Tomorrow will mark eight years since my husband M died. As my grief instructor S said shortly after M's passing: "The hole in your heart will get smaller, but it will never fully close." S was right.
My life has evolved a great deal since those dark days of December 2007. One of the biggest behaviors that has created positive change in my life after 50 is having an attitude of gratitude. Like yoga and mindfulness, having an attitude of gratitude is an awareness practice. With gratitude I'm learning to have more contentment for all the things I have and all the things I can do, versus being disappointed with the things I don't have or can't do.
For example, when I see my friends celebrating their 25th or 30th wedding anniversaries sometimes I am sad that M and I will never have an opportunity to achieve such a milestone. Then the gratitude meter checks in and I become grateful for the 24 years we did have together. It's more than many couples get, especially with the rate of divorce in this country.
Wearing Gratitude On My Wrist
I wear a MyIntent bracelet on my wrist with the word "GRATITUDE." It acts as a constant prompt to be thankful for all the things I can do. "Breathe because you can," said my yoga teacher N in today's class. N is right, I am grateful that I can breathe.
A Bucket Full of Gratitude
If I could hold all my gratitude in a container, it would fill up a huge bucket. In that bucket would be my daughter A and my son D, my boyfriend L, my BFF L and BFF R, my sister N, my late mom and dad, and many more friends and family members. I'd add the gratitude for my beautiful home and my condo on the corner at the shore, top that with my yoga and meditation practice, and for the retirement I earned from my full-time job that is enabling me to live life to the fullest during my second act. There's more, more, more gratitude for you, my blog readers who bring me great joy when we connect through my posts.
Ah yes, the gratitude bucket sometimes gets blown over by negative thoughts that creep in, especially when the aches and pains of my aging body act up or I see more wrinkles on my face. Then I remember that gratitude is a practice and it's not going to be perfect every day.
The Benefits of a Gratitude Practice
Nancy Rones from Yoga Journal wrote that "Practicing gratitude four times a week -- by keeping a gratitude diary and listening to a guided recording for fostering gratefulness in life -- lowered study participants' levels of depression and stress and increased their happiness within three weeks, according to a recent Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine study." Wow, in less than a month this little practice can boost happiness!
For sure when I honor M tomorrow evening at our temple services, my gratitude bucket will be full as I hold him close in my heart. The tears may shed as they usually do, yet the framed quote that hangs in my office will remind me of how truly grateful I am to have had M in my life for each of the 24 years I did. As it says, "When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure."
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at email@example.com.