They are in the same boat as me, and I can learn from them. I can get support from knowing I'm not alone.
  • The depth of our grief may be affected by the depth of our love. So we grieve deeply because we have loved deeply. Isn't that why we are here? We have lived out our purpose, made real the best part of reality.
Photo of a magenta orchid with a quote from Roald Dahl in the lower right hand corner that reads: Those who don't believe in magic, will never find it."
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A musing inspired by this Roald Dahl quote: "Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it."

I could tell you about every little bit of magic within you
But you won’t hear it if you’ve never seen it
Felt it
Sensed it
See yourself with fresh eyes
Steep a while in your ethereal bliss

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Two women dressed in black evening dresses sitting on a couch with the caption: Compare Less Grateful More Season 1 Episode 12 of the the Let the Verse Flow Podcast
Listen Now

In episode #12, Compare Less | Grateful More, I talk about how comparison, especially comparing ourselves to the images we see on social media, can rob us of the ability to hold court with our personal strengths and abilities. We compare ourselves to a facade of perfection and find our lives lacking. While small amounts of comparison may help motivate us or provide a standard of sorts to reflect our growth, it usually makes us feel less than. We have better things to do. Listen in as I discuss alternatives—self-affirming activities to replace comparison: gratitude journaling, building supportive friends, and finding a creative, social network through in-person events.

Painter filter on a photo of an elderly man with blurred images of his face in the background suggesting movement; caption reads: Dealing with Dementia Season 1 episode 13
Listen Now

In episode #13, Dealing with Dementia (Family Caregiver Tips & Journal Prompts), I discuss how we handle difficult transitional times in our lives by giving ourselves some grace and creating a formidable community of support. We may have to handle the logistics of moving our loved ones out of their home, arranging for care, managing finances, and caregiving. This is adulting with a capital “A.”

Listen in for more on the essential takeaways: own your feelings and don't apologize for them, and surround yourself with people who support all of the emotional states and stages that you will experience.

Journal Prompts (for remembering loved ones during the holidays):

Here are some journal prompts to help you spend time with your feelings and emotions during the holidays, especially as you remember a loved one who has passed or may be ill.

  • What feelings and emotions will likely arise as you progress through the holidays? List the good and bad ones so you are prepared for them, and write about these feelings.
  • Have grief and gratitude come on together during times of struggle? Write about what grateful thoughts you have as you grieve a loved one.
  • Write about an activity or experience that could help you feel closer to a loved one, help you relive a happy memory or tradition or give yourself comfort during the holidays.

Curious & Contemplating

What I'm Reading: If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie

Gratitude Goes To...

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Today's Photo: Black Squirrel (Not Eating a Nut)

A black squirrel perched on a stone wall eating (perhaps some bread).
What in the world is this squirrel eating?
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