April 21, 2015

Finding Gratitude in Grief.


This year has been a year of grief.

My wife lost her job, we left our gorgeous home, moved to a new home, and my grandmother—my beloved Oma—died unexpectedly at 87 years old.

She checked herself into the nursing home “because something felt off”. Just one week later she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. A week after that she slipped peacefully into the darkness of her own eternity.

In all of this darkness and shifting I find myself gripped by gratitude. A deep gratitude that I cannot shake. Gratitude for the life our loved ones get to live—no matter how short, long, or in between that life may be.

In much of the Western world we are so deeply disconnected from the notion of death. We fear it. We allow that fear to eat us alive. We turn our heads away from seeing the dying man on the street, yet we rubberneck at the scenes of car crashes and have a sick fascination with horror movies.

We’re a culture obsessed with death while simultaneously scared to death of death.

I was asked to speak at my grandmother’s service—asked to celebrate her life, and to mourn her death. Throughout the speech, I found myself smiling more than crying, often giggling at the times we had. As a result, the hole in my heart was temporarily healed.

I realized that my grief wasn’t sadness, but a deep sense of missing. And I found comfort in my memories, a balm for my deep longing to be able to speak to, hug, and kiss her again. To hear her voice tremble.

It is not sad in and of itself that our loved ones die, it is sad that we lose them. We are sad for the loss we feel, and that loss is a constant reminder that we had them in our lives once before. That they were treasured, and that we were grateful for their presence in our lives.

A strange thing happened amid my year of grief. I found that my grief became my gratitude practice. My grief became my daily walk and grief became my compassion.

Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.” ~ Rumi

For in the end, it is love that allows us to feel grief; it is loss that allows us to treasure what we have now, and what we’ve had before. It is in loss that we find peace again—and loss makes us and our experiences whole.


Author: Makenna Johnson

Editor: Alli Sarazen

Photo: Lux Lisbon/Flickr

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Makenna Johnson