By Holly Richardson

holly richardson author pic

‘Tis the season – for gratitude. I love that November encourages/reminds us to be grateful, even when it’s hard. Gratitude is a healing balm for broken hearts, a salve for wounded souls and a way for us to look upward, even in our deepest distress. Gratitude and sorrow can co-exist.

Gratitude and sorrow can co-exist.

I’ve heard some suggest that we learn to be grateful for all of our hard stuff. I’m not going to suggest that you be thankful for abuse, trauma, grief or a myriad of other really hard things. However, I am suggesting that even during those times, there will be glimmers of hope and ways to be grateful. And maybe, down the road, you might even be able to look back with gratitude.

On Thanksgiving weekend, 1988, I gave birth to our second child, a little girl we named Elizabeth. The morning after she was born, a doctor I did not know came into my hospital room and without waiting for my husband to get there (or even asking about him), this doctor proceeded to tell me, without fanfare or compassion, “I am very concerned about your daughter.” He then listed off a dozen things that were “wrong” with her, announced that her life would be short, maybe as short as a month or two, and then left the room. I had just become the mother of a special needs child.

Holly's girl Elizabeth

I felt deep grief over the loss of what would have, could have, should have been. She would never meet the milestones parents celebrate with their children – walking, talking, reading, learning to ride a bike, making friends, graduating, falling in love. She would never grow up to wear my wedding dress (a strange thing to grieve, I realize now), never have children of her own. 

While I was working my way through the grief (and my guilt over feeling grief, a longer story for another day), I felt the knife thrust in a little deeper each time someone would tell me to be grateful I had such a special child, to count my blessings because “special children have special parents!” I did not want to be special! I wanted to be normal!

But here’s the deal: I was still able to find things to be grateful for. I was grateful for sunshine that warmed me. I was grateful for a husband who grieved with me and supported me as we adjusted to our new normal. I was grateful for our toddler who gave me hugs and loves and who loved his baby sister intensely. I was grateful for a vehicle that could take us safely to and from the many appointments we had in the early days. 

gratitude upward

Over time, my grief faded and my love for Elizabeth continued to grow. Long before she passed away at age 17, I was grateful for her just as she was, and grateful for the many ways she blessed our family. 

I have learned I can still find ways to be grateful in the middle of despair and later, I am often grateful for lessons learned, for empathy deepened and a heart softened.

Some trials I never have and never will be grateful for. However, I have learned I can still find ways to be grateful in the middle of despair and later, I am often grateful for lessons learned, for empathy deepened and a heart softened. I believe, as Terryl and Fiona Givens have said in their excellent book, “The God Who Weeps,” that “God does not instigate pain or suffering, but He can weave it into his purposes.”  

Practicing gratitude helps us relieve depression, improves our immune systems and strengthens our connections with people around us. It literally changes your brain. Not only does gratitude release the feel-good hormones of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin but it also rewires synapses and helps us see more positives in our world. Gratitude changes our outlook on life and makes us happier!

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.

Melody Beattie


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