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Nov 14, 2013 | The Rev. Canon Glenice Robinson-Como

Finding a Grateful Heart in the Midst of Grief


[Diolog Magazine] The most rewarding part of my job as canon pastor and chaplain to the Beacon is the gift our clients teach me about appreciating small things during adversity. I have learned that through the tinted lens of homelessness stands an opportunity to truly experience a deeper appreciation for the life we each have been given. 

When I am talking with Beacon clients, they often share their journey to poverty and homelessness. In almost every conversation about their current condition they share how grateful they are to be alive.  Quite often our clients are separated from family, which is probably their most painful experience, especially around the holidays. But our clients realize that although their lives may be full with adversity, loneliness and even sometimes abuse, they find hope in the simple things in life, such as meeting their friends at the Beacon, having books to read and a place to take a warm shower. These are all small things that we so often take for granted. 

My vocation also rewards me the chance to stand with others in the storms of life and appreciate God’s wonder in small things. Shortly after a mission trip to El Salvador in seminary and during my clinical pastoral education at St. Luke’s Hospital, I was certain I knew the ministry God had called me into as a priest. Some would call it “dark work,” where I spend time with a wide spectrum of pilgrims, all on their own journey through life. Regardless if they are physically or mentally ill, poor, at the end of their physical life or have lost loved ones—it is in these dark spaces I hear the stories and share in how they stand in adversity while remaining open to the joys of life.  

It may seem odd, but for some reason these dark spaces carve out a place for God’s light to penetrate.  More importantly, it leads to a time of reflection for the one who is suffering or mourning. Often we rush through life so quickly that we forget to note the gifts in front of us.  Our busyness prevents us from realizing our mortality, and we often walk through life with blinders, missing God’s wonder as it fully unfolds before us.

Recently, I officiated at a funeral for a person who was described as someone who always appreciated life, even though he was suffering from a deadly illness. This person lived every day as if it were the last, reminding friends how much he cared for them and always offering to help others, even when help was not solicited. He was described as a person who always looked for the good in others and in the world despite his illness. 

Earlier this year I supported a beautiful spirit who knew she was dying. I watched as friends came to visit, and I watched as she would entertain them, reminding them of how much she loved them and how grateful she was for their friendship. Although she was often tired, she offered hospitality, and some of the best jokes I had ever heard. I watched as she wrote a note to each friend and left gifts for all of them. She left no stone unturned in planning her graceful passage, and I will forever remember the note she left for me, ending it with “forget me not.” This incredible soul was able to confront death by being appreciative of life and all its goodness. All of her life events—friends, good times, bad times, treatments that left her feeling worse than the disease itself—she embraced as stones along her journey.  

Gratefulness in the midst of grief seems to be the tie that binds life to death, joy to sorrow and hope to despair. I believe there is something magical (could it be spirit?) in our psyche that occurs when we experience trauma and grief. It seems that when we venture into pockets of darkness, the jewels of life are enhanced. Roses are redder, grass is greener and a starlit sky sparkles like diamonds as our eyes realign to the goodness of life.   

Moving through the dark spaces of life reminds us that each day, each moment, each hour is truly a gift, and our responsibility as good stewards of creation is to simply slow down and appreciate them. As Alice Walker writes in The Color Purple, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” Gratitude in seasons of grief becomes gospel for us as we open ourselves to experiencing life more abundantly from the heart rather than the head.   

Robinson-Como is canon pastor and chaplain to the Beacon, at Christ Church Cathedral, Houston.