Gratitude and Tragedy: Can they co-exist?
“Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles
and they can become your blessings.”
In the face of tragedy and loss, I suspect that feeling gratitude and appreciation for many things has sort of left the building for you. Perhaps you are not expecting to really appreciate much of anything now and for some time to come. After all, the impact of intense emotion and grief often removes the ability to recognize gratitude very well. There is no blame here for this cognitive loss, it just happens that way. Coping in any form is difficult. The question is, does it need to remain lost or can it be changed by gaining a different perspective? Within a split second it seems any situation in which we find ourselves can bring to mind our loss, and instantly become painful and unbearable to think about. It can often be the simplest encounter or environmental influence. How can we possibly change our perspective when the conditions of our thoughts are repeatedly inviting anger, guilt and fear? On the other hand, a change in perspective may give you some unexpected relief. Defining gratitude is probably different for everyone. What really constitutes being grateful and to what degree? In my book, Let Go and Let Love: Survivors of Suicide Loss Healing Handbook, grateful is 180 degrees away from angry or negative. It doesn’t seem to me that we can be grateful for something and be pissed off at the same time. You might try to make a case here to the contrary, but I don’t see it as working.
You can however be grateful for your anger; perhaps it is telling you or teaching you something you have heretofore missed. Maybe you are not quite seeing that yet, but your anger can spark change for which you are grateful. Get it? You simply step back and look at your emotional responses and find opportunities for change that you appreciate and are willing to try.
Recently I had the chance to return to my old neighborhood where I grew up, in a state quite far from where I live now. Fifty years had transpired since I had seen it last. Talk about change! And the crazy thing is the streets were still there, with the same names, but many of the residences had altered. I tried to feel my childhood embrace me again, but the newness interfered – the grade school I walked to every day was gone, my old homestead was tiny, the gang of friends was long departed and unable to welcome me back in. A large part of me was sad and actually angry by the changes that had taken place. Nothing I saw would ever be the same again; it was lost to me and I could never go back. I will never have that world exist again for me, ever. I looked around me and said, “Hey, what the hell happened to those days and places I loved so much?” Is this starting to sound familiar?
Because of suicide and loss, we have moved away from a life we knew and were perhaps naively safe in, and are now unwillingly facing a change that we never wanted to make or see. We cannot go back there and find it just the way it was. That life is totally gone from us. Often we feel devastatingly remorseful and thoroughly, permanently pissed off. We have lost a lot.
Back in my neighborhood, I also saw something else. In the middle of the old stuff was some interesting and wonderful new stuff. The school had made way for a beautiful and green walking park and playground; the dumpy building where I bought my first illegal cigarette as a teen — don’t fret, I stopped trying smokes shortly after getting that first one — was now a sweet Mom and Pop market with fresh fruit and household needs. My original church was in the same location, had expanded its buildings and parking areas to accommodate a larger parish, but still kept the old ambiance of the original style.
What are you grateful for, right this minute? I know you want to heal your heart beginning today, so get a pad of paper and pen, or sit yourself down at your computer and initiate a list. Perhaps you can only create a short set of incidences that occurred today, and that is a fine place to start. What happened today to make you grateful even if it only lasted for a few moments? Grateful thinking and action is a learned skill, so be patient with yourself while you observe all things that occur around and toward you. When you need to apply it to the healing journey, gratefulness, abundance and appreciation will come easier to you, simply because you have been practicing.
Buried within the tragedy of our loss there will always be some elements that are 180 degrees away from sadness and negativity that we can recognize and perhaps cling to; something to appreciate and be grateful for. If we are angry and guilt-ridden it is difficult to find them. In any given moment identifying them becomes our challenge and our healing. Are you ready to do that?
Excerpt from Let GO and Let LOVE: Survivors of Suicide Loss Healing Handbook, CreateSpace Publishing, $12.87, paperback and ebook available September 2015.
CONTACT: Gabrielle Doucet