For about a year I cringed at every “positivity” post on the internet. Let me be honest, I did more than cringe. I cursed inwardly. Shook my head, rolled my eyes, may have even mentally flipped the bird. I wanted just a minute with Joel Osteen to give him a piece of my mind and to crush his rose colored glasses with my foot. Yes, I was mad.
Deep in the throws of grief, I didn’t want to be reminded that I should think happy thoughts or that a grateful heart is a happy heart.
Phrases like these made this hurting momma’s heart hurt even worse:
“Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day.”
“Your mind is a powerful thing, when you fill it with positive thoughts, your life will start to change.”
“Be in love with your life, every minute of it.”
“You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.”
“How to be happy: decide every morning that you are in a good mood.”
Because it’s not that simple. Not always. Not all the time. Positive thinking doesn’t heal a broken heart. Grief has to be felt, the journey has to be walked. We can’t skip through it over stepping stones of platitudes and happy little mantras.
The grieving heart has to do the hard work. The hard work of healing. There isn’t a timetable or a timeline. It took us 9 months until we were ready to see a grief counselor. I have no idea if it would have changed our journey if we would have gone sooner, and I don’t care. Sometimes the “work of grieving” is simply feeling the pain, letting the emotions wash over time and time again. Sometimes the work is knowing when it’s time to crawl into bed and rest. We kept loving our family, putting one foot in front of the other, going to the gym most day, eating right, and talking about our feelings together. We did all the “things”, except for the days we couldn’t. This was our journey. The only way to begin to heal is to walk.
Grief counseling has been an incredible tool in our healing journey. When we were ready to do the work, and work we did; we talked about hard stuff, processed painful feelings, found a way to release anger, and even lay down the need to make sense of it all. I remember sitting in the counselors office one day when she suggested that we think about starting a “Gratitude Journal”. My eyes filled with tears. I wanted to and I didn’t want to.
In 2015, a year after Mattie died I participated in a Gratitude30 Project. I chose to use it as a way to start my heart in the right direction. This year, I hosted my own gratitude challenge called “Just Breathe Gratitude.” *you can find my posts on Instagram
Keep in mind that through the entire first year, not once did I forget how blessed I was to have an amazing marriage and beautiful children. My heart filled with joy and thanks beyond words at the arrival of my granddaughter. Every time a need was met, I was full of thanks. I never became an ungrateful person.
It is not impossible to be grateful while grieving. Of course not. It is however impossible for gratitude to erase grief. Gratitude is not a bandaid over deep emotional pain.
Gratitude and the power of Positive Thinking eventually made their way into my heart. Slowly, very slowly. But it’s a part of my healing, not the whole. Choosing to become mindful of the healing process in a more intentional way is no small task for the grieving heart. It’s a tug of war of sorts. The battle between the desire to feel whole again and the fear of somehow being unfaithful to the one you’ve lost as the grieve journey shifts, is intense.
No one can tell you when it’s time to shift from walking through grief to walking through healing. It’s a courageous shift to make. You will simply know. When your heart says, “I cannot be this sad every single day for the rest of my life,” you will know. When you realize that finding happiness is not forgetting the one you miss, it is honoring them in the most sacred way possible. And happiness comes as we allow gratitude to flow.
So to you, grieving one, in the deep throws of pain that feels like it will forever crush you, please be patient with yourself. And I offer you this:
I sit suffering in solidarity with you, here in the absolute wrongness of it all.
I don’t come with easy, lazy platitudes about the greater plan or the silver lining or the valuable lessons of all of this hell you are now enduring. Those are things that only time can show you anyway.
– John Pavlovitz
And when you see me now writing about things like finding happiness, seeking joy, being mindful of healing, or creating sacred space for peace, please know that I am in this place only because I’ve also been in the depths of pain and sorrow.
And also know that the presence of positive words, gratitude, joy, healing and peace do not mean that sorrow is gone. Every single day, my heart aches for my sweet boy. Every day. But every single day, I also seek to keep my heart free to heal by allowing the strength and beauty of who he is to rest inside of me.
Peace to All
Originally posted November 2015 with a few minor edits this year.