My heart sank as I heard of Sheryl Sandberg's unexpected and unspeakable loss. I just couldn't believe what I was reading online. My heart went out to her, because I knew the long journey ahead. My own father died when I was nearly 5, and I saw firsthand how difficult solo parenting can be. And then in 2007 when I was 33, the world I knew and loved ended. Unlike Sheryl's circumstance, my late husband had been diagnosed with adrenal cancer about eight weeks prior to his death, so I knew that I would soon be a widow.
In the weeks and months following my husband's funeral, I felt intense fear. To try to lessen this fear and loneliness, I turned to something I've always found solace in -- books. There are a plethora of books about grief and loss, but I noticed that no one had taken the time to listen to the narratives of widows and share their stories. I so badly wanted to grow from grief, and I thought one of the best ways I could do this would be to learn from other widows. And of course share whatever I had learned.
About 3.5 years ago, I asked my co-author psychologist James Windell to embark on this research journey. We spent countless hours talking with but more importantly listening to widows from all different ages and backgrounds share their stories. Echoes of resilience and hope were reflected in their stories. In our forthcoming book, the pages reflect their wisdom.
You may be wondering what the golden threads, if you will, are in these resilient widows? They practice what Sheryl Sandberg is actively doing -- gratitude. Personally, I don't know Sheryl, but I have been observing her Facebook posts following her tragedy. Her heartfelt messages of gratitude are interwoven through her posts.
For myself, it was my late husband, Roy, who taught me in the weeks of his medical crisis that gratitude is the answer to every question. This wasn't easy. I resisted and cried. I couldn't believe that in the midst of this tragedy Roy was asking me to practice gratitude. And then slowly, as I practiced gratitude, my perspective shifted.
Less than three weeks after my husband's funeral, I returned to my full-time job clinical social worker job. At the end of each day I was physically and emotionally depleted. While eating alone in the evening, many times I would scribble down things in my gratitude journal that I noticed throughout my day. These were small yet significant things, like sharing lunch with a co-worker or receiving a sympathy card.
What I learned from my own journey and from other widows is that when grief and gratitude intersect in a widow's life a very slow process of rebirth occurs. Like art, gratitude is a tool that can be used to explore just how full our lives remain despite a devastating loss. I cannot thank Sheryl Sandberg enough for teaching us all that gratitude not only heals it is the path to a luminous life.
Read Kristin Meekhof's first Huffiington Post essay about Grief & Gratitude here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kristin-meekhof/the-moment-i-knew_25_b_3414936.html
You can order Kristin.Meekhof's forthcoming book here http://www.amazon.com/Widows-Guide-Healing-Gentle-Support/dp/1492620599/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1428689430&sr=1-1&keywords=A+widow%27s+guide+to+healing
Kristin Meekhof graduated from Kalamazoo College with a major in psychology, and completed the graduate clinical social work program at the University of Michigan. In 2014, she traveled to Kenya to visit widows who live on less than a dollar a day and learn from them how they coped with grief. You can follow her here http://www.kristinmeekhof.com/ and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/KristinMeekhof.