Reader Voices: My father's powerful reminder to me about the importance of gratitude

By Debra Woods

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Nov. 20 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

By the time I finished the talk, my father was asleep again. We were definitely in the midst of difficult times and, I confess, I was not especially focused on all that I had to be grateful for. Rather, my thoughts had been consumed with heartache for my father’s suffering and a tremendous sense of dread at the probability that he would soon no longer be in this world, a world that I had only ever known with him in it.

Recognizing that I was on what felt like a sinking ship of heartache and grief and needed some relief, I took to heart the prophet’s reminder to focus on our blessings even in the midst of challenging times. If my father, who was so beaten down by a terrible disease, could with the few words he was able to speak, remind me to focus on my blessings, I owed it to him to dig deep and look hard to better recognize and feel just how much I have been given.

As I made a point of focusing on what I have to be grateful for, my list quickly grew.

I was thankful for all the years I had with my father on the earth and for the innumerable lessons he taught me about living my faith, working hard, having integrity, setting goals, managing money and so much more; I was thankful for the tender mercies our family had been blessed with during my father’s fight with cancer (he beat the cancer two years longer than any doctor had predicted); I was thankful that my mother and aunt had taken such good care of him for as long as they could; I was thankful that I lived just a five-hour drive away from my father instead of being further away; I was thankful for the members of my parents’ ward who had watched out for my parents and served them in countless ways.

The more I focused on what I had to be grateful for, the more I realized how much I had been given.

It was several weeks later when my father passed on, and I confess, even with my faith and gratitude, it has been hard. In part, because our family has been hit hard with multiple losses in the last two years — my beloved mother-in-law and father-in-law, a very dear friend, an uncle and an aunt.

Out of necessity, I allow myself space to grieve, but in the midst of that grief, I remind myself to dig deep and look hard to be mindful of all that I have been given. And while focusing on what I have to be grateful for doesn’t take all the hurt away, it dilutes my heartache and strengthens me and helps me to smile through my tears.

So, this Thanksgiving, as we pause to give thanks for all that is ours, I include that precious Sunday morning at my father’s bedside when I learned in a way I will never forget, that no matter our circumstances, whether we are in happy times or sad, the divine gift of gratitude is always available to us.

Debra Sansing Woods is the author of the bestselling book "Mothering with Spiritual Power: Book of Mormon Inspirations for Raising a Righteous Family."

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