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Gratitude: a wellspring of hope, healing

“In all created things discern the providence and wisdom of God, and in all things give Him thanks.”
-- St. Teresa of Avila

After I had been sick for several weeks, my husband thought a few days away at the shore would give me time to rest.
The hotel was lovely, as was the ocean view, but I was missing my family.
Then we went to eat lunch in the hotel restaurant.
An elderly woman, probably in her eighties, came into the restaurant where the waitress greeted her as if they were friends, asking her if she had had a good winter.
The older woman replied, “Well, not really, but we have to deal with things as they come.” She went on to explain that her daughter had become very ill with cancer during the winter and had died.
The waitress was stunned and unsure about how to respond. “She wasn’t your only child was she?”
The woman, now seated with a young man, shared that she lost her only other child, a son, two years ago. He had a heart attack at the age of 63.
Now I was stunned. I couldn’t imagine the pain of losing one child let alone both children, and within such a short period of time. How did she cope?
A moment later the gray-haired woman smiled at the waitress and said, ”I’m just so grateful to be here with my nephew and for my four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.”
I felt myself getting choked up, but I was beginning to understand.
Later that evening, when we went for dinner, my husband struck up a conversation with our waitress and discovered that she was a single mother of three children, ages 9, 7 and 2. Working at the restaurant was her second job.
“It’s been hard,” she said, “but I was so happy to get this job. My kids are having a hard time adjusting to not seeing me, but I explain to them it’s not a forever thing. The extra money gives me, and them, security for the things we need. I’m very grateful to have been hired.”
There it was again, the one thing that seemed to make the impossible, possible – gratitude – a powerful state of mind that serves as a wellspring for strength, persistence, positivity and growth. Rather than live in their pain and their struggles, these two women made the decision to live in a state of gratitude.
Of course, there is always a need to first work through our grief, our anger and our pain when we are suffering, but eventually there comes a time when we must move forward. Sometimes our losses are so traumatic that we need the support of professionals or others who have been through a similar experience. But when we find ourselves healing, choosing to live in gratitude can be an important step in reclaiming a life of hope and meaning.
Priest and author, Father Henri Nouwen, explains that gratitude is not as much a decision as a discipline: “The choice for gratitude rarely comes without some real effort. But each time I make it, the next choice is a little easier, a little freer, a little less self-conscious. Because every gift I acknowledge reveals another and another until, finally, even the most normal, obvious and seemingly mundane event or encounter proves to be filled with grace.
“There is an Estonian proverb that says: ‘Who does not thank for little will not thank for much.’ Acts of gratitude make one grateful because, step by step, they reveal that all is grace.”

--Mary Morrell
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