Practicing Gratitude

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Libby Caes, MDiv, BCC


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Libby Caes, MDiv, BCC, oncology chaplain at UW Hospital and UW Carbone Cancer Center, offers reflections for practicing gratitude during what can be a stressful time of year.


Close up of hand writing in journalThe holidays are delightful as well as challenging. There is something special about the rituals and activities that take place amidst the growing darkness of winter. We all have memories and traditions that we cherish and want to re-create. But December can be taxing: extra responsibilities and expenses, loneliness and unrealized expectations. The holidays may also remind us of what has changed in the past year: a cancer diagnosis, death, unemployment.  Coping is a challenge.


One way to cope is to practice gratitude.  Meister Eckhart, a 16th c. German mystic, wrote "If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, that will be enough"  What if, instead of gift giving, we said thank you to each special person? What if, instead of hours spent on the internet or in stores, we used that time to remember what we are grateful for?


A favorite writing exercise of mine is to quickly (twenty minutes or less) make a list of one hundred things I love or am grateful for. Anything can go on the list: people and places, favorite food and flowers, music and movies. Once I have a list, I read it over and circle five things that stand out.  Then I pick one of these five things and start writing about it.  What is it about San Francisco or home-made eggnog that I love?  What is it about my marriage that I am most grateful for? This activity can also be done with others: making our lists and then reading them aloud, then talking about or writing about what we have written.


Twenty four years ago when my Dad was dying of cancer I asked him what he wanted for Christmas. We were sitting in the kitchen of the house I had grown up in. I was holding my two month old daughter on my lap. My stern Swiss-German father had always been an impossible person to please or buy a gift for. Dad said, with tears in his eyes, "I have my family and that is all I need". With that he got up and limped out of the kitchen. That was only time in my whole life I saw my dad cry. My dad was practicing the gift of gratitude.  I am grateful for that memory.