Can Grief and Gratitude Co-Exist?

You are not alone if you’re in pain. You’re not alone if you’re wondering how the world can go on when you’re grieving and hurting so much. I know how much that hurts. I’ve been there.
There’s no getting around grief. There’s only moving through it. In order to heal, you must feel. But feeling that grief is so painful, and it’s hard to fathom how the world’s going on, as if everything’s OK, when it’s not.
On a beautiful day in the summer of 1994, I was driving on Rt. 287, crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge. Unlike the other 20-somethings on the road, I wasn’t going on an adventure. I was taking my fiancé to Westchester Medical Center to have his bone marrow extracted. We hoped that his bone marrow could be harvested for a bone marrow transplant. We drove to the hospital riddled with anxiety, knowing that he was going to endure a painful procedure, and hoping that cancer was not in his bone marrow.
I silently wept while driving. I squinted hard to release the tears from my eyes so that I could see the road. I didn’t want to use my hand to wipe away my tears and have him see that and know that I was crying. A red Jeep whizzed by with two mountain bikes on the back of the car. Oh, how I had wished that was us.
Things did not go well with the bone marrow extraction. Things did not go well with his life. He took a turn for the worse and was admitted to the hospital in September, 1994. The doctors said that there was nothing left that they could do for him, and that he was going to die. Every day was unpredictable. I didn’t know if he’d be able to open his eyes and look at me that day. I didn’t know if he’d be able to speak my name that day. I didn’t know if he was going to die that day.
One thing that was predictable during those anxiety provoking days was that I was able to get a cup of hazelnut coffee. After all of the visitors left at 8PM, I was comforted by that cup of coffee. The aroma permeated his hospital room and made it seem less sterile. It reminded me of home. The warmth of the cup was calming. I was so grateful for that simple cup of hazelnut coffee that was so predictable at a time when nothing else was.
I discovered the power of gratitude during the worst time of my life. Now I show others how to do the same.
I know what you’re thinking. “How can I possibly feel grateful for anything when I’m grieving?” Or maybe even, “I’m not grateful for anything. I’m mad at the world right now.”
Gratitude does not make your problems go away. However, gratitude does change the lens with which you see the world, and that makes all the difference in your well-being. When I focused on the simple joy that the cup of hazelnut coffee brought me, I noticed that I felt better. Through his illness, his death, and my father’s sudden and unexpected death six weeks later, gratitude for the simplest of things helped me to feel better. Helped me to heal.
I've been delivering my signature talk, Five Daily Exercises in Gratitude in Less Than Five Minutes a Day for several years now. Recently, a woman who is grieving the death of her husband came to one of my talks, and she wrote to me afterwards to tell me how the exercises are helping her.
These Five Daily Exercises in Gratitude are helpful regardless of what is going on in your life. I love that these ideas are helping this woman heal her grief. If you're grieving, they can help you too.
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