By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
There are many faces of gratitude. And although many people might think that gratitude is concurrent with things working out the way you want them to, that’s not always the case at all.
At least, it wasn’t the case in our particular story.
In fact, I only realized what gratitude truly was during and after a time when one would think it would be least likely to show up in my life.
It began pretty early on after Moshe’s passing, because like anyone who’s gone through a sudden passing while parenting little kids, I found myself trying anything to help them manage a type of pain I never anticipated they (or me) would have to go through.
So one starts thinking of ways to distract or soothe them by reminding them of the things that are present in their lives for which they can still be grateful.
I remember my oldest, who was 11 at the time, giving me a perplexed look as I handed him a leather-bound journal and asked him to think of three things every day that made him grateful, despite losing his father so suddenly at such a young age.
At first, he didn’t want to engage, because the tragedy that had taken place marred everything in life. It had painted his entire world black, and there was no happiness or gratitude as far as he was concerned.
But I’d approach him daily and ask him about his day and he’d mention scoring a run at a game he played during recess at school or eating something for lunch that he enjoyed, and I’d point out that it fell into the category of “things to be grateful for.”
They weren’t life-altering things, and it would fall under the more mundane day-to-day goings-on, but I was desperate to show him that even when a lot in life goes wrong, we can choose to focus on all that goes right.
And there’s a whole lot that goes right on a daily basis that we take for granted instead of being grateful for.
I think the issue with most of us is that we have certain expectations that things should go the way we want them to, and I’m pretty sure we’ve never been guaranteed any of that.
We have a right to put in hishtadlut (effort) to yield certain results in our lives, and we can hope and pray that things are looking in our favor. But sometimes they still won’t happen. And sometimes we can even be grateful for things not going the way we want them to, which is where faith comes into the picture.
Because we’re only human and can’t see past the here and now, it could be difficult to remember that G-d’s the One running this world. The Hebrew word for “thank” is the same root as that for “admit” or “acknowledge,” because all those verbal affirmations require a level of humility—a recognition that I’m not the boss; there’s Someone all-powerful and all-knowing Who calls the shots.
Because we as humans tend to plan in advance, when things don’t happen in the manner and time we want or expect them to, we actually think that the series of events were wrong, and we simply don’t want to accept reality.
That’s what I felt like when this happened—I simply couldn’t believe that this was what was supposed to happen.
But as time passed and I started using this gratitude exercise in my life, things started changing.
At first I was grateful for the most simple, obvious things—for waking up in the morning, for my kids sleeping at night, for having good days even in the very beginning after his death.
And then, as I began my healing, I started expanding on my gratitude, developing perspective even within the trauma itself. I’d be thankful that although he passed away, he didn’t suffer.
I was grateful that he was in his office instead of on the road with other drivers.
I was grateful that my kids could talk about him and smile instead of cry.
I’d keep reminding myself of how much he did while he was here to ensure that we’d be OK in any circumstance, including death—and I was truly grateful for that as well.
None of this served to mitigate the tragedy or the pain; it just decreased the degree of active suffering and offered me an equally true reality to focus on that helped me redirect my energy towards life and hope.
The more I thought about it, the more thankful I was for all the good things in my life. It implanted happiness in my life once again, and the snowball effect of gratitude has grown since and infused new hope into our home.
Gratitude doesn’t always mean that things go the way you want them to. It doesn’t mean we can’t feel sad and mourn what we don’t have.
But it does mean that we can also try to be thankful for the life lessons, the teachable moments, and the meaning we can generate behind the way things ultimately go—even, and especially, if we’re not entirely sure why.
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, a social media influencer, veteran real estate agent, and runs a patisserie in Woodmere.