Gratitude is the memory of the heart. ~Jean Baptiste Massieu
This Thanksgiving marks the fourth Thanksgiving without my Mom; it will also be the first Thanksgiving my brother’s family will sit down to without my nephew, who died unexpectedly on October 29th. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain of losing a child; to have the holidays come up right behind makes it more devastating.
Over the weekend, I attended the memorial service, just seeing all the people who showed up to pay their respects was overwhelming; my nephew was loved.
This morning, as I thought about family and Thanksgiving, gratitude came to mind. I pulled down a few of my Mason jars, stuffed to the brim with notes of gratitude from this past year, I was curious to see what I had expressed gratitude for.
January 21, 2019: “I am for a fun weekend with friends in Napa”
January 28, 2019: “I am grateful Shaun (my brother) is home from Africa”
February 24, 2019: “I am grateful for time with Dad”
April 18, 2019: “I am grateful K (my son) is feeling better”
May 2, 2019: “I am grateful for Margarita Moms night with my friends”
May 19, 2019: “I am grateful P (my husband) took good care of the kids while I was in London with Debbie” and “I am grateful I met my cousins in Wales”
June 5, 2019: “I am grateful C (my son) feels confident about his science test”
August 10, 2019: “I am grateful for joy in my life”
As I read these notes of gratitude, I could see how lucky I have been this year, surrounded by friends and family.
In the three years since my Mom’s death, I continue to work on my daily gratitude and reflection practice. I’ve read the research that says gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness and that gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, improve their health, manage adversity and build stronger relationships. Based on this year’s experience, I would have to agree.
I admit, there were a few weeks this year when I just didn’t feel like writing out my gratitude notes, instead, I chose to say them in my mind or mutter them under my breath. Now I kind of regret not taking the time as I sit and read about all the things I was grateful for this year.
As I stuffed the pieces of paper back into the Mason jars, the program from my nephew’s memorial service, sitting on my desk, catches my eye. I picked it up, the impish smile on my nephew’s face looked back at me. Opening it up, I read the first stanza:
If I could have come to Heaven,
Chose an angel of my own…
I would still have chosen you,
Even if I’d known.
I put the program down. A lump had formed in my throat. I finished reading the poem and sat for a moment. I pulled out my red Flair pen, pulled out a few slips of paper and wrote out:
November 25, 2019: “I am grateful to have had known and loved Anthony”
November 25, 2019: “I am grateful my Mom is looking over Anthony”
I folded the two slips of paper and tucked them into my Mason jar and placed it back on the shelf, grateful for these written notes, for they are the reminders of love, joy, and the people who have touched my life.