|Fifteen years ago, I wrote a letter to a grieving friend about how I survived the first year after my brother Joe’s suicide. Years before, I’d struck a bargain with the universe/higher power/all that is that went a little something like this: You give me some peace, and I’ll pass on what I learn. In my letter, I shared the strategies I used to find my bearings during that terrible first year and how those strategies helped me regain my sense of hope. Over the years, I’ve sent revised, revamped, and improved editions of this letter to countless survivors. It’s my way of paying forward the gifts I’ve received in the aftermath of my loss.|
Last weekend, I delivered a talk based on that letter during the Compassionate Friends’ Fall Gathering. The event took place on National Survivor of Suicide Loss Day, and less than a week before this group of new mourners will face what might be their first major holiday. During the presentation, I asked participants to share the strategies they’d already uncovered. As their hopeful answers filled our chat conversation, I felt my brother’s hand on my shoulder.
See, he seemed to say, there’s meaning in this after all.
Helping those bereaved families filled me with a deep sense of gratitude, both for those who helped me, and for having arrived at a place in my life where my letter can reach so many people.
One of the speakers at last weekend’s gathering, Cindy Tait, said, “Your capacity to hold your grief grows as time passes.” Writing has always been one of the ways I expand my container. Journaling, writing my memoir, and most importantly, going through the revision process, helped me see the vast horizon beyond the phone call announcing Joe’s death. Seeing the bigger picture has helped me appreciate this journey and all I’ve experienced along its path.
Gratitude is Latin for thankful, pleasing. It can be a disposition, mood, or a fleeting feeling. At an earlier stage in my life, complex PTSD and profound grief made it difficult to experience fleeting moments of gratitude. Back then, I never imagined I could have a grateful disposition.
But gratitude is a muscle I’ve trained for many years. Practices have included gratitude journals, gratitude jars, and even a gratitude-based grace said at meals. The more I practice, the stronger this muscle gets.
The hard work of healing has helped me cultivate a life I’m thankful for, you are part of that life. I’m deeply grateful for all you’ve shared with me, for getting to watch your writing and life grow, and for the deep privilege of celebrating your successes both on and off the page.
As we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, I’d love to know how you’ll express your gratitude and what you’re grateful for. Send me an email with your answers, so we can build a wall of gratitude as we prepare for the final month of the year.
While making your list, be sure to express gratitude for the incredible person you are—a being whose worth is not measured in what you do, but simply exists because you do. Let this gratitude fuel the stories you write into the world.
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