05/05/2014 01:48 pm ET Updated Jul 05, 2014

Fierce Gratitude

Lately, I've been thinking about gratitude, and what it means to be truly grateful. Some see gratitude as a short form of prayer, to give thanks to the person in charge of all things. You may call this person a higher power, God, Kismet, she person. Whatever label you choose, thankfulness is still the focus, and gratitude is serious business. Just walk into any store and chances are you will see a book, magazine, sign or greeting card, reminding you to be grateful. There are even journals to track your gratitude, and I used one of these journals. I found it easy to find things to be grateful for when things are going well, but when my late husband, Roy, was diagnosed with terminal adrenal cancer, my grateful heart snapped shut. Roy observed this and suggested that we still live life through the lens of gratitude. I was resistant to taking this perspective.

Since my husband's death, I discovered that having a grateful heart is most difficult when we are alone. I call this fierce gratitude. Fierce because it is most difficult to cultivate gratitude when you are headed to your sister's funeral, your child tells you he is an alcoholic, or your boss explains to you that your services are no longer needed. These are the moments that crack you wide open into so many pieces that it is difficult to articulate what happened. The first thing you want to do is stop the bleeding and the last thing you want to reach for is gratitude. For myself, fierce gratitude came amidst great fear and a broken heart.

Gratitude is not something that can be outsourced. It is the doorway to discovering our true selves. Most likely, as corny as this sounds, that your life isn't transformed from big ticket items. Healing comes from the hand that reaches out to you, the person who sits with you in your pit of grief, or a book that you read. For those who have experienced this deep pain, they will tell you that it wasn't the casserole that they were grateful for, it was the person who said, "I will sit with you."

Sitting with a score card of all the things you feel people owe you is destructive, and not to them, but to you. It will block you from being open and receptive to others. And for goodness sake stop looking for the "thank you" from others. I am not suggesting that you become a co-dependent doormat and allow yourself to be emotionally abused. I am talking about what can happen when we are looking for acknowledgment from others. Yesterday, I was on with phone with my friend, and I was lamenting how I couldn't believe someone had not thanked me for my very generous gift. I'm being a little sarcastic, but I was ticked. Finally, my friend said, "That's not a connection that you want to nurture. Where do you want to put your energy?"

Gratitude is never wasted energy. I believe gratitude can be present amidst pain and yes, even, fear. Some argue that you can't be fearful and grateful. Finding gratitude in the bucket of fear is what brings about a sense of hope. Earlier in the year, I was on a live national radio show and a caller asked me this question. I'm paraphrasing. She asked, "How do you find hope when you get a terminal medical diagnosis?" I was speechless. Clearly, I wasn't prepared for this question. After the radio show ended, I thought about how to find hope. For myself, it began with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, and alone I named things I was grateful for and for the people who showed me kindness. Fierce, yet merciful gratitude.

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