Is gratitude enough?

I attended a funeral this afternoon. I know how much it meant to me to see familiar faces at Brody’s funeral and I wanted to be there, just to sign my name to the guest book.

The service was for a mother who, at not even 60 years of age, left behind two beautiful daughters and truly one of the world’s most devoted husbands. Every aspect of the service demonstrated the great and powerful love that this family has created. I could not help thinking how much more it hurts when you lose someone you planned to love for many more decades.

Ever since Brody died, I am far too aware of my mortality and the vulnerability of those I love. And I resent it. I miss feeling nearly invincible. I miss thinking death was for the old. I always knew that we are old enough to die before we are even born, but now I feel it. It is probably one of the worst side effects of losing a child. I don’t know how to feel safe again.

I have been thinking a great deal about gratitude and the power it has in the face of tragedy. I have always considered gratitude to be one of the most powerful forces in life. Gratitude dissolves disappointment. Gratitude takes what you have and makes it enough. Life simply cannot be lived well without practicing gratitude.

But is gratitude really powerful in the face of this? Will it hold up? The weight in my heart is heavy; I’m not sure gratitude will be enough to bare up under it. Sometimes, I’m not even sure love will be enough.

Near the end of the retreat for bereaved moms that I recently attended, each mom made a gift for her lost child to leave among the trees in the Whiteshell. My intention, as I made this offering, was to choose to see Brody as a gift. I think that is necessary if I am going to know peace again. If I think about how he should be here right now, the birthdays and family trips and memories missed, I will be crushed. I will never be able to really live under the weight of this loss. Happiness will always be weak and cracking from the seismic gap in its structure.

But if I can recognize the gift of the time I had with Brody – if I can focus on the gain instead of the loss – I think I can… I think I can maybe find power in gratitude again. I can remember that love is not just an invitation to suffering. Maybe I can even enjoy what I have, enjoy every day, instead of being terrified that I will lose more.

I simply cannot live life wishing for the past to be different. I cannot make it different. I have to see all the beauty in the past and value it as meaningful. Of course, I would choose to have more time with Brody, but no one is giving me that choice.

The options before me are to live life with the perspective that it will never be full, or to live life thankful for all the gifts.

Brody, you are a gift. Brody, you are a gift. I am thankful that we had time to love each other and I am thankful that love doesn’t end with death. You are a wonderful addition to my life. I will not focus on what you could have been, I will be thankful for what you are. You are my beautiful son and I will hold you again. Until then, I know you do not want me to allow your death to cripple my joy and security for the rest of my life.


When I was a kid, my Sunday school teacher taught me a song about the wise man and the foolish man.

The wise man built his house upon the rock (x3)
And the rains came a-tumbling down
The rains came down and the floods came up (x3)
And the house on the rock stood firm!

The foolish man built his house upon the sand (x3)
And the rains came a-tumbling down
The rains came down and the floods came up (x3)
And the house on the sand went splat!

So build your life on the Lord Jesus Christ (x3)
And the blessings will come down
Blessing come down as your prayers go up (x3)
So build your house on the Lord!

As I write this out, I realize how much this song stayed with me – how it shaped my expectations and essentially formed my worldview.

It’s not the worst mantra. Build your life on the rock – on Christ’s teachings of love and forgiveness. Do this because you will need a sturdy footing when the hurricane comes. Do this so that your life won’t fall apart in hard times. Do this so God will bless you.

I always pictured the wise man inside his house as the storm raged on outside. He’s fine. He is untouched. He can just go about life unharmed and unafraid. And so the expectation was formed. I would go through life protected by my strong house – safe and certain.

I never imagined a future in which my child was born with the rarest of diseases. I never imagined a future in which my son died.

“God!” I plead, “I am heartbroken and afraid. I might not have created this storm, but I still feel like it is shaking my house. It is breaking windows and flooding the rooms. What the hell is going on?”

If I look honestly at the infrastructure of my life, I can see that even this most treacherous of hurricanes did not destroy it. My marriage is strong and beautiful, my living son is full of joy and peace, and I am surrounded by goodness and mercy.

But when I look inward, I see a lot of broken pieces. The cornerstone is still there; I still believe that God is love and I still have faith in the loving sacrifice of God’s son.   The rest of my beliefs look to me like Greek ruins – building blocks scattered on the ground, next to the shell of what they were.

I must decide now: which bricks still have integrity? Which ones will I pick up again and use to build my house? Which ones will I deem unstable and choose to destroy?

As I sort through my heart, brick my brick, I ask myself, what will I teach Bryson? What do I want him to be standing on when storms come? He will live the rest of his life having personally experienced a tragic and undeserved loss. What will he think when his Sunday school teacher sings that song?

I could not keep the storm from coming and I could not escape its force. I am struggling with this, but I am still standing, and I will rebuild.