Winter can be a hard season for many of us; endless days of gray skies, frequent downpours, and blistering cold take a toll not only on the body but on the spirit too. So, this month, I wanted to bring you a post that would bring some light not only to your dark days of winter but to any dark season of life you may be going through right now. Dorothy Miller has experienced unimaginable loss and yet has walked with Jesus through her pain to the point where she can now focus on cultivating gratitude as a survival mechanism. In today’s guest post, she shares some of her top strategies for overcoming grief with gratitude.
Have you ever known someone who has an innate knack for finding the dark side of each and every moment? Where some might see a silver lining, they fix their eyes steadily on the cloud. I’ve come to think of these people as “Debbie Downers,” and my natural reflex is to over compensate in the other direction, painting over the clouds with my own cheerful hue.
That cheerful hue faded, however, when God chose to take my 3-year-old daughter, Abby, home to heaven as the result of a swimming accident four years ago. Suddenly, life was dark all the time. I kept wishing I could just wake up from the nightmare, but this dark was my new reality.
Keep talking to God through your grief – He hears you
Having been a person of faith my entire life, I was horrified at the feelings and emotions that flitted around my blurry, numb mind. One day, I found myself at my daughter’s grave. As I sat there weeping, staring at the mound of fresh dirt and the wilted, brown, casket spray on top, I looked up at the blue sky and asked God to give me a sign that He was real and that I would indeed see my precious baby again in Heaven, because I was in a serious season of doubt.
Through the tears, I noticed a dead, formerly white rose, sticking out of the ground where one of the children had stuck it after the funeral. There was something strange about it and as I slowly pulled it out of the ground, a beautiful fresh green leaf slowly emerged. What had appeared as totally dead above the ground, was actually alive under the dirt.
At that moment, I knew that MY God was indeed who I had always known Him to be and was not imaginary as I had started to believe in the dark weeks that led up to that moment.
I wish I could say that life suddenly flipped right side up again. Sadly, it did not. While it helped tremendously, it was not a cure-all. My daughter was still gone and life was still dark. But an ever-present awareness of Him walking through the darkness with us made the process doable.
Gratitude takes effort
Early on in our grief, a friend asked me to participate in an Instagram challenge, 100 Days of Happy, through which I was to post a daily picture of something that ‘brought happy’. It was very life-giving for me to look for the things that brought happy to our daily lives and document them from behind the camera. These photos served as a reminder to myself of the blessings I did have.
Sometimes, it was simply my feet on the floor, making the choice not to stay in bed. Other times, I found great joy in preparing my famous scones, which always bring happy to the people who get to eat them.
Then there were the moments with my three living children that served as great reminders too. My original 100 days turned into 200, then 300 days and soon I had gone over 365 straight days documenting daily. Since then I have followed more challenges like that and have also started my own. I just posted my 222nd day of what I dubbed ‘Daily Gifts’ and it is a collection of daily photos of the gifts God blesses me with.
Some days it is easier to focus on the darkness, especially on days like Abby’s birthday and holidays. But I am finding just how blessed I really am when I diligently seek those moments every day!
Involve the whole family
My choice of finding the joy, gratitude, and happiness in every day has been something I have been working hard to pass along to my family.
Watching my children work through the trauma of witnessing their sister’s death and the subsequent blocks in their learning, and simply adjusting to life without her has been one of the hardest parts of the grief journey. I have had to employ many different tactics along the way.
A family grief camp we attended had a love wall where we could write happy memories about our family member in heaven. We have been offered various journals for writing and drawing our memories, and our pain. Sometimes I simply ask them to give me a list of five things they are thankful for. Other times we see who can shout out their list of blessings first. I have found it very helpful at night (which—four years later—is still the darkest time emotionally) to sit on the bed of my just-tucked-in child and, after prayers, have them give me their five things. It helps us all go to sleep in a happier mode.
Find YOUR happy
I know what has been helpful for me and those I love may not work the same for you. But here is my challenge to you! Find what does work and make it a daily habit. After all, the fact that we are alive and breathing is reason enough to thank our great Creator and take note of His gifts, NO MATTER WHAT.
Dorothy is the tall one with the flyaway, naturally curly hair, daughter of the king, wife of 21 years, homeschool mom of 3, mom to an angel, baker of scones, reflexologist, musician, writer.
Her passion is to live life to the fullest and encourage others to notice God’s gifts in daily life through speaking and writing. Read more of her story on her Little Things blog or follow her on Instagram for regular encouragement.