Life And Death Beyond the Gratitude Jar

There's more to remembering my late father than a stash of notes contained in a jar.

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It's not always about the words on a piece of paper.

In the middle of 2014, I started using a gratitude jar where I’d write down happy moments and keep them inside.

Why not?

After all, a copy of Sarah Ban Breathnach’s “Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy” sits on my nightstand, as does a post-9/11 article by Dominique Browning, former House & Garden editor. Titled “Making the Bed,” it outlines the importance of holding tight to the things that matter most, which are sometimes only fully realized and appreciated once they’re gone.

And they’re often the small moments.

An infectious laugh.

A Sunday dinner.

Smoothing the sheets and placing the pillows just so.

They’re routine and ordinary until they disappear. Then, in that absence, they become extraordinary. Again.

So, sunrises and great conversations and ladybugs landing on my finger filled my gratitude jar that year. I read through them as the year came to an end, delicately unfolding each memory. An empty jar sat nearby, ready to be stuffed with the joys that 2015 would bring.

Instead, only two pieces of paper rest in that jar. I know for sure they’re from January.

In January, snowflakes danced around our birch trees and the scent of pine lingered in our home. I was fresh off the heels of the holiday season, the anticipatory breath of a new year beckoning.

Then came February.

In February, my father died. It’s the reason why that jar sits to this day – untouched, with messages inside I can’t recall. It’s symbolic, I suppose, that life’s splendor can be halted at any given time. During a natural disaster, a debilitating accident, a father gone at 63. Earlier, we were sharing jokes. The next day, he was unable to speak. Hours later, he died.

In the years since, I’ve written about how my dreams of him help me cope with his death. I’ve seen him waving and smiling on a ship, where it was clear that he was happy to lead others on a new journey. More recently, he burst into a roomful of people, his exuberant self declaring that it was time for everyone to head to a restaurant for lunch. In another recent dream, I stood by his lifeless body, repeating his name. Perhaps my repetition did the trick, because lo and behold, he sat straight up, at which point I remember thinking he didn’t die, but was napping all along. Napping – a temporary pause in the hurriedness of life to refresh our soul and ready us for what’s next.

I’ve also written about thinking of each year following his death as his birthday in heaven. In a few months, he’ll be celebrating his third year there, enveloped in happiness and comfort and finally knowing why it is that we humans make our beds, fill our gratitude jars, and yes, take long naps.

I don’t have any plans to keep my gratitude jar going.

Life’s moments and memories – of my dad, of anyone or anything – don’t deserve to be sealed tight in a small mason jar, stashed away to be opened and remembered once a year. It’s not about jotting down happy moments and, of all things, keeping them inside. Life, even the bittersweet and sad parts of it, shouldn’t be contained. Instead, there are stories to be told, dreams to be had and always … always something worth celebrating.

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