As we complete November and this month of gratitude, we at COR wanted to shine a light on one more aspect of gratitude—gratitude for our struggles, heartbreaks, and times when we feel closed. This might be the hardest facet of gratitude for many of us to access. It’s easy to find gratitude for the things going well in our life and the things that give us joy and happiness. But what if you felt gratitude for the conflicts in your life, the hardships in work, the loss of loved ones, or for your failures?

That is something I have grappled with this year, finding gratitude in the midst of pain and death. Before I became a COR facilitator, I was a middle school special education teacher and taught students with ADHD or mild/moderate learning disabilities. In my first year of teaching, I met this exuberant, kind, deep, and intuitive 6th grader named Josiah. He came into my class the second month of school and immediately secured a space in my heart forever. I taught him for 3 years and he became like family to me—so much so that my family always asked how he was doing whenever I called. He even wrote a thank-you letter to my parents when they visited me at the school. That was the kind of kid he was. He always took care of and stood up for the kids who were considered the underdogs. He was brilliant and such a critical thinker even though he struggled in school. And even when you wanted to pull out your hair in frustration, he could always put a huge smile on your face with his laugh, his sensitivity, and his ability to reflect.

A year and a half ago, Josiah and his best friend died tragically by drowning. And his death absolutely shook me and devastated me. It felt like my heart was ripping open over and over again, day in and day out. I couldn’t understand how someone so good, so young, and who had a full life ahead of him deserved to die. Waves of anger, grief, and guilt continued to bombard me, even when I felt like I should “feel better.” I tried everything to make the pain go away, from coaching to letting myself feel the grief in hopes it would subside, to workshops, to sharing and talking about him. And yet, the pain remained.

At first, I could find gratitude for his life and all the ways he had impacted me. Josiah was instrumental in my own journey to become a better person. I still remember the day he got kicked out of history class, came into my room and broke down in tears. I saw his pain over his mother being gone, his frustration over not being able to be in class with this pain, and his desire to be better, do better. In that moment, I knew I had to be a better teacher for him. I desperately wanted to learn how to be with his anger, how to support him in his sadness, and how to hold his trauma. So I joined the Leadership Development Training, which led to now leading COR workshops.

So yes, I was grateful for the joy he gave me, the ways he pushed me to be better as a person and teacher, for the 100s of smiles he inspired, and for the instrumental part he played in my journey to becoming a COR facilitator. Yet the idea of finding gratitude in his death, in something I deemed so wrong, seemed unfathomable.

As I continued to process over this past year, it finally hit me—even in his death, Josiah has continued to give to me. I finally learned self-compassion because I had to constantly be with my grief and sadness, especially when all the “tools” to make the pain go away didn’t “work.” I learned that I couldn’t make the grief go away and focused instead on giving myself compassion. Now, the harsh critic in my head has softened and I have so much more compassion for my sadness and heartache.

And in his death, Josiah broke open my heart, for which I am forever grateful. Ever since I was little, I had this shell over my heart, numbing me out to my pain. I only let myself feel “good” feelings. In fact, when my grandparents died when I was in middle school, I remember barely even crying and wondering what was wrong with me. In his death, Josiah helped me access my pain, and pretty much ensured my heart would never numb off or close again. Now I have so much more compassion and tenderness for men and women in their sadness, grief, anger, and pain. And almost every workshop, I send a prayer to Josiah because I realized I am there, in that circle, because of him.

So I am grateful for my grief, my heartache, and all the ways Josiah’s death cracked me open. I’m grateful for the days I spent crying so I could learn how to better give myself compassion. And I’m grateful for the pain that still brings tears to my eyes as I write this because I cared for him so much.

Finding gratitude for hardships doesn’t negate them and it isn’t intended to bypass our pain. Rather, finding gratitude for our struggles helps us open our heart even more, to more pain and more love, rather than shutting it down or walling it off.

So wonderful reader, I invite you to scan this past year and your hardships. What have you received from your pain, grief, anger, or fear? What can you find gratitude for, even in the struggles, conflicts, and heartaches? 

If you are willing, we’d love to hear about what hardships you are grateful for on our Facebook page. Your share just might touch someone else. 

Thank you for joining us for this month of gratitude and so much love to you all!