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The Epic Impact of Gratitude, Even When Facing Life's Final Chapter

Though it sometimes may be hard to find, gratitude is a practice that’s at the heart of this season.

Though it sometimes may be hard to find, gratitude is a practice that’s at the heart of this season. It boosts health, improves mental health, reduces stress, makes us happier, and helps us achieve success.

As Michael J. Fox told the New York Times, “With gratitude, optimism becomes sustainable.” 

Attitude of Gratitude

Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson believes a combination of an “attitude of gratitude” and neutral thinking helped him navigate his father's death, among other challenges, according to the Harvard Business Review.

As we think of gratitude, we can’t help but mention the people who help us at life’s end. November is National Home Care & Hospice Month, a time to thank the millions of aides, nurses, social workers, and volunteers helping improve the end of life for so many. And, of course, November is the month many celebrate Thanksgiving, another time we think about gratitude and its power to lift our spirits in the darkening days. The Harvard Medical School, NPR, and The Greater Good Magazine offer these tips for becoming more grateful or aware of our gratitude.

Thanking Hospice and Healthcare Workers 

Writing a thank you note is just one way to show gratitude to the hardworking people who care for us and our loved ones at the end of life. The planning site Cake has additional tips. An obituary is another place families can leave their thanks for those who helped their loved ones in their final days.

Sharing stories can be another gift to hospice staff. “I am inspired by hearing our patient and family stories of their journey at the end of life and by knowing my staff is ALL IN for making every moment count,” one Portland hospice executive shared with Afterall.

Studies Show Connection Between Loss and Gratitude

It may seem counterintuitive, but research shows that loss can make us more grateful as we come to appreciate the preciousness of life. Nathan Greene wrote, “When we’re faced with death, the value we place on life rises. This was my experience. In witnessing my mom die at 53, suddenly life felt very short, and each moment became incredibly important.” Greene says he found in his research that 79 percent of 350 respondents thought their gratitude increased after losing a parent.

Gratitude’s Power According to Death Care and Grief Experts

Seattle death doula Lashanna Williams describes gratitude as “a feeling that is grown from joy and grief, growth and loss, sorrow and celebrations, births and death, feast and famine, highs and lows.”

California-based grief guide and writer Alica Forneret says, “No show of gratitude is too small, though often we feel like we have to make grand gestures. If you put time and heart into showing that you were grateful for something, the person on the receiving end will hopefully recognize it.” Sending a card, a text, or making an offer to give something back they gave you are all ways to show your appreciation, Forneret explained.

Noha Waibsnaider, the founder and CEO of GatheringUs shared her experience with Afterall, “I got to spend a night with my grandfather in the hospital a few days before he died last year. I remember most of it being so stressful. But I’m so thankful for the last smiles, stories and the feel of his hand in mine.”

L.A.-based death doula Alua Arthur has a series of meditations on her Going with Grace website to awaken gratitude. And if that wasn’t enough, here are 40 more ideas from LifeHack. 

Tips for Remembering Gratitude Daily

There are simple things you can add to your daily routine to help you remember your gratitude.

ThriveGlobal offers these and other great ideas for being mindful and grateful that take just minutes to include in your day:

  • Keep a gratitude journal
  • Have a tech-free breakfast
  • Set a gratitude alarm
  • Send handwritten thank you notes
  • Say hello to strangers
  • Visualize the people you are grateful for
  • Think of three good things

However you choose to express your gratitude in life, and as end-of-life nears for you or others, there is no time like the present to put your thanks out into the world.

To learn more about keeping a positive outlook even after death, take a look at our article: ‘Last Words’ Project Turns Letters Into Song.