Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A New Gratitude Practice & a Reminder

Gratitude is not only about awareness of what we have but about the acts of receiving and giving. All of us who've lost loved ones exchanged many gifts with them over the years; we carry their legacy with us. We’ve received comfort from others on our grief journey. And in spite of bereavement, or because of it, we’ve managed to give to others.

I learned a Kundalini yoga gratitude practice today that symbolically balances giving and receiving. If you'd like to try it: Sit cross-legged on the floor or in a chair in a quiet space. Take a few deep breaths in and out through your nose. Turn your palms up and bring them together in front of your heart in a cupped shape with the little fingers lined up and touching. Look into your cupped hands as you gradually straighten your arms out in front of you on the inhale (giving); then bring them slowly back to your heart on the exhale (receiving). Repeat with the inhale (arms/hands out) and exhale (arms/hands in) for a few minutes. Pause and feel the effects of the exercise.

The exercise was well-timed for the day before Thanksgiving when I happened to be thinking of my reaction to  hurtful remarks by two relatives at a family gathering. After my husband said something at the event about losing Noah, a young father nodded and said it had been a hard year for his family; they’d had to end a pregnancy for medical reasons. Was he equating the abortion of a fetus to the loss of a child we’d raised and loved for 21 years? I was incredulous but silent. “You may not believe this,” another relative said as she launched into a long story, “but when I heard about Noah’s suicide, I was jealous of you because at least you know where your child is. Mine has problems and we’re estranged.” She has no idea what it’s like to know your child is in a box in the ground and the only place you can “visit” him is the cemetery. But then, I’ve never had to deal with a series of crises that robbed me of contact with a living child.

These family members didn’t mean harm. Maybe they were even trying to connect in a sort of confederacy of loss. When we’re in pain, we can be consumed with the enormity of it and each live in our own private hell. There is no hierarchy of grief.

Still, I wanted to share the two remarks with my support group, knowing they’d understand. The facilitator asked if anyone at the event had shown sensitivity and concern for my husband and me. Yes, my sister-in-law gave me this precious photo of Noah and me, and a few others asked how we were managing. Why do I forget the kindness and focus on the slights? Why do I allow myself to feel like a victim and an outsider again?

Careless remarks remind me that I can still feel broken, shamed, and isolated by suicide loss, even as I rebuild my life. They also remind me that if I’m learning anything from all this, it’s to try to bring compassion to a world of suffering—and to stop long enough to be grateful for the good I’ve received.

It's getting a little easier to say: I am grateful for the love I gave and received with my child.

May you breathe in blessings this Thanksgiving.

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