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Can Gratitude Help You Heal After Losing a Loved One? A Survivor’s Journey Through Grief

Bethany Michaels
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No one likes to talk about death. It’s that weird tiptoe topic that shouldn’t be touched. Whether featured in a blog or written on the faces of strangers, losing a loved one and then coping with loss is an ambiguous reality that I’m not sure we know how to deal with.
 
I lost my fiancé three years ago when he succumbed to the rare (and very aggressive) cancer known as AML Leukemia.
 
When I lost him, I became lost as well. No one knew what to do with me – not friends, not family, not even myself. I felt like a ghost, like half of me had died with him and the other half was stuck in a silent purgatory, devoid of answers.
 
I felt alone.
 
I felt isolated.
 
I was scared.

 
But what I remember most, is the feeling of haziness. I was trapped there for what felt like a very long time. Thankfully, as I look back now, I’ve discovered that that haziness does not last forever. But, in order to step out of it, it requires intentional work – when we are ready and able to put the effort in.
 
 

Coping With Loss: These Are the Stages of Grief

Counselors and psychologists refer to five stages of grief to help identify what someone may be feeling after a loss:
 

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

 
Although the five stages of grief are a great tool to help understand the different phases we may experience after a loss, each person is different. There are so many other waves of emotions, tribulation, and turmoil that wash over us which can’t be explained by a five-stage grief model.
 
With that being said, I want to share a new stage I’ve discovered while on my grief journey with you: the stage of practicing gratitude.
 

I want to share a new stage I’ve discovered while on my grief journey with you: the stage of practicing gratitude.

 
 

The Stage of Practicing Gratitude for Coping With Loss

 
I found that exercising gratitude bleeds into all stages of grief.
 
It may come naturally to you. Or you might have to learn some simple techniques and prompts to practice gratitude. It can be practiced at any time . . . but only when you’re able to. Do not feel like you need to exercise this stage until you are READY.
 
Obviously I would never ever suggest someone practice gratitude in the early stages of grief. Take as much time as you need to be pissed, hurt, yell out in anger, and ask WHY?!
 

I found that exercising gratitude bleeds into all stages of grief.

 
Why did this happen to me? Why is my loved one gone? Throw epic pity parties. Make friends with sorrow. But my hope is that you won’t stay there for too long. There’s a lot of life waiting for you when you’re at a place in your grief journey to welcome it.
 

 
 
There’s no perfect how-to tutorial on practicing gratitude. So, I’d like to encourage you to have grace with yourself as you practice “mindful thankfulness.”
 
It’s okay to be imperfect. It’s okay to have moments of selfishness arise. But thinking thankful thoughts has helped to bring a little bit of contentment into an otherwise lonely and painful place in my heart.
 

How You Can Practice Gratitude

Start by getting out a piece of paper and writing down the things you’re thankful for. It can be just one small thing – like the fact that you have running water or a decently soft pillow to sleep on.
 
Or maybe you’re grateful for something very specific and you want to write down in detail all the reasons why you’re thankful for that one thing. Like I said, there’s no perfect way to do it.
 
Keep a gratitude journal.
 
Speak prayers of thankfulness while you’re driving on the freeway.
 
Pick a “gratitude” guided meditation on your phone app and try it out while you’re laying down for bed at night.

 
I do all the above – and I’ve noticed a deeper sense of calm. My thoughts are more centered instead of squirreling on things I can’t fix. And I’m more open to accepting my current circumstances and phase of life.
 
 

Coping With Loss: The Power of Gratitude for Healing

I hope this helps you. If nothing else, may you realize today that you are not alone. It’s okay to be angry, hurt, and sad. You are not destined to remain there.
 
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Start by being thankful for the light . . . all else will eventually follow.
 

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Bethany Michaels

Bethany Michaels is a content curator, social media saint, and creative designer for people who have a vision and want to bring it to life. Bethany caters to clients across the world with a heart for her current residence, the beautiful Orange County, CA.

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