You never know what you’ll end up being thankful for.
In the midst of loss, the most unlikely things can become a source of gratitude.
I remember the night I went into labor at just 20 weeks pregnant. I knew I was going to lose my baby. And I was anything but thankful for my impending loss.
But gratitude discreetly crept into the cracks of my broken heart, despite the chaos and sorrow. Despite the blood and tears. Despite the crushing blow of birthing a stillborn baby.
I arrived at the hospital just in time to deliver, and when I held my baby in the palms of my hands, I wasn’t thankful for his lifeless body. I wasn’t thankful that it was my baby who’d been chosen to die. But I was thankful to be in the safety of a hospital, under the care of a compassionate nurse, when I had been warned of the likelihood of delivering my baby alone at home. I was thankful for the tears she cried with me, the validation I received that my grief was not unwarranted.
I wasn’t thankful when I left the hospital without my baby. Or when I returned home with a gift bag in my hands instead of the gift of a living child. But I was thankful as I looked at the photos of my baby taken by my nurse, and the hospital bracelet with the date and time of birth. Images of a dead baby aren’t what most people would consider to be a source of gratitude but when those are the only images you’ll ever have of your child, they become a priceless treasure. And when the birth and death of your child is overlooked, and his name rarely gets spoken, you appreciate any documentation that substantiates your child’s existence.
I wasn’t thankful when I arrived at the cemetery to bury my baby. I wasn’t thankful that my child was in a casket instead of a crib. But I was thankful for a proper burial and a gravestone with my baby’s name carved into it. So many babies disappear without a trace and I was thankful for the cold, hard, lasting evidence of my child’s short life – proof that he’d existed.
I wasn’t thankful for the fuel that set the meal train in motion. Or the driving force behind the delivery of flowers and care packages. But I was thankful for the nourishment that showed up on my doorstep when I was too empty to move. I was thankful for bursts of beautiful bouquets as I wandered through the ugly landscape of loss. I was thankful that my heartache was important enough to spur someone else into action.
And for a long time, I wasn’t thankful for a pregnancy that ended in loss. I wondered why God would create that small life only to allow it to be taken from me. It felt like such a waste.
But as time has distanced me from those early days of grief, my perspective has evolved. It was the loss of my baby that in many ways propelled me forward. It was through loss that I became connected with people I’d never have crossed paths with. It was through loss that I learned how to be vulnerable. It was through loss where I unexpectedly saw the goodness of God.
And it was through loss that I learned how blessed I’d been to be chosen to be my baby’s mother – even if for a short time. Through loss, I realized what an honor it was to carry that child within me – what a gift it was to have those 20 short weeks with my child. And now, I feel honored to mother a baby in heaven.
And for all of that, I am thankful. As strange as it might sound.
Sometimes, in the depths of despair, we find ourselves grateful for the most unconventional things – experiences and mementos that fall outside of the normal lines of gratitude. And while gratitude does not diminish grief – I repeat, gratitude DOES NOT diminish grief because the two can exist side-by-side – it can be a good distraction. It can activate hope. It can help us to see God’s hand in our lives, even when we long for him to work in a different way.
Gratitude can move our feet forward when grief heaves its leaden weight upon us. And it can clear a space in the wreckage for life to grow again.