Grief and Gratitude

By Allen Klein

After we experience a loss, we tend to focus on what we no longer have. As a result we focus our energy on the negative, or what is missing in our life, rather than on the positive, or all of those wonderful things we still have. One of my spiritual teachers once told me that when we want what we don’t have, we waste what we do have. To translate that into loss-related situations—to want what is no longer in our life is to waste what still remains in our life.

We usually don’t think about giving thanks when someone dies. Yet gratitude can be one of the most healing tools we have.

Being grateful for what remains after you have experienced a loss can be a powerful way to deal with, and heal, that loss. Turning your attention on how your life was enriched because that person was in it, for example, rather than on the vacuum the loss created, might be one powerful and healthy approach to confronting grief.

After my wife died at the age of thirty-four, my thoughts, as often experienced by someone who is grieving, sometimes turned to darker questions like, “How can I go on with my life without her?” Grief also brought up a feeling of emptiness, depression, and hopelessness. Once I started to be thankful for all that remained in my life—my daughter, my friends, my work, etc.—I got a glimpse of why I could go on living and, in fact, fully enjoy life again.

Richard Carlson, author of a number of self-help books, talks about how gratitude comforted him after the loss of a close friend. In You Can Be Happy No Matter What, Carlson writes about how gratitude comforted him after the loss of a close friend.

Carlson says,
When we access our healthy functioning, emotional pain has a different feeling to it—it is still painful, but it includes genuine gratitude for having known the person we have lost. This worked beautifully in my own life, when one of my best friends was tragically killed by a drunk driver on his way to be in my wedding. Rather than think about him sadly, I was able to clear my mind and feel tremendous gratitude for having known such a wonderful friend. Instead of feeling sorry for myself or for my friend’s family, fond memories began to surface from our past together. I was not overwhelmed by my sad feelings and was able to function.

Gratitude has the power to help those in mourning rise above their loss. It is life affirming. It can provide hope. And, perhaps most important, it can help us let go of the past and focus on the abundance that surrounds us now.

Learning_laughP.S.- In my book, Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying (Goodman Beck, 2011), I suggest a simple way to move towards being grateful after a loss:  Tomorrow morning, before you get out of bed, think of at least one thing that you are thankful for. And then, when you get out of bed, start writing down all the wonderful things in your life.

You can be thankful for:
-a penny found on the street
-the cookies a neighbor brought you
-the friends you have
-a rainbow
-flowers in the park
-a cup of tea.

Those are just of few little gratitudes that can keep you afloat while you are in a sea of grief. But you might also want to note some of the bigger things for which you are grateful.

For example:
-that the deceased was in your life
-the lessons you learned from them
-that their spirit still lives within you.

And, you can be grateful for life itself. As comedian Robin Williams discovered after his heart surgery: “When you have something like heart surgery, you appreciate the simple things, like breathing.”

Originally published on on May 14, 2013“Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying.”

Allen Klein saw the therapeutic value of humor during his wife’s terminal illness. Klein is an award-winning professional speaker and author of nineteen books including The Healing Power of Humor, The Courage to Laugh, and Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Cryging

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