I Believe in Gratitude
As John Schoeberl looked down at his first grandchild sleeping in the antique cradle he had helped refinish, I said to him, “Well Dad, consider her a reward for going through all you have in the last year.” He said, “And for her, I’d do it all over again.”
Even considering that he had undergone two surgeries, kidney failure, diabetes, his first bout of depression, and other trials because of his fast-weakening heart, this statement didn’t seem dramatic. Any parent would endure much more for their children and grandchildren.
I knew though that what he felt was gratitude that this tiny baby girl had come into his life, and that he had lived to see it. For this, in fact, he would have suffered much more.
When he passed away only five months later, I think my Father died the way he wanted. There was no lingering illness or pain. He was surrounded by people he loved, and who loved him in return.
After the initial rush of grief at his passing had receded, I settled back into my routine of work, family, friends… But it didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel….bad enough.
I had always expected to be devastated by my Father’s death. I had been the prototype of the “Daddy’s Girl.” In my eyes he could do no wrong, and for me he had deep wells of understanding. I’d always known I could rely on him for help, support, or a compassionate ear…anything really.
So my lack of devastating grief began to give me fierce feelings of guilt. I sought out a counselor who told me, to my surprise, that mine was a normal reaction to the death of someone with whom one has a good relationship. It is, she said, the stormy and disconnected relationships that bring the most grief because of the words that are left unsaid, and the longings that are never satisfied. With death, suddenly nothing can be repaired, and we feel the loss of the chance for connection and resolution more acutely than anything else.
Immediately I began to feel something more strongly than I would have predicted—gratitude.
What do I have to feel grateful for? When I think of my father, I have no bad memories to dwell on. He withheld no love, words or favors. He focused on the simple things, or rather the things that seem simple…family, fun, education, hard work, tolerance. He worked on these, and never took them for granted.
And so I feel blessed. A person could structure their whole life around the goal of freeing their loved ones from crush their loss, and never reach it. I am grateful to my father for how he lived his life, for it is in how he lived it that he ended it so well.
And so I believe in gratitude; gratitude as a joyful, liberating thing. I can’t repay what my father did for me, but I take comfort in the knowledge that a true gift has been given without any expectation of return. I am thankful that I can experience my father’s memory without grief. I still feel true sadness every day, especially when I see my daughter growing, and wish that he was here to see it. But this is always accompanied by the gratitude I feel for this last and perhaps best gift a parent can give their child—the ability to let go.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.