AVM Survivors Network

Grief and Gratitude - Is it either/or or "and?"

Before I jump too far into this, I feel like I need to tell you a couple of things:

  1. I have no formal training in counseling, pastoral care, grief management or any of that. So don’t assume, well TJ’s got professional experience in these. I don’t.
  2. I do have personal experience. There are many people who think that adoption is a “wonderful” thing and that it is all rainbows and butterflies and unicorns. Nope. Adoption is dealing with loss. “Why didn’t my parents want me?” “Why am I a different color than you are?” You’re not my “real mom.” The list goes on - actually, I’m in the process (early stages) of a book on adoption - "The Starfish Poem is wrong - and 25 other things that white people do to make adoption more difficult. Today is 16 years to the date from when I went from being the father of three, to the father of 5.
  3. Battling this disease - I’ve been fighting it every day for 42 years. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard.

So, in this question and all of them going forward, do not, please, do not assume that I’ve got this stuff figured out. I don’t. I’m merely a guy who has been around the block so many times I’m starting to wear a grove in the pavement - and I don’t want you to stub your toe or sprain your ankle on my groove.

One other thing - I’m a firm believer that if one of us has a question and raises it, there’s a very good chance that 5 to 15 to 50 more of us have the same question. That is, in part, the power behind a group like this. That’s why I’m going to do each of these as a separate article.


Question: “How do you balance the grief of what you’ve lost with the gratefulness of what you have?”

  1. If I told you this story before, bear with me. My brother is a minister - probably 15 years ago, he did a series of sermons tying pop/rock star groups in with the things that they can teach us about God and the Bible. Huh? I don’t remember who all of them were, but I know that U-2, Michael Jackson, Metallica, Bruce Springsteen were some of tjhem. Why did he pick Metallica? Because Metallica does angry well. They are an angry group of guys and when they are on stage a case could be made that they are a bunch of mad guys screaming and hollering.

So, what in the … Metallica does Mad well. There are countless people in the Bible who do “Mad” well. I’m not going to go over them all, but it brings up an interesting and thought-provoking idea. What do they do that “we don’t” when it comes to mad? Let’s just say Metallica does Mad well. And one component of that “well” is they allow a time to be angry and a time to be “not angry.” So, how do you balance the grief and the gratefulness? By giving yourself time to be sad or mad and then to say, okay self (I prefer to call myself “me”) "Okay me, here’s the real thing. Yes parts of life really suck. But other parts are going okay. And when it comes down to it, you’re still here and you still have something to offer to the world, to your family, to your work, to your neighborhood, So, give yourself time to be mad or sad and then say, okay that’s enough, and make a conscious effort to change to something that will make you feel or at least act like you feel better. Don’t bury the feelings, but control them and when they come out.

  1. I talk to Randy. I’ve told you about “my Randy” before. He’s my therapist but he’s also my friend. He gets the good, the bad, and can 1) provide a safe place to say and feel and be anything. 2.) Ask you the questions that help you analyze your conflicting feelings and to make sense of them all. 3) He has told me that he thinks I should feel freer to get mad. Yeah, well, that’s not too easy for a white dutch guy like me. I also talk to him by e-mail. There are times when something good or something bad is going on and I will text him to tell him about it. He and I have an agreement, if I e-mail him, he doesn’t feel like he has to respond right away. If I e-mail him and then call his office and leave a message that says, “check your e-mail” that immediately moves my request a lot higher because it’s a cry for help.

  2. Grief Balance? Who says it is balanced? I actually think of it more like a teeter-totter - you know those things with a board “strapped” over and one kid is on each side and they go up and down and back and forth and it’s apparently good fun for a kid. I never liked them. And rarely are you pretty evenly balanced. It’s more a question of do you spend more time down at the lower end or more time up at the high end.

The same with the grief of what you’ve lost. You don’t eliminate it, you just gradually over time learn how to spend more time at the top and less at the bottom. Whether it is grief over the loss of a person, the loss of a job, the loss of the ability to sing in church, the loss of the ability to work in the yard at a normal pace. So much of that getting “over” the grief is the realization that it isn’t going to go away so then you find a new avenue for your thoughts and actions.

Don’t expect it to be a smooth and steady climb from grief to gratitude. Expect a roller coaster at the best. A white water raft down the Colorado River is more likely.

Finding the balance between grief and gratitude is hard. Balancing the things that you want to do with things the “new you” can’t do is hard.

Give yourself, your family, your spouse - especially - give all of you time and express what you’re feeling so those around you know where you are at.

Any questions? Hang in there!