The Synchronicity of Grief and Gratitude
By Rev. Carla McClellan
Grief and gratitude are interlocked in such a unique way. Patricia Campbell Carlson, director and senior editor of spiritualityandpractice.com, says, “Grief and gratitude are kindred souls … each pointing to the beauty of what is transient and given to us by grace.”
They are not just attitudes of mind, but require us to accept both of their gifts to know the joy of life. Grief guides us to gratitude, and gratitude guides us to an understanding of peace, and the healing power of love. Grief shows us what is important to us personally, and gratitude gives us the energy to contribute what we have learned with others, and to sit beside them in their grief. Let me share a story of how these helped me to heal.
Within a six-month span in 2004, my mother, brother, and 27-year-old daughter died. This was during my first year in ministry. Within the next year, my brother Kent decided he needed time to grieve, and he didn’t want contact with my entire family. He completely cut his wife and himself out of our lives. As a result, the grief we were experiencing rose to a new level. We were rejected with no explanation and no time frame for reconnection. We had once been a family that laughed, loved, and played together. Now it seemed gone.
Kent rejected any invitation we sent, and the rest of us shared our grief and the pain we were experiencing. We generously and lovingly remembered those who had left our lives—sharing memories, laughter, and tears. We were especially grateful for our parents—both of whom were Unity ministers—who taught us principles and how to look for the beauty in life even in the midst of drama and circumstances. We were raised to be grateful for all life offers us. How could we be grateful for Kent? We eventually realized our love for him was stronger than our anger toward him. We wanted to see him once again.
In early 2015 I received a phone call from Canada saying that my father had a military life insurance policy no one had redeemed. My Dad had passed 20 years previously, and I was just hearing about this now? I took this as a sign from my parents that reconciliation had to happen right away. I had the perfect excuse to reconnect with Kent.
Even though we lived in the same city, I had never run across Kent. I finally found him in a local hospital, dying.
Our reunion in his hospital room was amazing. Kent beamed when he saw us come in. He was able to hear how my brother had missed him and loved him. He shared with me that he felt my Mom sitting on the bed with us, and he wasn’t afraid. This message verified for me that love never dies, and we never die alone. My brother and I stayed with Kent and his wife Michelle until he left his physical body. We laughed and loved each other again. My logical, practical brother shared with me how he saw beautiful angels all around, and let me know when my Dad came for him. Michelle asked me if I could perform his memorial service. In the Silence while preparing my thoughts, I knew exactly what Kent would want me to share: Life is precious; love is eternal; gratitude is our superpower, and we never die alone.
Carla McClellan is an ICF-certified life coach and ordained Unity minister. She specializes in developing leadership and teamwork in churches and nonprofits and is a leadership development trainer with the Academy for Coaching Excellence. Carla is passionate about helping people find clarity, focus, ease, and grace in their lives and to experience more joy, satisfaction, and meaning.