Gratitude in resilience

I’ve always been reluctant to use the word resilience to describe my story and journey of grief. Perhaps it is because I associated resilience with strength, and I don’t want to associate strength with healing, because you don’t need to be strong to heal – this notion has never sat well with me. In my mind, having to be ‘strong’ has always felt like I am being told to deny my feelings – that my grief is not allowed to wash over me, and that I must continue without it. I have written before that there will never be closure for me. And that there doesn’t need to be, because when you love someone with all of your heart, you can’t stop.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about the word resilience this week. Probably because I went to a seminar by The Resilience Project that spoke of resilience as comprising three elements: gratitude, empathy and mindfulness. I love that there is no mention of strength.

And over the past couple of days, I’ve been thinking of the gratitude element of resilience. In Richard Reed’s collection of the best pieces of advice he has received – ‘If I Could Tell You Just One Thing’ – Jo Malone offered him this piece of advice:

No matter how bad it is, no situation is ever greater than you. You always have three options: you can change the situation, accept the situation or change your mindset on how you see the situation. And you have the power to choose whichever is best for you. Never allow something else or someone’s opinion to become the title of your book. Ever.

And through my grief lens (it’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t have it), I have translated Jo Malone’s advice as follows: I can’t change my sister’s death and somehow, one day, I will have to come to accept this. As Kerri Sackville wrote on what she would tell her younger self on the 10 year anniversary of her sister’s death:

Your sister’s death will never become less unfair. It will stop being surprising. You will stop waking up gasping, ‘Oh my god, she died.’ But it will never become less unfair.

You will eventually get over the What If’s and the If Only’s. You will ruminate on them for a long time, but they will very gradually stop being important. You won’t need to force yourself to stop thinking about them. You will just realise, one day, that you truly accept that you will never know.

I also have the option to change my mindset on how I see my sister’s death. And this is how I now see resilience, because for me, this is through a mindset of gratitude. Gratitude for all that we shared, and continue to share. Gratitude for how lucky I am that she is my sister and that her legacy continues, even though we cannot see her, or touch her, or hold her. And gratitude for life (which I have said before is the cruel irony of grief, that in such deep and dark sadness, you also meet, head on, the beauty and sacredness of life itself. You say hello, for what seems like the very first time, to the privilege of being alive).

And I see gratitude in Kerri Sackville’s words to her younger self:

Thriving will be a choice. Some people choose to become consumed by their grief and give up on their own lives, but you will not. You will realise quickly that you would disrespect your sister if you didn’t live fully. And so you choose to live fully. You choose to thrive.

You will be OK. You will have a fabulous life, full of love and fulfilment and joy and success. Your sister would be ridiculously proud.

There is also a beautiful children’s book – ‘Cry, Heart, But Never Break.’ It was written by the author for his children as a way of explaining their grandmother’s death. It is a story that is told by Death, who explains the wholeness of life to the children:

What would life be worth if there were no death? Who would enjoy the sun if it never rained? Who would yearn for the day if there were no night?

Cry, Heart, but never break. Let your tears of grief and sadness help begin new life.

Resilience teaches us how to find our roots again, when all sense of ground has dissolved from beneath us. Resilience is the power to choose what is best for us. And for me, this is gratitude. We can only choose to thrive if we choose to be grateful.

Stephanie Lombardi