Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Life of Gratitude

Every November gratitude becomes front and center of life. There is increased conversation about gratitude journals and other ways to express appreciation for 30 days. I see the value, but I also recognize that the start of the holiday season doesn't usher in the same feelings for everyone. It may make sense to some to designate the month of November as the time to be extra thankful for family, love, and life, but for others, including me, the winter holidays are difficult and heartbreaking.

Two years ago, I was rocked by the unexpected death of my father. Losing a parent is difficult regardless of circumstances, but my father was not a figurehead in my life. He was present, consistent, and concerned. He was there for every event and performance. He was supportive and not just of my brother and me—he was a source of support for his siblings, niece and nephews. His absence has been deeply felt not only during holidays but also on the most mundane days.

I find a way to tap into gratitude most of the time. I am grateful that he was in my life as long as he was. I am grateful that he was so kind and thoughtful. I am grateful to have such wonderful memories of him. I am grateful that the last words he heard me speak were, "I love you." Those are good days. However, I have days when I wish I had more time, more memories, and more opportunities to say I love you. There are days when others mention their 60- or 70-year-old fathers, how they celebrated Father's Day, or that they did something as simple as call their fathers and I feel extremely cheated. There are days when I question if holidays or any days will ever be the same. There are days when I miss him and no amount of encouraging words or quotes diminish the longing.

Even prior to his death my holiday seasons have been problematic. Family gatherings are attached to painful complications making it difficult to latch onto the idea of a season of appreciation or to view it as more than the latest fad or "it" thing. What's beautiful about gratitude, though, is that it extends far beyond the typical, limited use. Gratitude also means to praise, grace, and honor. On difficult days I have the option to praise those who have added to my life. When I'm annoyed by declarations of gratitude from those who complain or speak negatively the other 335 days of the year I can extend grace to them—and to myself for being judgmental. When I am overwhelmed with feelings of loss I can choose to honor memories and imprints.

Today, on the second anniversary of my father's funeral, I am grateful for all that he was to my family and me. I am grateful that I can empathize with those who have painful memories attached to this time of year or who may not have a family gathering to attend. Mostly, though, I am grateful that I don't need a calendar to nudge me to praise, grace, or honor those I love because in spite of the loss and heartache—and in some instances, because of it—I am able to live a life of gratitude.

Read last week's post, The Walkway.

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