turning the pages through grief
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Being a Thankful Griever If you have been in a retail store lately, you have undoubtedly noticed the proliferation of decorative items related to the autumn and the Thanksgiving holiday (in fact, you have probably noted Christmas decorations, too!) “Housewares” is the department where these items seem most apparent with its kitchen towels and potholders emblazoned with words like, “Give Thanks.” In the midst of grief's darkest days, “giving thanks” seems an unreachable expectation. As you have likely read before in these pages or elsewhere, the word bereavement owes its origins to an old English word meaning robbed. After an intruder has broken into our home, turned things upside down, and carted off the most precious possessions, “giving thanks” does not seem to be too high on our agendas. Yet, expressing gratitude is a vital part of the grief process.
the early days and weeks after your loved one died. Expressing gratitude is really quite simple. In reflecting back on the early days after your loss, who were the people who were present for you and how did they serve? Even if you have already said “Thank you,” sending an informal note now reminds the giver that you continue to benefit from their care when reflecting on the memory. Was there a physician, a hospice nurse, a minister or a funeral director who just went “way beyond” in their care for you or your loved one? Take time now to say thank you. While a verbal “thanks” or a quick email is nice, nothing replaces an informal note written in your own handwriting with an old-fashioned postage stamp in the corner of the envelope. Three simple sentences do the trick quite nicely:
Perhaps we need to give thanks because, in spite of such devastating loss, we have still been the object of incredible care. Perhaps people came from miles around to support you through the funeral or memorial service, Just this week, I including some people not seen for many years. Maybe was reminded golfing buddies, club members or faith community again of the group members checked in on you in the early days. Most likely, the closest of friends and neighbors Continued... brought food, stayed overnight with you or provided other simple acts of kindness and service, especially in
“It is a joy to walk in the bare woods. The moonlight is not broken by the heavy leaves.” ~Robert Bly
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You will never know how much it meant to me when you (list an action, card, call, etc.); the memory of that continues to give me comfort. In the hurried up world in which we live, I just wanted to pause again to say thank you. Expressing gratitude does not need to be limited to what has already happened. Look for ways to express gratitude every day. When the checkout clerk places the change in your hand, look him or her right in the eye and say something like, “Thank you for (your smile/your quick service/your happy attitude/just being here.) I appreciate you helping me.” Amazingly enough, taking time to brighten another person's day will brighten your own, as well. In his provocative layperson’s guide to the “science of gratitude,” Robert Emmons (see review below) wrote, “…while the emotion seemed simplistic even to me as I began my research, I soon discovered that gratitude is a deeper, more complex phenomenon that plays a critical role in human happiness. Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably change peoples’ lives” (p. 2). Take time every day to say thank you—to God, to a family member, to a friend or to a perfect stranger. What you might just discover along with Emmons is that such a simple act can have a radical, “measurable” life-changing effect on you.
With only about 250 pages, one would wonder just how much “science of gratitude” could be interpreted in ways that non-scientists can understand. Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier by Robert A. Emmons (Houghton Mifflin, 2008) is a winner on both sides of the equation. The book takes an in depth look at why gratitude makes a difference in human interaction and it does so in ways that are easy to read and understand.
way you cared for ________ and for me.
In his seven chapters, Dr. Emmons details such matters as how gratitude affects the body, how gratitude enriches the spiritual dimension of life, how ingratitude is damaging both personally and interpersonally, and how to live a life of grateful practice. Perhaps the highlight of the book for readers of Chapters, however, is Emmons sixth chapter, which he devotes to “Gratitude in Trying Times.” Packed into this easily-to-read book are multitudes of ideas for expressing gratitude every day and enriching the lives of ourselves and those around us in the process. This is a “great read” for the Thanksgiving season.
•••••••••••••••••••••••• There Goes the Neighborhood Courtesy of Pam Janssen • pam-theregoestheneighborhood.blogspot.com
Every fall, and especially in the mornings when the late autumn frost made the leaves on the ground heavy with sweat, my dad would grab the rakes, a couple old pairs of gloves, leafsized garbage bags, and me… and we would rake and compress piles of soaking wet leaves into those large black plastic travel bags. Down to the village compost pile, where we would open the back of the family station wagon, “we’re here”, and introduce them to leaf cousins and neighbors they never knew they had. These days we move our leaves to the curb. The village sends out a rickety version of Babar: a
re-tooled orange truck, complete with the sniffing snout of a giant elephant. Babar ambles slowly through the streets, swallowing leaves and occasionally belching with indigestion. I imagine wet leaves might create the need for an antacid, or maybe a sip of blackberry brandy... for Babar’s handlers... 50 years ago I was Tom Sawyer, exploring the jungle along the treacherous banks of Peanuts Creek (that’s pronounced “crick” to those of you from outside the village jungle), hiding in piles of leaves, exploding from my secret den just in time to scare the dickens out of my
Bill Hoy • Contributing Editor • firstname.lastname@example.org William G. Hoy is a counselor and educator with more than 25 years experience working with people in grief and the professionals who care for them. In addition to his oversight of a large hospice bereavement program, Dr. Hoy teaches on the faculties of Baylor University and Marian University.
sister, Mickey, and her childhood friend, Cheryl. These days I more closely resemble Samantha Steven’s nosy neighbor, Gladys Kravitz, opening the front door and reminding the neighborhood’s latest version of Eddie Haskell to be careful playing in those leaves so close to the road. And you kids… watch out for that belching orange elephant. I like the change of seasons in the Midwest. Fall is an especially good time to stop and take a good look around, and just, hmmm… ponder a bit. Pull out the soup kettle and get a pot of chili started.
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