When faced with tragedy, we tend to focus on what we lost and the grief that follows. At times, we concentrate our energy so much on what we no longer have, that it can result in a negative outlook for weeks or months.
Sometimes it isn't easy to see the positive and beautiful things still present. In loss-related terms, this equates to yearning for what we no longer have while taking for granted the people and things still there.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Can You Be Thankful After Losing a Loved One?
- Steps for Practicing Gratitude After a Loved One Dies
- Other Online Resources for Practicing Gratitude While You’re Grieving
Living in grief and gratitude is not about being grateful when someone we love dies. The concept is more deeply rooted in being grateful for the time that we had with our loved ones while being thankful for the memories that remain with us after their death.
Practicing living in gratitude allows us to heal from our pain and suffering and is a transformative way of dealing with loss.
Can You Be Thankful After Losing a Loved One?
After losing a loved one, being grateful is not something that many of us anticipate contemplating in the middle of our grieving. Yet, it's possible to be filled with an overwhelming outpouring of gratitude and relief following a significant loss.
You can live a life filled with appreciation even after losing someone you love. In instances of traumatic loss—a sudden, unexpected loss—your grief might hit you differently than when dealing with an entirely expected death. However, in either event, you can move forward in your grief by choosing to be thankful for the time shared with your loved one versus focusing on the negative emotions tied to their loss.
The ways we choose to show gratitude can affect the healing process and how we take action in making the decision to heal. Gratitude helps bring together the past, present, and future to help close the gap between you and your suffering. The feelings of gratefulness you carry with you can stem from the many different experiences and memories left behind.
For example, you may be grateful for being there to see your loved one take their last breath, hold them one last time, and tell them how much you love and will miss them. Being there and experiencing those final moments are certainly things to be grateful for. Without this gratitude, getting through your grief might be more challenging.
Both grief and gratitude aren't common emotions following a loss. They don't always follow the other. Finding peace after accepting your loss usually comes before any feelings of gratitude when trying to cope with a loss of any magnitude. When trying to regain your footing after a significant loss, gratitude during bereavement can be a source of healing in your grief journey.
Steps for Practicing Gratitude After a Loved One Dies
The transformative power of gratitude can help heal your grief a little each day. It somewhat forces you to live in the present and to focus only on the things that are real and present in your life at this moment. The immeasurable power of gratitude also helps you celebrate what you have while acknowledging what you've lost.
Creating a habit of living in gratitude can help you increase your feelings of happiness and overall well-being. Practicing a little bit of gratitude daily can change habits and change your perspective on your grief and suffering in the long run. The following are some ways to help you harness the power of gratitude in your daily living.
1. Recognize the little things
There’s much to be grateful for in the things that people do for you each day. Appreciating even the smallest things people do for you helps when dealing with the challenging emotions that accompany your grief.
Try and account for every small act of kindness or effort from others to make you feel better in your sorrow. Most people mean well when expressing their condolences but may not always know how to act or what to say. Whatever way they choose to show their love and support, try to reflect that in your appreciation.
2. Find one thing each day
Gratitude is healing. There are ways to show gratitude even amid grief. Make a list of tiny everyday blessings, and take note of one small thing to be grateful for each day. You might feel it inauthentic and disloyal to the memory of your loved one who died to be so grateful for the way things are.
Generally, it may not be natural to feel thankful as a result of your suffering. But being mindful of the blessings in your life can help you move through your grief with a more purposeful outlook.
3. Write a letter of gratitude
The deliberate act of writing a letter to express all that you are grateful for and having your loved one who died in your life is very healing. Write down everything they meant to you and how they helped mold your life, memories, or attitudes. You can express how much you loved and appreciated them.
When you’re all done, consider sharing it with someone you trust. If you prefer to keep your letter a sacred part of your grief journey, read it aloud to yourself, then place it in a drawer for safekeeping.
4. Allow grief to take shape
Each type of loss brings with it its own types of grief. Grieving is part of our human nature and rests in everything we lost due to a particular tragedy or loss experience. Depending on the relationship to the person or thing lost, we can experience the loss of our hopes and dreams, time together, our sense of self, and the relationship with our deceased loved ones.
Lean on your grief instead of trying to suppress it or avoid it. Allow yourself to feel the pain of your loss and remind yourself that you’re grieving as a result of the love you have for your loved one who’s passed. Be grateful for the experience of having loved and lost.
5. Find your happiness
When we experience gratitude, we're reminded that we can find happiness despite our pain and sorrow. Gratitude helps us embrace our grief to use it as fuel to propel us forward in our healing.
Practicing gratitude is an effective way of bringing joy back into your life. In time, your grief will start to subside, and you may feel ready to start looking for new ways to bring joy and happiness into your life. Finding a new sense of purpose after a significant loss may help you heal from your pain.
6. Start journaling
A gratitude journal can help you keep track of all the things that you’re grateful for in your life presently. Writing and recording your everyday thoughts and the things you’re grateful for helps you develop a daily practice that helps keep you accountable. Gratitude journals are similar to keeping a diary in the sense that everyone’s entries will be different based on their individual grief experiences.
7. Change your perspective
You can learn about grief and gratitude by sharing the experiences of others. Reading books about grief and loss might help you see things from a different perspective based on other's experiences that might be similar to yours.
These differing views might help you focus on where your grief stems from. Listening about others' grief journeys and how they've worked through their loss may help you embrace your experiences.
Other Online Resources for Practicing Gratitude While You’re Grieving
When learning about practicing gratitude while trying to deal with your grief, it helps when you turn to outside resources to help you make sense of dealing with your emotions. You can learn how to use gratitude as a coping mechanism against grief and anxiety by combining a changed attitude toward your loss and a new way of seeing things.
The following online resources can help you make sense of your loss and show you how to put daily gratitude into practice.
Just One Little Thing is a Facebook group created in 2011 by a bereaved mother to help others find moments of gratitude in their daily lives to help them cope with their grief. Kelly Buckley
founded this group after the tragic loss of her son, Stephen, while feeling desperate in her need to have something to grasp on to following her son’s death.
A Network for Grateful Living is a worldwide organization that offers many educational programs and online resources to inspire and guide you to living a more grateful life. They recognize in their core values and mission statement the transformational power of living a gratitude-filled life. Their resources act to combine mindfulness practice with science to educate and motivate individuals to live a socially responsible life.
3. Gratitude in Grief: Finding Daily Joy and a Life of Purpose Following the Death of My Son by Kelly Buckley
In Gratitude in Grief, written by Kelly Buckley, the founder of the Facebook group Just One Little Thing, she writes about her grief journey as a mother who suffered her son's death and the transformational power of gratefulness in daily living.
Buckley shares how gratitude changed her grief's progression and how it sparked a reflection on how she lived her life, her purpose, and her faith. She documents how her son's death sent her into a downward spiral of pain, loss, and profound heartbreak.
This book is a must-read for people experiencing loss and needing a nudge to live their lives in the present, trusting their intuition, and living a full life after loss.
Turning Your Grief Into Gratitude
Gratitude has the power to help those in mourning rise above their loss. It’s life-affirming and can provide hope and healing.
And, perhaps most importantly, living a life of gratitude can help transform your grief to allow you to let go of the past and focus on the abundance that surrounds your life now. Your grief may never end but will shift over time, allowing you to move past the profound pain and suffering following a significant loss.