Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Gratitude in the face of grief.

Just one year ago, on Thanksgiving Day, my world shattered when I was faced with the truth: my mom had entered hospice care. As the weeks wore on until her eventual death, I began to experience the crippling symptoms of grief even before she passed. Those symptoms -- pain, sadness, emotional detachment, loss of appetite, depression, fatigue -- increased and consumed me in the months following her death.

I honestly don't remember most of what happened between the middle of January until about May. When I think back, I only see small blips: attending a concert with my sisters. Disneyland. My 30th birthday. Clara's 3rd birthday.

Until this year, I had a very impressive memory, even the ability to recall every address and phone number I've ever had. But grief took it from me, maybe as a coping mechanism, because what you can't remember can't hurt you.

When I went to Utah in June, I felt a slight shift to a new part of the grief wheel. It was as if instead of constant clouds and rain, the sky was beginning to part for some occasional sunshine. I felt a desire to be happy again. The whole experience was incredibly healing for me. But before that, I felt spiritually dark, like I could not feel the influence of the Holy Ghost anymore.

I remember attending the temple in early April on my 30th birthday, thanks to a sweet friend who offered to watch Clara so I could go. It had been months or maybe even over a year since I had attended. I struggled to stay composed during the session, feeling very on-edge and anxious. At the end, instead of feeling peace and joy as I passed into the celestial room, I experienced a deep, guttural pain that caused me to sob. I sat in a chair in a corner and let the tears fall, clenching my throat so as not to let any sound escape. A kind temple worker offered me a tissue, looked me in the eyes and said some things that touched me deeply. But I didn't want to hang around for long. I was still so angry.

Around the time of my birthday, I had also started seeing a therapist to deal with my feelings and rein in some unhealthy coping mechanisms I had developed. It was with her help that I was able to feel that light again. And there was an internal change, too. As some of the weight of my grief fell off my shoulders, I started seeing my beautiful blessings again. My husband, who was patient and compassionate towards me despite the fact I was a shell of my former self. My children, who are kind, inquisitive, funny and innocent. My beautiful home. The gift of music. Selfless friends and neighbors. The beauty of the world around me. The truth of the gospel.

As I chose to approach life with gratitude -- embracing those happy moments of recognizing my blessings instead of willing them away in my anger -- the dark clouds started to depart. It was a miracle, one that I hadn't intended. Just by being thankful, my heart could heal. I believe now it was because it was softening my heart, allowing the Savior in to do His work of putting the pieces of my life back together again.

There are still hard moments and even a hard days here and there. I'm not done healing, but I'm on the road to recovery. I still have a long ways to go, but when I look back on how far I've come, I am grateful for the progress I've made and hope it can continue.

I miss my mom so, so much. How is it possible I still want to call her when I run into a family member at the store, or when I have good news? At times, it feels like she is on a long vacation and will be back any day. And then, I realize she's actually gone.

But, I am grateful for the time I did have with her. I am grateful for her example, her legacy. I am grateful for all she taught me about life. And I know she wants me to face my grief with gratitude, not anger. Because despite the tragedy of losing my mom before my 30th birthday, I have much to be thankful for. I have a truly beautiful life. And someday, I think I'll even be grateful for what I've gained through experiencing the death of a parent.

I also want to express my thanks to all who have buoyed me up in some way through this year. You've been instrumental in my healing, too. Thank you for bringing glimmers of joy into my life so I can learn to feel happy again. You are His hands, and your love has not gone unnoticed.

Since my mom died, I have started to appreciate the beautiful sunsets we have in Arizona. I now see them as gifts -- from her, from God, a sign that I survived another day. I like to stop and just drink them in, savoring the hues until they fade to inky blue. It's like a moment of reprieve, a reminder that not all is lost and that life is still beautiful.


  1. This makes me want to cry. Life can be so brutally painful and so unbelievably beautiful.

    1. Thank you, Janae. I know you have felt this, too. Big hugs.

  2. You have such a way with words! To say how it feels to grieve ... it's just beyond words really. Thanks for sharing a piece of your heart with us. ((Hugs))

  3. So beautiful, Jenna! Thank you for sharing!

  4. This was so beautifully said. Grief is overwhelming. And long after you think it has become manageable, it sneaks up on you unexpectedly. Your Mom was an amazing woman.


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