Having Gratitude For What Remains – Serenity in Suffering

Donna Bucher

Often when we think of grief, we think of grieving the loss of someone who died. But grief isn’t just about grieving loss through death. We can experience grief over any loss. The best way to heal after grief is by having gratitude for what remains. Many times we only focus on the loss, but gratitude brings us to the present and healing.

We must remember, grief is a normal and natural internal response to a loss of any kind. Think of grief as the conflicting feelings caused by the end or change in a familiar pattern of behavior. The grieving process is different for everyone and varies depending on the loss experienced. Having a better understanding of grief will help us transition to having gratitude for what remains after the loss.

types of grief

Grief comes in many forms, and everyone has felt grief at some point in their lives. There are over 14 “types” of grief that people experience. I will highlight three of those types as the most commonly encountered by most people. Understanding grief in a broader sense will help you recognize it in your own life. I find most people I counsel are suffering from undiagnosed grief. They know they are struggling, but cannot determine the cause. As I mentioned in my post on Understanding your Root Emotions; you can’t fix what you don’t know.

Anticipatory Grief

As its name suggests, ‘Anticipatory Grief’ is the reaction to a death you anticipate such as when an individual dies from a long term illness. As soon as you accept and understand someone you love is going to die, you begin grieving. However, you can also “anticipate” other losses such as, divorce, relocation or the need to sell a home, a good friend moving away or limitations after surgery or accident. You may also feel grief over the loss of things other than the individual, such as loss of hopes and dreams for the future and the loss associated with changing roles and family structures. Grief that occurs preceding a loss can be confusing, as you may feel conflicted or guilty for experiencing grief reactions about something that has not yet happened.

Disenfranchised Grief

One’s grief is ‘disenfranchised’ when their culture, society, or support group, make them feel their loss and/or grief is invalidated and insignificant. This can occur when the death is stigmatized (suicide, overdose, HIV/AIDS, drunk driving), the relationship is seen as insignificant (ex-spouse, co-worker, miscarriage, pet), the relationship is stigmatized by society (same-sex partner, gang member, partner from an extramarital affair), the loss is not a death (Dementia, Traumatic Brain Injury, Mental Illness, Substance Abuse).

Secondary Loss

When a loss impacts many areas of one’s life, creating multiple losses stemming from the “primary loss”. It is easy to think our grief is solely the grief of losing the person who died, or the marriage, independence or other loss, but our grief is also the pain of the other losses caused as a result of that primary loss. For example, job loss creates grief for the position, financial support and loss of workplace friendships.

Recognizing the connection between loss and grief

We can see from the types of grief, the multitude of losses that affect our lives. Often we may recognize a loss, but not allow space for the grieving process. When this happens, it is difficult to move from loss to having gratitude for what remains. If we “connect the dots” between the loss and the grief response we can move to gratitude.

Let’s examine some common losses apart from the death of a loved one or pet. I’ll list the losses, then the grief response; see if you recognize any of these in your life. This is another exercise that will help you discern your root emotions. Instead of saying “I’m lonely, anxious” etc., you will be able to recognize grief as the cause.

Common Losses and Grief Responses

  • Home loss. Whether a planned move or forced move. You feel the loss of the familiar, neighbors, “space” if downsizing or memories. Often the elderly experience insensitivity when faced with the necessity of leaving a home after living there for decades. Grief Response: overwhelm, despondency, abandonment, isolation and anxiety.
  • Job loss. Planned loss such as retirement or relocation, lay off, termination or disability. Grief Response: Fear {of the future}, helplessness, sadness, anxiety and anger.
  • Relationship loss. Divorce, separation, estrangement or relocation. We sometimes lose relationships even when the person is still present in our lives. This occurs due to long term mental illness, or dementia, or long term chronic illness altering the relationship. Grief Response: In this case can be closer to actually losing that loved one to death. Feelings of abandonment, loneliness, depression, and helplessness.
  • Loss of independence. Either due to disability, acute illness (cancer, etc.), accident, surgery or aging. Grief Response: isolation, disappointment, despair or resentment.
  • Psycho-social losses. This is a catch all for specific changes to your “way of life”. Our current example is the “new” COVID environment. Many losses in social connections, group worship and entertainment, work and parenting structures. Grief Response: isolation, disappointment, frustration, anxiety and helplessness.

Moving from grief to gratitude

Once you determine a loss in your life and the corresponding grief, you can begin the healing process. You should always give yourself time to grieve any loss, but then start to re-frame your situation. This involves moving from grief to gratitude. As this Huffington Post article points out, grief is forever. However, it changes over time and becomes a part of you. It is the same whether you have lost a loved one or suffer one of the “life losses” above.

Healthy grief moves toward having gratitude for what remains. Whether that is the legacy left by our loved one, or our altered situations or bodies. I moved from grief over the loss of my granddaughter Indigo Evangeline to gratitude for her legacy of lives touched and God glorified. Moving from grief to gratitude after experiencing homelessness, job loss and financial setback involved gratitude for God’s provision and presence.

Having gratitude for what remains

Fully moving from grief to gratitude requires a change of perspective. Sometimes we get stuck in grief because our focus is only on the loss. No matter the loss, something remains. I see this with the children in our grief programs. A father dies, and mom can’t move past that loss, having gratitude for what remains; her children. The kids subsequently lose both mom and dad.

This is not a process that should be rushed. Be gentle with yourself, exercising self-compassion and good self-care. Take adequate time to grieve your loss, then begin to bring yourself into the present reality with gratitude. Try these tips for gaining a new perspective on your situation.

Consider the People That Remain

In losses involving the death of a loved one, divorce, estrangement, or loss of a relationship, gently shift your focus to the people that remain. If the loss of a spouse, remember your children. When losing a child, remember your “other” children, spouse or extended family. When a loss of relationship is a “change” of that relationship due to mental illness, dementia, acute or chronic illness, or accident, celebrate the relationship in its current reality. Though the relationship is altered and cannot be as before, this loved one is still with you, celebrate!

Celebrate What You Do Have

In losses involving material possessions or finances, celebrate what you do have. You may have downsized a home, but you do have a home. A relocation may be unpleasant, but you have the opportunity to meet new people and learn about a new area. Job loss or financial hardship for any reason is never easy. But seek to be grateful for the help of friends and family; and for the opportunity to learn to be resourceful. In situations of loss of independence or physical limitations due to aging, illness, accident or surgery, gratefully acknowledge what you can still do.

Contemplate Your Personal Growth

When you begin to make subtle shifts in your perspective towards having gratitude for what remains after your loss, you experience transformation. God allows trials in the form of losses to help us value what is truly important. As your heart begins to fill with gratitude, your grief is transformed to loving, tender memories instead of painful loss. You value what remains because you have felt loss. Grief will return from time to time, but it will not hold you as before, because you are not who you were.

gratitude changes everything

Transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It is a slow shift, beginning with the courage to look at your current reality from a different perspective. Bravely saying good-bye and continuing your journey in a new way. There is no timetable, no rush to process your grief. But when you find you spend more time in the past, longing for what can no longer be a part of your life, it is time to move into the present.

Gratitude makes sense of the past because it honors the past. Gratitude doesn’t remove grief, it validates and transforms it. As you gently shift toward having gratitude for what remains, it brings peace to the present. Trusting that God wastes no pain you will ever suffer, but redeems everything for His good purpose, will give you a vision for the future.

Feature Image Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

All content is copyrighted and the intellectual property of Donna M. Bucher, Serenity in Suffering 2020.

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