Teaching Gratitude... for the PainNov 24, 2021
It’s Thanksgiving week here in the States, a time of excitement, reconnection, travel frenzy and for me, work.
Yup. I’m that person who volunteers to work on Thanksgiving. (Truth: I take off at the end of December which is an amazing trade.) Yet, on Thanksgiving, I enjoy meeting people who are having a hard day - because no one wants to go to the medical office, let alone on Thanksgiving - and bringing some love and a now-virtual hug their way.
A theme you will see a lot of in the season of Thanksgiving is gratitude. And the questions come up:
How to teach our kids gratitude?
How to practice gratitude (I like this one because it’s totally a practice)?
There is some great science out there about the benefits of practicing gratitude.
Improved emotional health
Improved physical health
Lower blood pressure
Improved psychological health
I can use all of those right now! In fact, I am grateful for the benefits of gratitude upon all aspects of my life.
My practice has centered on taking a moment to celebrate the good that’s going on right now. Recalling 3 things that I’m grateful for today (the Three Things exercise).
Being grateful for the good is so helpful to keep finding more good in your life. After all, what we focus upon will lead our brains to find more evidence…. As I look for things to be grateful for, ?I find more and more. It’s a snowball effect.
And then, there’s 2020… and now 2021.
There’s a lot of shitty things that have happened in our world, in our communities, and in our families. COVID-19, racism, violence, death of loved ones, pain, school disruptions and disconnection.
I asked myself how do I reconcile all this focus on gratitude with all of this pain?
I do not think that it’s an either-or… either I’m grateful or I acknowledge the pain.
I’m practicing having gratitude for the pain.
Don’t leave me yet -- let me explain.
My pain has been real: I lost my beloved Bonus Dad, Bill, early in 2020. The feeling of emptiness was all-consuming. I mourned his passing, I mourned the joy that he brought to my mom over the past 20+ years.
I am not grateful that he died. Not one bit.
I’m grateful that he lived.
There is one thing that I am grateful for with his passing…. Bill is the person that I think of all the time when I consider that I can and do have a relationship with people even after they pass. We are closer now than ever. I love him for the love he has given to my mother and my family. I celebrate his antics and smile every time I pass a Wawa (he could never pass one without stopping for a Diet Coke), Bass Pro, Home Depot -- he never met a stranger.
I see Bill in myself now. I talk to people so freely and ask, “Hey, can I ask you a question?”
You never knew what was coming when he asked that question. But it would be good.
I am grateful for Bill, and I am grateful for the grief that I experienced with his death… it opened me to how grateful I am that I had him in my life in the first place. I learned just how important he was to me and my family by experiencing the hole in our lives, and I learned so much more about myself in his death. Bill and I are closer than ever now. And I am so grateful for that.
The grief actually helped fill in the hole that was left when we passed. Slowly, over time, it filled in with love.
❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️
The Nasty C-Word: COVID
With COVID, it’s not an understatement to say that everything changed. There are so many ways that it introduced new suckiness.
The pandemic sucks at work: I’m tired of suiting up at work, the pressure of the N-95 on my nose, having to stick that swab up kids’ noses and risk losing new friends along the way. I miss hugs at work - for moms who just need someone to see them, listen to them, and offer a physical connection in a safe space; for kids who want to express their love and gratitude at the end of the visit. I miss the currency of hugs.
The pandemic sucked at home: The disruption of school for my kids has been traumatic on multiple levels for them. They have experienced fear and uncertainty that I never thought I would allow in their upbringing. My husband was not allowed to return home for weeks as he was on a lockdown at work.
And yet, I am grateful for what the pandemic has brought me:
I was able to do a hard re-set from my prior over-extension (hair ALWAYS on fire with balancing schedules for the whole family), while searching for direction and while I was grateful for the blessings I had - I was feeling lost.
I learned how my currency is hugs - and through the loss I can acknowledge it, talk about it - and embrace those in my safe circle even more.
I learned how slowing down, doing less, means so much more than adding more to my plate.
I am grateful that my children and I have experienced fear, uncertainty, pain, loss - and are learning and growing from it.
They have had to face things that we hadn’t prior-imagined - schools shutting down, isolation, fear, violence in communities - and we were together to support each other.
I am so grateful that I was here with them through it.
I learned so much about myself as a parent through the pandemic:
I learned the most valuable thing to do amidst my kids’ pain, fear, loss, uncertainty is…
Just being there.
In the past, I would have tried to fix, to explain, to rationalize.
No: I just listened. I hugged. I lay there. I fell asleep laying next to them.
I am grateful for how we have become closer, grown, and learned together.
I am grateful for the pain.
It’s through the pain that I have learned and grown. We grow through pain. Because of discomfort. We do not grow when things are easy and comfortable - we are coasting then.
Life has ups and downs. Joy and pain. How can we be grateful for all of it?
I now ask what I have learned from the pain…. That opens up for being able to express gratitude. And being grateful for the discomfort is even more rewarding than being grateful for when things are going well. Because we are teaching our brains that gratitude is always available. Even when there’s pain.
Especially when there’s pain.
This is not something that we just teach our kids. This is something that we have an opportunity to try on for ourselves. Kick the tires on it, check it out. And... then model with our children. They grow by watching us grow.
Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.
I am grateful for you.
Check out my podcast this week, on Teaching Gratitude for the Pain:
Check out the Family in Focus with Wendy Schofer, MD Podcast!
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