In memory of Herb Schoenfeld

Gratitude for what we still have

This has been a rough year for many people, including our family. This week, my wife’s Uncle Herb died after a long illness. The same day, my brother had to get his big toe amputated because of an infection that didn’t heal. The world seems to lurch from one disaster to another, with no end in sight. Times like these make it hard to find anything to be grateful for.

I felt the same way 35 years ago in 1987. It was also a time of uncertainty (and a year when another family member required an amputation). To help me deal with this uncertainty, I dabbled in tarot. For me, tarot wasn’t about fortune telling, but gaining awareness. Each card contains symbols that depict different aspects of our personalities and situations we might be in. The card that best depicts our current situation is the Five of Cups.

Five of Cups from the Hanson-Roberts Deck

The card depicts someone consumed with sorrow over the three spilled cups. The person is so focused on their loss that they forget about the two filled cups behind them. And the sunny skies and calm seas beyond.

It may sound like the opposite of the cognitive dissonance I felt when everything was going well for me while the world was on fire around me. But grief is different. Loss consumes our entire world. When Uncle Herb died, our family lost a husband, father, grandfather, and uncle. When my brother lost his toe, he faces a period of recovery and a life that won’t be the same. We can’t see the full cups and sunny skies. It hurts too much for us to turn our heads.

This is where gratitude can help. We can be grateful for the memories we have of the ones we lost. We can appreciate the family who are still with us. We can take stock of our situation and learn to work with what we have. The grief can lift, and we can see a way forward.

Gratitude isn’t some cheery unicorns and rainbow sentiment. It can help us get through hard times. In fact, it’s a necessary skill for survival. When we take a moment to appreciate what we still have, no matter how little, we can find the strength to carry on.

So if you find yourself staring at the losses in front of you, look around. You’ll find there is still plenty to be grateful for, and many reasons to move ahead.

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