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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Huelat

Gratitude

Thanksgiving, a time synonymous with giving thanks, often feels elusive in the midst of caring for a loved one battling dementia. I've been there, in that whirlwind of responsibilities, watching my beloved husband succumb to the ravages of the disease while striving to keep our business afloat. It was a period marked by relentless worry, perpetual fatigue, and culminated in a heart attack. Amidst this chaos, finding gratitude seemed an impossible task.

Then, a dear colleague gifted me a journal named "Gratitude," acknowledging that I might not have time to fill its pages but hoping it might offer solace. Remarkably, she was right. That simple journal became one of the most impactful gifts I've ever received, perhaps even saving my life. Each page, while blank like any journal, held gentle prompts urging reflection. One such prompt encouraged me to appreciate the small things, the love and support already present in my life from friends and family. As I listed those who cared for me, the weight of feeling overwhelmed began to lift, and I no longer felt so alone.

Another page nudged me to "let go of longing for what's missing and instead cherish every relationship, especially the challenging ones." It led me to reminisce about the profound years I shared with my husband before Alzheimer's. I started seeing him anew, appreciating the depth of what he was enduring, reigniting my love for him.

One prompt pushed me to recall every positive moment in a day, regardless of its size. Even on the most disastrous days, like the one where fatigue made me irritable enough for the dog to hide from me, I found a bright sunbeam casting a mesmerizing pattern on the floor. It was minuscule, but it was a positive interaction nonetheless. This exercise trained me to seek out positivity in tough times, helping me consistently identify not just three but multiple good things on even the hardest days. Scientific research supports the power of gratitude. Studies, such as those from Harvard Health Publishing, validate its ability to foster positivity, amplify joy from good experiences, improve health, and nurture stronger relationships. Its benefits span across physical and emotional well-being, reducing stress, enhancing happiness, and alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety. Expressing gratitude became a catalyst for empathy, improved my sleep, lessened my stress burden, and, most significantly, opened my eyes to the beauty surrounding me. It illuminated the richness of relationships I was fortunate to have and taught me invaluable lessons from the dementia journey, compelling me to share these insights with others navigating similar paths.

Engaging with gratitude offers various avenues. For me, journaling transformed my life. Gratitude journals, found in bookstores or online, are invaluable tools. Alternatively, you can craft your own or utilize online templates like this one from Starr Commonwealth: [insert link]. One potent method to connect with gratitude is through writing. The key is to let the emotions flow without overthinking. Reflect on the significant and trivial aspects of your life that evoke gratitude—relationships, personal talents, opportunities—anything that stirs a deep sense of appreciation. As you conclude, take a moment to absorb how it feels to immerse yourself in gratitude.

So, on this special day, let's not forget to express our gratitude and give thanks. Sometimes, we presume our closest ones inherently know our appreciation. Take the time to explicitly convey your thankfulness to your spouse, parents, siblings, or anyone pivotal in your life. If you're on a caregiving journey, look into their eyes, recollect the profound role they once held, and express gratitude for the love they've shared. Happy Thanksgiving 2023.


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