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Getting to Gratitude

 “When it’s over, that’s the time I fall in love again…” -Sugar Ray

 The more deeply I accompany my grief of late, the more resounding are my feelings of gratitude. When we allow ourselves to befriend loss and know it for the lifelong companion that it is. You would have to be a fool to not recognize how blessed you are – for all the many ways life is working right in this moment and, even more so, for all the people that you love and have ever loved. This is, in fact, what it means to grow up, or at least grow old; to acknowledge that loss is the inevitable outcome when we love. Loss and grief are not just a consequence of death- they live in us when relationships end, friendships wither, homes burn down… We have and we let go, that is the nature of love.

And for better or worse, the more we love, the more we have to lose. Ironically, it is when we willingly dive into this vast sea of loss that we tap into the most vibrant and heartfelt experience of being alive. Gratitude is not a thought then; it sings in our viscera, each time we awaken to the truth of how fleeting this life really is, how brief our time to love is. Perhaps the most intimate and memorable dances we share with those we love occurs in this fragile tender space in which gratitude and grief are enfolded in our heart.

It is easy to lose sight of how fragile and temporary our love is as we move through the day to day details of maintaining life. I remember well the relentless grind of sporting events, laundry piles, meal preps/ clean ups and homework among my four kids that left me little space to appreciate how much I loved my kids. At the moments when I would forget how precious they were to me, and maybe more frequently than I would like to admit, I would shake myself awake to the gift of them by the simple practice of imagining this moment as the last time. Watching them walk away from me at their elementary school door, or now as I do at their dorm room or an airport entrance and letting myself deeply feel the brief, intense pang of  what I would be if I was to never see them again… walking away from me or towards me. It always brings me to tears.

Some might argue that this is just self-punishment, but I think of it as both preparation for the moment when it will be true- when I will not see or hear or feel them again. Cognitively, we know that this is true, that grief is our reward for a life well-loved. Yet we resist the experience, even for a moment, thinking it morose to invite the feeling in. On the contrary, what I have found is that courting my relationship to grief has been the most powerful way for me to expand into a profound physical sensation of gratitude. All the minutiae and details fall away and I am left in the heartbreaking space that letting go of our love generates. The Buddhists call this space the Bodhichitta and consider it to be one of the most holy relationships we can cultivate in this life. In our heartbreak, not only does gratitude fill us, but we have a capacity for compassion that we didn’t know existed.

Gratitude that springs from relating to our grief is the doorway to remembering how good we have it. It won’t let you take love for granted.