Have you ever thought about the connection between grief and gratitude?
They go hand in hand.
Several months ago, I was scrolling through Instagram and came across an account with the most beautifully poetic and profound messages. I discovered the writing of Vex King. He’s like a younger male version of Oprah – deeply spiritual – an old soul who’s overcome a great deal of pain and loss in his young life that has evolved into immense wisdom.
In one of his recent newsletters, he shared a message sent to him by one of his readers. To paraphrase, this young man was feeling saddened by the age or stage he was at in life. At this point in time, he hadn’t realized certain expectations he had for himself and his life.
I’m sensing many of us can relate to having expectations for our life when our lives didn’t seem to get the memo. Life deviated from the path we had planned out for ourselves. The expectation we had for our lives didn’t match up to the life we’re living.
One thing about Vex King, he takes these interactions to heart. His response to this young man was deeply profound. He began to talk about the connection between Grief and Gratitude or the pain we feel when we lose something, including those expectations we have for ourselves that have not yet manifested in our lives.
The loss we feel oftentimes comes in the form of sadness and grief. Yet, there are always two sides to every coin, one light, one dark – one yin, one yang. One of gratitude and one of grief.
In my research on people who have come to the end of their lives, there is one shocking commonality. The end of a human’s life tends to refocus one’s energies. The focus is rarely on grief or loss – or on anything negative at all. Their focus is almost always on gratitude – on seeing the blessings in life.
As kooky humans, we tend to go through life with a set of expectations for our lives. Many of these expectations come from outside of us – from our parents, our friends, our teachers, our loved ones and, oftentimes, most of all, from society.
When we turn 16, we should be driving. When we’re 18, we must register to vote. When we turn 21, there’s pressure to begin drinking. (OK, OK, that pressure comes wayyyy before then!) By the time we’re in our late twenties to early thirties, we should be married. By our early to mid thirties, we should be getting ready to raise a family. Many of us would have moved to the suburbs, begun nesting, have a fur baby and the requisite 2.2 kids. And, on and on, it goes. Why? Because society says so.
The thing is, who the heck is society?
The other thing is, society is forever changing. So, how on earth can our lives continually adapt to a society with ever changing expectations and demands?
The answer is … we can’t!
We must be our own compass.
Our internal compass is all we need.
The interaction between Vex King and his reader was an interesting one. On the one hand, Vex validated his reader. He acknowledged the man’s feelings and his grief, his loss, and his pain. On the other hand, he helped the man to see the other side of the coin and to see his blessings. He guided him toward gratitude as he helped him to understand that these two emotions can exist at the same time.
Here’s the thing about grief – and loss, and pain. Inevitably, us kooky humans move through the pain into gratitude. Gratitude helps us to deal with the pain and the loss. Gratitude helps us to see what we’ve lost in a new light.
Now, back to humans who are in the last stage of life. The irony is that these humans are oftentimes the happiest. They don’t have time for the crap. They don’t worry about unmet expectations. They move into gratitude. They surround themselves with their loved ones. They focus on the blessings of their lives. They focus on love and light and life.
They focus on what they have done and what they’ve experienced. And, on what they’ve learned.
If you’ve ever read the book, Tuesdays With Morrie, you know the central story of the book focuses on the incredible wisdom that tends to crystallize as we get older. We begin to see life through a very different lens. Our priorities change dramatically.
In our western culture, we have yet to revere age and to see it as a powerful vehicle for wisdom. Age is a blessing. The longer we live, the more opportunities we have to grow. The more we bloom and grow on the inside, the more we’re able to be in a space of gratitude for everything in our lives – including the pain, the grief and the loss – as those are the times we tend to grow the most.
It’s natural to feel sadness at certain points in our lives if we haven’t “checked all those societal boxes.”
For me, that looks like a woman who’s 61 and divorced now for over 15 years. No, I’m not remarried. Society says I should have remarried long ago. No, I don’t own my own home any longer and society says I should. Society also says I should be retired. I say that I love being rewired rather than retired. I also love doing things my way. I kicked those societal boxes to the curb long ago.
Fortunately, I’ve been on this inside out path for a very long time. Society’s boxes mean very little to me as do outward pressures and expectations.
The pressure I feel now comes from the inside.
As Brene Brown says it so eloquently (I’m paraphrasing here!), it’s this urgency we feel in the “middleness” of life to “get on with it. And, to stop fucking around!
Kooky humans tend to fuck around. A lot!
Older, wiser humans tend to do less fucking around. They tend to move from grief to gratitude more easily and with more grace.
If you’re feeling the pressure of societal expectations, or feeling sadness or pain that you haven’t achieved certain things, or checked off certain boxes at this age or stage in your life, perhaps it’s time to take a step back. Perhaps, it’s time to see your life and your accomplishments through a new lens – one that’s far rosier – one that’s filled with gratitude for who you are and who you have become. After all, when it comes to the end of our lives, I can guarantee society won’t be holding your hand and telling you that they love you. Society won’t come to your door to see what boxes you have checked off.
The only thing that will matter to you are the people you love and the ones who love you. Most likely, it will be those beautiful, kooky humans, the ones who matter most who will be with you til the end.
Beauties, what matters most is what’s inside of you! All that matters is how much you loved and how much you were loved. That’s it. That’s all.
Remember, societal boxes don’t love. Only, kooky humans do!
And, I love you for being here with this kooky human!
Great read! He was a smart young man. And I agree she is a blessing 🤍
Catherine Grace O'Connell
Thank you for reading! And, yes, he was a very smart man wasn’t he?
Gosh, I loved that book Tuesdays with Morrie. I even bought it for my employees at the time because it really hit hard about enjoying our life day by day.
Catherine Grace O'Connell
It was the sweetest story, wasn’t it sister? It definitely shifted my perspective on what’s most important in life.
I love this post. Of course, you write beautifully. Thank you for this post as a reminder that we are never to old to remember what is most important in life. Grazie Bella ♥️
Catherine Grace O'Connell
I love you so much, sister. And, yes, Grazie Bella, beauty!