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I feel fortunate to have gotten to spend this Thanksgiving together with my family at my youngest daughter’s house. All of my children were there, with the exception of my oldest daughter who lives in Hawaii. I was hoping to carry on a new tradition that we began as a family during last year’s Thanksgiving celebration, which was to have everyone say a prayer of gratitude and share what they were thankful for in their lives. To me, gratitude is just as important as love in this life. Unfortunately, my son had to leave early to go to work, so we were unable to go around the room and pray one by one. Missing out on sharing these special reflections of thanks made me feel like the day was left incomplete.
The day after Thanksgiving I went to visit my husband’s grave. It was his birthday. I thought that visiting my husband would help to resolve the feeling that Thanksgiving had left me with by completing whatever was missing within my heart. Yet sadly my emotions still got the best of me.
I knelt down in the grass next to Ming’s grave and tears began to fall like rain. With each drop that fell to the ground, I felt more and more hopeless and helpless. It had been 17 years since he left us, yet the pain of his loss hurt just as much as the moment he passed. I missed his hugs. I missed his kisses. I missed his smile. I missed his love…
As I sat there next to him, I let go of all self-control and let my emotions run free. I didn’t need to pretend I was strong, I just needed at that moment to feel weak, to feel vulnerable and to surrender to the feeling of loss. I let the feeling of my husband’s loss consume every inch of my very being. All I wanted was to be his wife again. I wanted him to take care of me and to be by my side once again. I wanted his strong arms wrapped around me to shelter me from the lonely life that I was forced to endure without him.
Seventeen years without him and all of a sudden the loneliness seemed too much to take. I quickly and impulsively jumped up to escape the sadness that had taken over me in the cemetery. I got into my car, turned on the ignition and gently stepped on the gas pedal to head home. I rolled about a foot before the sudden sound of loud, vibrant music brought my car and me to a screeching halt. The music was full of joy and energy, as it slowly breathed life into the stillness of the cemetery. Before I knew it, I was out of my car and walking in the direction of those sounds.
As I drew nearer, I could tell that it was coming from what appeared to be a Hispanic family. They were all wearing smiles as they sang and danced around a grave covered in brightly colored flowers and festive birthday balloons. A four-man band provided the soundtrack to this joyous occasion – a stark contrast to the nearby graves attended by mourners in black.
Here I was – too preoccupied by the sadness of my husband’s loss to celebrate his life on his birthday, of all days. The family in front of me was instead celebrating the life of their loved one on their birthday, and feeling grateful for the memories and times they shared together. From this new vantage point, life was so much more beautiful – in fact, its beauty moved me to tears. In that moment, I realized that the only way I could be liberated from my sorrows was to transform them into gratitude.
If I could share this life lesson with my daughter, perhaps she could find joy in celebrating her own birthday again. You see, she and my late husband both share the same birthday, November 28. Since his passing, their birthday has only caused my daughter pain, as it has served as a reminder that he is no longer with us. I never knew how to make the situation better for her. I couldn’t go back in time and change her birthday, nor could I find a way to encourage her to celebrate this day as she once did. Cutting the birthday cake used to bring smiles, and now, even 17 years after his death, it only brings my daughter tears.
As I continued to watch the birthday celebration taking place in the cemetery, I decided I would share my experience with my daughter. I’d tell her that while its okay to feel saddened by loss, eventually we must learn to fill the void in our hearts with gratitude for all that was gained by having known our departed loved one. And, while people may leave this world before we’re ready to say good-bye, it doesn’t mean they are gone forever: their memory, their smile and the essence of their very being, remains alive and everlasting in our hearts. They deserve to be celebrated, not mourned.
I decided that this was the last Thanksgiving I would ever choose to spend in a state of sadness and sorrow. This experience, catalyzed by these incredible people celebrating before me, provided me with more than just a deeper understanding of gratitude – it also caused me to actually feel gratitude. I felt it seep through my skin, enter my bloodstream and pump into my heart. It made my body feel warm and my mind become crystal clear. All I wanted to do then was scream out: “God, I can not thank you enough! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I was consumed by my gratitude.
Sometimes when we choose to live with an open and gracious heart instead of one that is unreceptive and closed, God provides us with endless possibilities, opportunities, people and things to be thankful for. The day after Thanksgiving, I learned that someone ( Joe Lee) who I had met recently through an acquaintance had shared a beautiful posts on Facebook, introducing me to his readers and recommending the read both of my English blog-LoveNeverending and my Chinese Blog- 零極限Zero Limits. This was not only a much appreciated gesture, but I considered it to be one of the greatest compliments I could receive, coming from a successful news reporter who used to work for The China Post and the Chinese World Journal who had also done some translation work for a recently published book by Pang Jiaoming, “The Orphans of Shao.”
I guess this is the power of gratitude, of appreciation. Being thankful should not be a fleeting, momentary thing – it should be a constant state of mind and being. It is true that bad things happen to good people all the time, however, if we invite greatness into every moment, we will learn to live with a gracious heart – not just on Thanksgiving, but every single day.
The following are the posts which Joe Lee shared with friends on his Facebook.
With respect, I recommend this very inspiring website written by Alice Lin, who turns darkness into light, agony to joy, hatred to love, helplessness into hope. Alice graduated from the top university in Taiwan (National Taiwan University), studied in MIT…I don’t have to say she is very talented because you will discover it yourself. Good literary works don’t need a lot of good words. Enjoy her website and enlightened thoughts!
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