The Advantages of Gratitude

Gratitude Unlocks.jpgLast Thursday I had the opportunity to speak to the caregivers of the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah support group. The title—Gratitude When You Don’t Feel Grateful.

I’ve been asked, “How long after the accident did it take you to feel grateful?”

gratitude-shortcutsOne of my first thoughts after I realized we had been hit and were pinned inside the wreckage of our car was, I’m grateful the kids aren’t with us. It was on a Saturday afternoon and we needed to make a final decision on which home to purchase. Fortunately, we left our two young children with my parents while we traveled to our three favorite homes one last time before making an offer. Looking at the back seat of the car makes it evident their chance of survival would have been near impossible. During the three months Mark was in a coma, I realized it could’ve been worse had our kids been with us.

I recognized the blessing right from the beginning, but that doesn’t mean I always see the positives and feel grateful. Sometimes my mind stumbles into a pity party where I’m entertaining thoughts of how Mark’s, mine and our children’s lives would have been if the accident never happened. Yes, at times I wish life could have turned out differently.

I suppose it’s human nature to feel this way, but before long I realized what a drag it is. When I recognize I’m staggering in self-pity, I remind myself what a waste of time and energy it is because all the wishing, worrying or feelings of regret do not change the situation. It only brings me down.

Some days are dark and worrisome, but the best way to pull myself out of discouragement and unhappiness is to turn my thoughts around by looking for the positives. Sometimes this is harder to do than other times, but I’ve learned it helps every time. When I consciously focus on the positive, I see the it in more situations. It gets easier with practice and before long my outlook on life changes for the better. I’ve learned I attract what I’m focused on.

As I recognize the positive interactions of family and friends, I can readily appreciate them for the love and support they give. The result is—they’re usually all the more helpful and loving. That isn’t the motivation for appreciating them, it’s just the way it works out.

gratitude-transformsWhen my kids were teenager’s I started a gratitude journal. It helped me get through a rough time. Every night I wrote down five things I was grateful for. Some nights it took a while to think of five things I appreciated. Knowing I needed five things to write each night encouraged me during the day to notice the positive in simple things and take mental note. This practice turned my discouragement into encouragement. It brought inner peace because I was focusing on the good instead of dwelling on the bad.

I don’t believe gratitude always comes naturally, which is another good reason to write down what we’re grateful for. In times of discouragement we can go back and read it. I found that remembrance really does help.

be-thankfulOne evening a few years ago, we were having a birthday celebration with my parents and siblings. The conversation centered on their travel destinations and the wonderful things their grandchildren were accomplishing—two things which are lacking from my life.

My mind traveled to that depressing pity party, with thoughts turned to all the places I’ve never been nor could possibly go to with Mark. I lost focus on how blessed I am to have my siblings who all live nearby and both my parents still alive. For an evening, I forgot how fortunate I am for the love and support we all share with one another. Instead of enjoying with them their experiences, I let ungratefulness take over my heart and mind. grateful-happiness

I didn’t live in thanksgiving that night, yet I know I’m happiest when I do. I believe gratitude is the key to happiness. I remind myself often to count my blessings so I can feel peace and contentment in my life. It works every time.

What hidden advantages do you feel gratitude brings to your life?

 

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Preparing for Change

Change is constantNothing is more predictable than change; it’s always happening. No one’s life is free from it and if there wasn’t change, life would become stagnant and boring.

After writing Appreciating Sixty Years, I was in awe of all the changes we’ve experienced in this amount of time. Most of the changes denote a great deal of progress and are fun to reflect on.  However, there are many changes which can make us sad and distraught. I was reminded of this as I posted The Blessing of Adversity, a church talk Mark gave 25 years ago, just four months before our car accident. In just a moment, our life quickly changed in the most unexpected ways.

How can we prepare for change? Some incidents catch us completely off guard and we have no time to prepare. I’ve listed some of my favorite tips from two different websites I researched realizing there will be situations which we cannot completely prepared for.

Reference: http://www.positive-changes-coach.com/how-to-deal-with-change.html

  1. Simply notice that you’re in the midst of change which is part of life. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it takes some practice to become aware of change instead of subconsciously denying it. Don’t try to run from it. If you have a journal, write about changes you notice.
  2. Face your feelings about the change, especially when the change is imposed and beyond your control. Get past “Why me?” “But I don’t want to!” and “It’s not fair!” Figure out what your fears or worries are. You don’t have to be a victim, even when you are not in control of the change. Write about your feelings.
  3. Adopt an attitude of anticipation. Welcome change as an opportunity. Find the benefit somewhere in the change. There is always a benefit and an opportunity. Write down the things you are grateful for. As you recognize the advantages you will notice a more powerful attitude of anticipation.
  4. Choose your thoughts and attitudes about each change. Negative thoughts block your creativity and problem-solving abilities. Positive thoughts build bridges to possibilities and opportunities.
  5. Learn to relax more. Deep breathing works for many people. Exercise also helps. Choose the way that works best for you. Relaxation allows you to deal well with change.
  6. Set smart goals so you can consciously guide the change. Smart goal setting helps you decide how to make the change happen and to recognize your successes. Write out your goals and your plans to meet them.

Reference: http://www.dancingwithhappiness.com/2012/strategies-for-dealing-with-change/

  1. Cut yourself slack. Recognize change is hard and making allowances for it helps. We are better able to make the transition by being gentle with ourselves.
  2. Keep the familiar. The familiar feels comforting and can re-center us when we feel thrown off. So keeping what is familiar in the midst of change—sticking to a familiar routine, doing familiar work, seeing familiar people, going to familiar places—helps tremendously.
  3. Get help. Some changes are especially hard. The important thing is to get through them in the healthiest way possible. Sometimes, that means getting help from others – family, friends, colleagues, and mental health professionals. There is nothing wrong with getting help. Suffering silently and indefinitely when other options are available is pointless.
  4. Find a new normal. The familiar feels good because it feels normal. Change feels hard because it doesn’t feel normal. As long as we keep trying to find the old normal in our changed situation, we will continue to struggle because the old normal no longer exists. But a new normal is possible. When we establish new patterns for ourselves, those new patters start to feel familiar and become our new normal and that new normal feels good too.

What tips can you share in how to deal with change?

Dad Creating Beauty After Tragedy

1987- Katie wearing her dads coat following him on a log walk

Written by, Katie Wilson Ferguson

When I was a child, I saw a few episodes of “The Joy of Painting,” featuring the famous landscape artist, Bob Ross. I thought the skinny white painter looked funny with his big brown Afro. His thick beard barely moved as he softly spoke about the different techniques and tools he used to paint. His serene ponds and lakes mirrored colorful trees and majestic mountains textured with highlights and shadows.

Just when his paintings seemed perfect, he’d slap dark paint down his canvas. “No!” I’d holler in my head. “What are you thinking?” He disturbed the tranquility he’d just created with what seemed like an ugly mistake. He added highlights to the dark line, creating the texture of bark. He pushed his brush loaded with green paint against his canvas, creating speckles of leaves. He gradually turned the dark line into what he called a “happy little tree.” He transformed his canvas with a new kind of beauty.

I don’t think life is ever picture perfect for anyone, but my early childhood was close. I grew up with two loving parents and a brother 16 months older than me. I was blessed with a healthy body and a comfortable home.

1990- Mark climbing Mt. Air

1990- Mark climbing Mt. Aire

1982 - Mark Snowmobiling

1982 – Mark snowmobiling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The four of us loved dancing, biking, hiking, snowmobiling and three-wheeling. My dad was my favorite person to ride with on the snowmobiles and three-wheelers. He drove fast and took jumps even with his little girl’s arms squeezing his waist as she squealed behind him.

Mark with Christopher and Katie 1991 Just a few days after waking from his coma.

Mark with Christopher and Katie 1991
Just a few days after waking from his coma

The canvas of my childhood was transformed almost two weeks after my seventh birthday. My cousin was babysitting my brother and I while my parents were house hunting. The phone rang. When I got on the phone, I heard my mom’s voice crack. I could envision her chin quivering as it does whenever she starts to cry. “Your daddy’s hurt,” she said.

I learned my parents were in a car accident. I didn’t know the extent of my dad’s Traumatic Brain Injury at that time. But if my mom was scared enough to cry, then so was I. I cried a lot that night.

Days later, my mom sat at the kitchen table with the two of us kids. Her right arm was in a sling. She had my brother make a paper origami-like box, something he’d recently learned in school. She explained how a pickup truck hit our family’s small Hyundai on the passenger’s side where my dad was sitting. She pushed in one side of the paper box as if it were a replica of the damaged car. She explained the impact of the accident pushed the car across the intersection and into a light pole. She pushed in the other side of the paper box, indicating how the pole smashed the driver’s side of the car, just behind the driver’s seat where my mom was sitting. The impact caused my dad’s head to hit the inside frame of the window and then swing to his left and hit my mom’s right shoulder, shattering the right side of her collar bone.

I later asked my mom if the man driving the pickup truck was in jail for hurting my dad. She explained the accident was a mistake. Nobody meant to hurt him. All I knew was my dad was in a hospital instead of home with his family. I thought someone should be punished for that.

I didn’t get to see my dad for the first six weeks he was in the Intensive Care Unit because my mom thought it would be too scary for her little kids. That was a wise decision. He lay comatose in a rotating bed. He was hooked up to tubes and machines, which made unusual noises. One of those tubes was a shunt in his head to relieve fluid on his brain – something no child wants to see.

My mom decided it was time for us to see our dad after his condition became more stable and the shunt in his head was removed. He was still comatose, but I was excited to finally see him. My excitement shattered when I walked into his room. The man I once saw smash his finger with a hammer without shedding a tear lay helplessly unconscious. Tubes connected his lifeless body to machines. He was dependent on technology and the care of others. It was my first time seeing him vulnerable.

I was scared. I recognized his face, but how could he be my dad? My dad was strong enough to lift me onto his shoulders so I could see parades over large crowds. My dad did sit-ups every night with his toes tucked under the couch as I sat on it and counted his sit-ups aloud. My dad killed spiders for me and read bedtime stories to me. I didn’t want to go near the lifeless body in the hospital bed.

1987- Mark and Katie Rafting at Mirror Lake

1987- Mark and Katie rafting on Mirror Lake

1986 - Mark carrying Katie

1986 – Mark carrying Katie in his usual way

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1987- Katie and Mark having fun in the pool.

1987- Katie and Mark having fun in the pool

1986 - Katie teaching her dad how to walk on the beam.

1986 – Katie teaching her dad how to walk on the beam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That night, my brother and I slept at my grandparents’ house like we often did after my parents’ car accident because Mom stayed at the hospital. My grandma prepared the sofa pullout bed and tucked us in under the covers. Instead of singing us lullabies, she quietly played the piano on the other side of the room. I slipped into         dreamland.

I dreamt I was sitting in the same bed I had fallen asleep in while wearing the same pajamas. My brother was sleeping to my right. When I looked to my left, I saw my dad standing – yes, standing – at my bedside! He looked tall and handsome in his Sunday suit. He didn’t say a word to me, but his warm smile soothed my fears and I was no longer afraid of him.

My dad was in a coma for three months and hospitalized for eight. He came home just in time for our family to spend Christmas together. He was in a wheelchair and dependent on my mom’s care.

1992 – Chris, Mark, Katie

While growing up, some friends asked me what it was like having a dad in a wheelchair. My brother and I helped my mom dress and care for my dad, especially when he first came home from the hospital. I learned how to help around the house and be more independent at a younger age compared to most of my friends. Our family could no longer dance, bike, hike and snowmobile together like we once could.

The scene of my life drastically changed, and so had my dad’s. But like Bob Ross transforming a dark and ugly line of paint into a “happy little tree,” I saw my dad use his tragic and life-changing disturbance to create a new kind of beauty.

He taught me the value of perseverance as he pushed through strenuous therapy. He learned to feed himself and speak again. He liked to say P.T. (physical therapy) really stood for “pain and torture.”

1992 – Mark kissing his little Princess

He showed me how burdens can be lightened by having a sense of humor. He often told people the scar on his stomach from the feeding tube he had was really a second bellybutton, which made him “twice the man.”

My dad (who wasn’t expected to live) not only survived, but thrives with a positive attitude. I’m blessed to call him Dad.

Next week, I’ll share how this transformation affected my life throughout my teen years and as an adult.

 

Thank you Katie for sharing your story. You and Christopher have been our inspiration. Your encouragement and love kept us striving to do better and to never give up. While searching for the pictures to use, my “chin was quivering, just as it does whenever I start to cry.” My heart truly broke the day the accident happened. Not only for your dad but for you and Christopher too, but as you so elegantly reminded me—it’s a beautiful heartbreak. I’m so blessed and proud to be your mother!

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY TO ALL THE GREAT DADS! I’m lucky to have one and to be married to another. I’m grateful for all the men in my life.