Rediscovering gratitude in the midst of grieving loss

How a gratitude practice can bring you back to yourself in the darkest of times.

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Shawon Davis Photography
Shawon Davis Photography

At this time last year, I was broken.  During a routine ultrasound around 18 weeks pregnant, the nurse told me: “I’m so sorry.  There is no heartbeat.”  I responded, “What?  There isn’t?”   “No,” she said.  I don’t think I’ve cried so much than I did that day and the days that followed.    

Many women experience a miscarriage, and although miscarriages that late in a pregnancy are less common, they happen.  You don’t think tragedies like that will happen to you, until they do. You feel like someone has pulled the floor from underneath you, and you’re brought to your knees.  I was filled with grief and anger.  I needed to know why.  How could this have happened?  What went wrong?  I’d never get an answer to those questions.  

Weeks later, I went to see my obstetrician – the kindest and most positive physician I’ve ever had.  When I asked her how this could’ve happened, as I had asked before, she finally turned to me and said, “I know this is hard.  We don’t know why this happened. You aren’t ever going to know why, and you have to be okay with that.”  I needed to hear those words in that moment, that I had to accept my current reality and that I’ll never understand why.  The weeks that followed were the darkest of my life.  

In addition to my husband and my two toddlers full of life and laughter, the one practice I had before my miscarriage that pulled me through was my gratitude practice.

Several years before my miscarriage, I started a gratitude practice after reading Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly.  Her research showed that the key to experiencing more joy was gratitude, and that there aren’t conditions you need to wait to meet before the joy comes.  You create the joy with gratitude first. 

Every morning, I’d take 3 minutes to write down the things and people I was grateful for, three words of affirmation, and one thing that would make the day amazing.  

After my miscarriage, I’d often write down the following three things I was grateful for:  To be alive, my children, and my husband.  I focused on my blessings.  As weeks passed, my three things became:  The sun, laughter, and forgiveness.  As for my words of affirmation, before my miscarriage those words were often a combination of: strong, disciplined, consistent, tenacious, and powerful.  But in my grief, I wrote only one word for weeks: healing. 

When it came to writing down the one thing that would make the day amazing, I often wrote down simple things like writing, or showing myself more grace.  I’m a recovering compartmentalizer.  That means confronting my grief and really feeling my feelings was not something I felt was “productive”.  I’d push aside those feelings in the past to “move on” and “get on with it”.  But I had to fully experience every feeling and emotion from sadness to gratitude to start true healing and to find my joy again.  

I believe you can experience seemingly opposite emotions at the same exact time: joy and grief.  My gratitude practice kept me grounded and centered.  It helped me maintain perspective and gave me the chance to reclaim joy and remember the blessings in my life, all while grieving my baby boy. 

In many ways, my gratitude practice brought me back to myself.  It re-anchored me and gave me the opportunity to frame my mindset each morning to focus on the light, not so much the dark.  It saved me.  

More than a year later, it continues to save me.  It’s helped me weather the current pandemic, helping me maintain a sense of joy and calmness amidst such social isolation and deep loss.  

That’s the power of a practice; it’s something you do consistently when you’re experiencing challenges or triumphs, successes or failures.  So when the darkness comes (as it surely will), your practice can help pull you towards the light.  And friends, the light always comes after the darkness.

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