I’m a care aid and in my line of work I constantly come across people who are in difficult situations. I work with people who have disabilities, who are wheelchair-bound, ill, people who have suffered from strokes, and those who can no longer do the things that you or I probably take for granted on a daily basis. I come across people who struggle every day to have a “normal” life. I have clients who are unable to get out of bed until someone comes to help them or clients who can’t use the washroom, or dress themselves, or cook for themselves unless I am there.
One thing that I’ve noticed is that the people that waste away, the people that sink deeper into illness and immobility, are those that allow negativity and despair to permeate their lives. And the ones that thrive, the ones that hold on to their independence and vitality longer, are those that are grateful every single day. They are the people that can shake off the burdens of life. They are the people that can look past the pain, the mire, the tragedies, and remember the goodness.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are physical, emotional, and mental ailments that cannot be changed. I am in no way blaming my clients or others for having the conditions that they do. Alzheimer’s, for example, is a progressive disease that can only be held off for so long with medication. I know this, but I’ve also seen the difference that gratitude has on an individual’s life.
A week ago, I went to a care facility to pick up an elderly man and take him to the hospital for his appointment. This man had suffered a stroke and his whole left side was paralyzed. One day he was completely healthy, the next day he couldn’t move. One day he was independent and living on his own, the next day he was unable to take care of himself. He told me, with a tear running down his face, that it was a quite a difficult situation to live with, as I’m sure you can imagine.
The thing that truly struck me about this man was how grateful he was. He repeatedly thanked me for going to the hospital with him. He thanked our cab driver, he thanked the receptionist at the hospital, he thanked his doctor, and, on multiple occasions, he told me how grateful he was that he was living in such a nice care home. After his appointment, I bought him a cup of coffee from Starbucks and he was immensely grateful for the warm drink, just the way he liked it. (He is as obsessed with coffee as I am.) And when I dropped him off at his home, he wouldn’t stop thanking me for the time that I spent with him.
I was blown away. Here was this man who was in such a difficult situation, a situation that he explained to me with tears in his eyes, yet he was grateful for every good thing that came his way. He showed appreciation for every single person he came into contact with. He poured out gratitude and kindness to others. He was even thankful that he was paralyzed on his left side because if he was paralyzed on his right side he might not be able to talk! He treasured up every little blessing.
This is who I want to be like. Life is hard: illness is probable, aging is inevitable, and struggle is usually just around the corner. However, I want to be grateful for every little thing and every person that comes into my life. I want to cherish what I have and not be consumed by what I don’t have.
I think this is a major factor in vitality and healing. Those that are grateful and mindful of life’s goodness, despite the bad, tend to heal their physical, mental, and emotional wounds and keep illness from spiraling. They have energy, compassion, and the will to do the hard work of healing, like counseling, physiotherapy, or diet changes. They don’t give up because they know that life is still worth living. They can make it through tough days because they remember the good things of yesterday and believe that tomorrow has untold promise. They cherish little blessings, like a warm cup of coffee, even when there are major upsets in their life. These people are imperfect, like you or I, but they are optimistic.
I have another client who hasn’t lost her sense of humour despite the fact that she has also suffered a stroke. She revels in what independence she has while finding joy and appreciation in what I can do for her. For example, she needs help bathing. While most of us would cringe at the thought of a stranger giving us a bath, she enjoys that chance to relax in the hot water and have her body scrubbed clean. She also gets very excited about the chance to drink tea and play Scrabble with me twice a week. (I’ve only won once.)
And that’s what I’m talking about: even though life is not how we would want or imagined it to be, we can still find gratefulness in the good that comes our way. Instead of feeling despair because we are unable to do something, we find joy in what we can do or what others can do for us. I have a friend who suffers from an illness and he lives by the adage, “it could be a lot worse”. And it could be! Don’t ignore the difficulties in life, but try not to let them bring you down or eat you alive.
Join me as I work on being a more grateful and joyful person. Let’s heal ourselves and the world with our positivity!